Chapter 4: Beatrice

In late summer 2013, when David Frank knew for sure he would be directing Much Ado, he didn’t have to think about who would be his Beatrice: Colleen Madden would. She is one of the company’s stars, a small woman with a big voice, an extraordinary actress. I saw her take Benedick’s arm in playful surrender to their newly blossomed love, and moments later I watched enraptured as he knelt before her and asked, “How doth your cousin?”

Chapter 2: Play in the Woods

Back in the days when whimsy was thought to be a desirable quality for internet addresses, APT’s website was playinthewoods.org. The woods, and trekking through them from the parking lot to the “Up the Hill” stage, have always been an important part of the company’s identity. And despite its unlikely location just south of Spring Green, Wisconsin, population 1,628, APT ranks among the country’s elite classical theater companies, with an annual budget of about $6 million and ticket sales of more than 100,000 each season.

The company was founded in 1979 by a small group of big thinkers

Chapter One: Much Ado

Out in the woods, a trumpet sounds. Then sounds again, louder and closer. Up on the bridge that looms over center stage, young Hero appears in a pouffy peach dress. She looks off toward the sound as though she is waiting for something. Could this be it? Music begins—an oboe line floating prettily over a bed of nervous strings. Behind Hero comes her cousin Beatrice in a simple wine-red dress. Older and wiser, she gazes with amusement at her agitated cousin as a servant enters from the wings stage left. He looks up at Hero with a question in his eyes: where is her father Leonato?

Our First Review

Much Ado has been reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, whose writer astutely observes that it “shows us with rare clarity how a professional company prepares a production.” Conclusion: the book is “A series of bright, clear photographs of what the author saw when he pulled aside the curtain in a Wisconsin Oz.” Read the whole thing here.

In Stores Now

…or at least in one of our favorite stores, Arcadia Books in Spring Green. John Christensen, the manager there, says his shipment has arrived and he’ll start selling today, September 23. If you’re not close enough to stop in, order from Arcadia and get free shipping with the code freeship16.

The book should be available at your favorite indie too, if they ordered any. If they didn’t, ask them why the hell not and pester them till they do!

Coming Fall 2016 From Agate Midway

A new book about acting, Shakespeare, and making theater, based on American Players Theatre’s 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing. Now available for pre-order. Read more here

“In school they teach you that collaboration is everybody doing the same thing. It’s not true. Nobody’s doing the same thing. We all have different things in our heads. What we’re doing is coordinating those things, constantly, so the final product is coherent. It’s not one idea, it’s hundreds of ideas that somehow come into alignment. Everyone’s picking up something from somebody else and using it or adjusting to it. And it’s just so much fun! Nobody ever really knows how it’s going to turn out. And so the excitement is, OK, we’re doing this, it’s feeling right, it’s making sense. But is it going to be any good? Is it going to make sense later on? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.”     —set and costume designer Robert Morgan

My New Project

I spent much of spring and summer 2014 in Spring Green, Wisconsin, following American Players Theatre‘s production of Much Ado About Nothing–researching what I hope will someday be a long immersion piece on the art and craft of theater. Meanwhile here’s a little taste, a profile of David Frank, the artistic director, who is retiring this year after a stellar run. Many thanks to my friends at Isthmus, the alternative weekly in Madison, Wisconsin, and to all the APT people who have been so kind and generous with their time.

Loyola Alumni Weekend

Jerry Harkness and I will be meeting and greeting and signing copies of Ramblers at two events connected with Loyola’s Alumni Weekend for 2014. This Friday, June 27, we’ll be at a reception for the classes of ’63 and ’64 and new alumni at the 63 Bar and Grill (formerly Hamilton’s), located at 6341 N. Broadway. That will run from 6 to 8 PM. Then on Sunday, June 29, we’ll be at the alumni brunch, which runs from 10-12  at the Mundelein Auditorium. Copies of Lew Freedman’s new book Becoming Iron Men will also be available. Please come around, say hello, and buy a few dozen books!