American Players Theatre, the long-lived classical troupe based in Spring Green, will break ground on a 200-seat indoor theater this month. APT will also start work on a storage and set-painting facility. But there is one catch: To date, APT has raised only $2.7 million of the project's $4 million cost.
Not to worry, says artistic director David Frank, the money will come in, and the new facilities should be ready for use by the summer of 2009. But if cash remains tight, the company has a plan B.
"We are installing the foundations for both buildings," says Frank. "If by mid-summer we haven't raised enough money to complete them, the foundations can survive perfectly well for another year."
Frank has coveted an indoor theater for some time. He's often said that with the right mix of performance spaces, American Players Theatre can become a multi-stage "festival theater" along the lines of Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival. An air-conditioned 200-seat theater would be an important step in that direction.
"This provides a much more flexible outlet for the creativity of our company," Frank says. "It's a place where we can produce works that are ideally suited for a smaller space - everything from Shakespeare in jeans to classical works that aren't appropriate for our main stage for various reasons. Here we could do Racine, Ibsen, the Greeks and take our best guesses about what modern playwrights will last into the future - Eugene O'Neill, Stoppard, Fugard. Perhaps Tony Kushner."
That increased variety, Frank argues, is important to making APT more of a theater destination. Audiences already come to Spring Green from Illinois and Minnesota, but more offerings would be a major lure for out-of-towners.
"It will allow us to have maybe seven things playing over a weekend, some simultaneously," Frank says. "That really allows us to appeal to theater junkies."
Frank describes the new theater as frugal yet attractive and in keeping with APT's rustic setting. It will have a fixed thrust stage, and the lobby and performance space can be opened up to accommodate large donor events and receptions. Since the building is climate controlled, it will also serve as extra rehearsal space during the hot, humid months of summer.
And, of course, having an indoor facility will influence the length of APT's season. "We'll initially go into early October and gradually expand it as we learn how to do it," Frank says. "But it won't become a year-round theater."
Frank doesn't want other theaters in the area to get the impression that American Players Theatre is going after their audiences during late fall and winter.
In the end, nothing is assured until APT secures firm pledges for those extra dollars. Frank says big donors have responded to the challenges; now APT is hoping that smaller donors will pitch in as heartily as they have in the past. "We know that we have to raise $800,000 from donations of $10,000 or less," Frank says. "We think we can get that."
Richard Corley to leave the Rep
In other local theater news, the Madison Repertory Theatre has not renewed the contract of artistic director Richard Corley, who joined the company in 2002. Rep board president David Hackworthy says that Corley is being let go because his artistic vision was no longer matching up with Rep finances.
A search for Corley's replacement is not yet under way. Right now, says Hackworthy, the board is "considering all our options." Corley's contract with the Rep runs through the end of June.