Most of the year people go to theater despite the weather, but during thesummer people can go because of the weather and combine play-going ( or concert-going ) with picnics, wine and the sun and stars.
Indeed, dozens of theaters throughout the Midwest operate only in the summer, and several are destinations all by themselves. Elsewhere in this issue we preview Chicago-area summer theaters, but this story highlights theaters beyond metro Chicago, all within a half-day's drive and near outstanding vacation attractions. The theater experience can be part of a getaway that comes with a Victorian B&B, river rafting or hiking. Theaters are listed by state: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Bloomington, IllinoisFor its 41st season, Illinois Shakespeare Festival ( ISF ) presents The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V outdoors at Tudoresque Ewing Manor, with lovely gardens, picnics and roving pre-show musicians. Also, Shakespeare in Love ( adapted from the movie ) presented indoors at close-by Illinois State University. Stay two days, see three plays and enjoy Bloomington's Victorian architecture, freshly-sourced restaurants, friendly B&Bs, country antiquing and tour the Beer Nuts factory. Details: July 5-Aug. 11; $20-$54; IllinoisShakes.com
Little Theatre-on-the-Square, Sullivan, IllinoisFounded by the son of a farming family, the Little Theatre ( marking its 61st season ) is the only Equity troupe between the ISF ( see above ) and St. Louis. Now a non-profit corporation, it offers musicals in classic summer stock two-weeks runs, among them Million Dollar Quartet, Hello, Dolly, Damn Yankees and Annie. The 420-seat indoor Little Theatre ( blessedly air conditioned ) fronts a real Victorian town square in Illinois Amish Country, close to Lake Shelbyville recreations and the Lincoln shrines. Details: June 6-Aug. 26; $37.50; ThLittleTheatre.org
Timber Lake Playhouse, Mt. Carroll, IllinoisClose to historic Mississippi river towns ( like Savannah and Galena ), Mississippi Palisades State Park and Apple River Canyon State Park, Timber Lake Playhouse has offered summer stock musicals and plays since 1962 in a casual indoor pavilion with a Broadway-sized stage. The 2018 line-up features two-week runs of Beauty and the Beast, Born Yesterday, The Full Monty and Fiddler on the Roof among six shows in all. Details: June 7-Aug. 26; $30; TimberLakePlayhouse.org
American Players Theatre, Spring Green, WisconsinIt's marking its 39th season! Cheek-by-jowl with Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, the Wisconsin River ( canoeing, fishing, swimming ) and Tower Hill State Park, American Players Theatre ( APT ) is one of this country's leading destination theaters, close to Spring Green's country charms and fine restaurants. APT's beautiful grounds above the river offer free parking, picnic tables and gas-fired grills. Plays are presented in a newly renovated 1,100-seat outdoor amphitheater, and a 200-seat indoor air-conditioned space. For 2018, As You Like It, Measure for Measure, Blood Knot ( Fugard ), Heartbreak House ( Shaw ), The Recruiting Officer ( Farquhar ) and Born Yesterday are among the nine-play season. Details: June 9-Nov. 3; $51-$86; AmericanPlayers.org
Door Shakespeare, Bjorklunden Estate, Baileys Harbor, WisconsinSince 1995, Door Shakespeare has offered outdoor classics on the wooded grounds of a 400-acre former private estate on the so-called "quiet side" of Wisconsin's Door County peninsula, due north of Chicago on Lake Michigan. The grounds offer walking trails, a garden and picnicking. This season's rotating repertory is The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing. Details: June 28-Aug. 18; $30-$35; www.doorshakespeare.com
Northern Sky Theater, Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek, WisconsinHere's a Door County treat. For 28 years, Northern Sky has offered family-friendly, 90-minute musicals. For 2018: Boxcar ( a boy, two hobos, 1930s ), Dairy Heirs ( "family farming moo-sical" ) and the sing-along Lumberjacks in Love. Peninsula State Park on Green Bay has camping, hiking, biking, golf, swimming and a 1880s lighthouse. There's a park fee for day-trippers/campers, but free to enter just for the evening show. Here are more details: June 13-Aug. 25; $22-$29 ( plus small service fee ); NortherSkyTheater.com . A September/October indoor season continues in nearby Ephraim.
Peninsula Players, Fish Creek, WisconsinAnd here's even more Door. Since 1935, Peninsula Players ( PP ) has presented classic summer stock with a resident company. The Drowsy Chaperone, Miss Holmes ( female Sherlock ) and Joe DiPietro's Living on Love are among the five-show 2018 season. PP is summer home for many familiar Chicago stars such as artistic director Greg Vinkler. Directly on the Green Bay shore, PP has plenty of free parking, gardens, picnic grounds, a bar, perfect sunset views and a nightly post-show bonfire; Details: June 12-Oct. 14; $39-$48; www.peninsulaplayers.com
Barn Theatre, Augusta, MichiganShowing classic summer stock for 72 years, The Barnand it really IS an old dairy barnis a non-profit organization where a youthful apprentice company works alongside veteran Equity guest artists. Noises Off, Hairspray, Bullets Over Broadway, Run for Your Wife and Bonnie & Clyde are among eight 2018 shows. Also, the Barn's bar hosts a nightly post-show cabaret. Tiny Augusta is halfway between Kalamazoo ( home of Gibson guitars ) and Battlecreek ( home of Kellogg's ), which have the nearest decent amenities. Details: June 13-Sept. 3; $39-$48; BarnTheatreSchool.org
Lakeside Shakespeare Company, Frankfort, MichiganPopular Chicago actor Elizabeth Laidlaw founded this company in 2003, offering FREE summertime Shakespeare to Benzie County, Michigan and beyond. For its 15th season, Lakeside Shakes presents King Henry VIII and 50-Minute Hamlet in rotating repertory. All performances are at Tank Hill in Frankfort. Street parking is available and picnics are encouraged. Frankfort is close to glorious Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore and Traverse City. Details: July 24-Aug. 3; free ( although donations are accepted ); LakesideShakespeare.org
Mason Street Warehouse, Saugatuck, MichiganFor 2018, the Mason Street Warehouse ( within the Saugatuck Center for the Arts ) presents Mamma Mia, drag comedienne Dixie Longate ( Kris Anderson ) and Once, with a 10-12 day gap between productions. Twin beach towns Saugatuck and Douglas are popular holiday spots with Chicago's LGBT communities, boasting numerous galleries, excellent restaurants and B&Bs. Town traffic is heavy and Mason Street Warehouse has very limited parking, so plan carefully. Details: June 22-Sept. 2 ( mind the gaps ); $44-$49; www.sc4a.org
Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, Nappanee, IndianaThis beautiful, unusual 1911 round barn is part of the much-larger Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort ( restaurants with hearty meals, lodging, shops, buggy rides, historic buildings, Amish lifestyle demonstrations ). You can do the whole shot, a dinner/show combo or just see the professional production. Summer shows include Mamma Mia, Barry Manilow's Copacabana and Plain & Fancy. Details: May 23-Aug. 26 ( three more shows are produced Labor Day-Dec. 31 ); $29.95-$32.95; AmishAcres.com
Please remember: Outdoor venues may require bug spray, sunblock for matinees and something warm against chill night air. All prices quoted are full-price adult tickets. Most theaters offer discounts for seniors/students/children and money-saving subscriptions or multi-show passes. Theater websites are chock-full of info on places to stay or eat and things to do.