Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Indoors in Spring Green: A look at the Touchstone

By Russ Bickerstaff
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When I was offered the opportunity to be given a private tour of the American Players Theatre’s new indoor studio space, I leapt at the opportunity. For the past five years or so, I’ve been going to the APT for some of the best professional outdoor theatre in the state. It’s become a tradition for my wife and I . . . it just wouldn’t be a summer without a trip to Spring Green.

The APT’s new Touchstone Theatre is a relatively quick hike from the box office—not at all like the winding walk up the hill to the outdoor theatre. From the outside, the theatre has kind of a gabled triangular thing going on that mirrors the structure its box office/lower gift shop is in. Following the rest of the main APT structures, the Touchstone has a classy wood-beam feel to. Unlike the others, it’s got quite a lot of windows--the placement of which adds to the vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright feel of the place. Wright’s Taliesin is just down the block and elicits its effect on much of the surrounding architecture.

 

Once inside the space is quite comfortable without being opulent The lobby maximizes the feel of the wooded atmosphere outside through the windows. Before a show, doors can remain open . . . window placement being perfect to let the feel of the outdoors all the way in to the theatre itself.

And the theatre itself as you can see is quite cozy. Seats 200. When I visited, it was prior to the first performances, but even a full year into a new space, it still has that new theatre feel to it . . . you half expect to see a brochure from the architect lying around somewhere . . . the 200 seats in question are arrayed in an interesting thrust that I totally failed to capture on camera . . . .and even the above promo pic straight from the APT doesn't show it - - - it's a thrust stage with an ovoid curve to it . . . very classy . . . no rough angles here . . . just one, long ,solid arc. Aside from this, the overall feel of the space itself reminds me of a local university stage . . . a smaller, more modern version of UWM's main stage or Marquette's Helfaer . . . but something more in line with the theatre space at Wisconsin Lutheran College with respect to size . . .

One of the most interesting bits about the new space is what you won't see . . . and sadly, my camera was unable to capture the specifics of it, but you can almost see . . . above is the hallway outside the dressing rooms. The backstage area is designed with a cozy, professionalism in mind. Most actors share a room with all the other actors . . . there are no doors on the dressing rooms and the walls don't go all the way to the ceiling. This amplifies a kind of communal feel for a cast performing here . . . there really isn't any place to rush off and be secluded. If you have a personality clash with someone else . . . you have to work it out. There's nowhere to hide.

People have told me that being a part of an APT cast is a lot of fun . . . the atmosphere is very open and dynamic. Everyone's really cued into the work . .  .and there seems to have been a lot of thought put into developing an indoor space that doesn't compromise the openness of what an APT show is supposed to be. It may be indoors, but clearly a lot of thought was put into every detail. The indoor season is out of step with the outdoor season with respect to opening, which is why I'll be unable to see anything there this season. 

APT's Touchstone Theatre opened last Thursday with Jim DeVita in a one-man performance of In Acting Shakespeare--an adaptation of Ian McKellan's one-man Shakespeare show. Tonight, the APT opens its first full-cast show at the Touchstone--Harold Pinter's Old Times.

August 23rd, the APT opens a production of Eugene O'Neil's classic modern drama A Long Day's Journey Into Night.

 

 

 

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