Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 109 - Attending a Performance at The American Players Theatre

I have never attended a performance at the American Players Theatre. For those that are unfamiliar, the American Players Theatre is an outdoor theatre nestled in woods about an hour west of Madison, just outside Spring Green, Wisconsin. While I have known about the theatre for some time, I never really had any intention of attending a performance at the complex. With many options for live theatre in Madison, I figured I can always look locally and save myself the long trip if I ever had the desire to attend a play. Of course, this perspective changes when I found myself in a scenario where I was at a loss for today’s “I have never...” event after a schedule change caused my original plans for today to go awry. Luckily a friend of mine, Allison, had made me aware of an extra ticket she had to attend Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the American Players Theatre tonight. In turn, I took her up on her offer and prepared to gain a new and unexpected experience attending a show I had never seen at the American Players Theatre tonight. 

After finishing my workday, I immediately started the journey to the theatre. While I didn’t initially look forward to spending an hour on the road after a long day at work, the drive was actually quite relaxing and felt surprisingly brief. From my office my route took me down less traveled highways north of Madison that meandered through the hills and bluffs of southwestern Wisconsin. Against the backdrop of a late summer evening sun, the landscapes provided beautiful scenery that kept me occupied for the length of the trip. As a result, I found myself turning into the American Players Theatre parking lot much sooner than I had expected. Fortunately, the sights around me on the trip made the hour of travel seem much more like 20 or 30 minutes, which was a welcomed occurrence on such a full day.

Made it!
Upon arriving at the theatre I met up with Allison and a few of her friends just before the performance began. Together we walked up a small path ascending a hill in the middle of the woods until we came upon a massive structure built into the terrain. After taking a quick look around the area, we made our way to the main aisles for the theatre seating. As we moved to find our seats, the sight of the theatre was incredible. Constructed entirely of wood, the theatre rested in a pocket of dense forest filled with the sounds of birds signing and cicadas buzzing. The rows of seats arching before the performance area sat embedded in the hillside and tapered down to a tiered stage backed by three distinct walls. At first glance it was obvious the American Players Theatre was a highly distinct performance area that would likely provide a highly memorable experience. Before the play had begun I was already happy I had made the trip.

Minutes after we took our seats a final announcement rang out over a set of loudspeakers before the lights dimmed and the play began. As the actors took the stage, I didn’t know quite what to expect from the forthcoming performance. After all, I had little background on the plot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead outside of the program we received upon arriving at the theatre. I knew it took place behind the scenes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and I knew it was a relatively recent work. Otherwise, I was in the dark on the specifics. Once the play began it quickly became obvious I was in for a treat. Humor remained a common thread as we watched the story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern develop while the story of Hamlet unfolded somewhere off stage. At first confused as to who they were, where they were, and why they were there, the two men struggled to put together shards of details they could hardly recall. Eventually, the introduction of other characters in the story assisted them in their efforts until they were finally drawn into Hamlet by the actions of the royal family and Hamlet himself. As the story progressed, I found the balance between the two stories highly amusing. The actors would move in and out of Lambic Pentameter as they transitioned from passing scenes in Hamlet back to their sideline efforts to put the pieces of their story together.

The stage... Unfortunately no photos
were permitted during the show

As the play moved to its second half, the persistence of uncertainty and the confusion that came with their role managing Hamlet’s mania began to weigh on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. While the humor of the work remained, it quickly became clear the story was being drawn toward and ultimate conclusion. After a story of foresight from a hilarious (and very, very open) acting troop, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern started to realize the inevitable conclusion of their roles in the story of Hamlet, which sent the duo into a scattered state in an effort to find a way out of the drama and madness that followed Hamlet. Despite their efforts, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern eventually found themselves on a boat bound for England with nothing left to do but face their collective fate. With a bit of hesitance and ultimate acceptance, the two fulfilled their role in the story of Hamlet and made true the title of the play that bears their names. In the final scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s actions fell back into place in the final act of Hamlet before the curtain fell. While the ending left questions unanswered, it felt right; at least for the story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

At the end...

At the conclusion of the play our group headed back down the wooded trail and started making our way back home. On the drive back I rehashed my first experience at the American Players Theatre and my first experience with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Considering the unique setting and the entertainment value of the play, I was quick to conclude today’s “I have never...” event was time well spent. Although the theatre was out of the way, making the trip was well worth the experience, and for that, I’m grateful. After tonight’s experience I can say two things. First, I would gladly go back to the American Players Theatre in the future. It’s simply a great place to escape and see some quality performers do their thing. Second, after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead I should probably see Hamlet so I can put everything in context. I guess I will just have to add that goal to the “I Have Never...” list!

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