Culture Club – Peninsula Arts & Humanities Alliance

This past Monday, I embarked on the first week of my seventh season with Door Shakespeare. Having now spent more than a quarter of my summers basking in the language of the Bard at the Bjorklunden garden, it has become hard to imagine how in mid-June I could do anything other than what I’m doing: starting rehearsals, learning music, and writing columns like this, in which I reflect on the curious alchemy that can turn a grassy clearing in an unassuming cedar forest into a top-notch Shakespearean theater.

Of course, I have the easy part of the job. Other members of the company are busy doing other, more backbreaking work, work I remember from my early days as a theater intern. Door Shakespeare’s spare, no-frills setup is a large part of its unique charm. But for those of us in the company, it’s also a little bit like camping in the woods for two months, packing in all our gear (it’s hard to fit 20-foot lighting poles into even the most impressive hiking pack) and packing it up and out again at the end of the season. Like all good campers, we do our best to leave only footprints, save for the echoes of poetry (or are those chickadee calls?) that tend to hang in the air even after we’ve departed for the season.

Right now is the prime time for this sort of load-in work. For example, there’s a storage unit to be opened and costumes to be taken out of it. There are seating platforms to be put in place (and mice to be evicted from their winter homes in the process). There’s a Door Shakespeare sign to be put out near Highway 57, and there are port-o-potties to be erected. There are press releases to be written and a playbill to be compiled (that’s my job). This is all not to mention other minor jobs like, say, memorizing one’s lines, or piecing together two shows from start to finish in about three weeks of rehearsal.

Some might call this kind of temporary work fruitless, the way I used to grate against the idea of making my bed in the morning. (As a four year old, I was nobody’s fool. I knew full well that I would mess it up again that night.) But then again, what is a play, if not temporary and fleeting? Forget my earlier ramblings about echoes of poetry hanging in the air: the words of a play are gone as soon as they are spoken.

Case in point: I performed in Much Ado About Nothing for six weeks straight in my first season with Door Shakespeare, but sitting at this morning’s first read-through of Much Ado, I realized I had forgotten more lines than I remembered. And even if I remembered all the lines, the fact remains that part of the wonder of a stage play (as opposed to a endlessly playable DVD) is its absolute inability to be replicated. As a result, both actors and audience know that they’re creating each night’s experience together. There’s a certain amount of work in that attention – since you can’t go back to fix or catch what you’ve missed, all parties need to pay full attention to the play from beginning to end – but it’s the good kind of work, the kind that’s satisfying in and of itself.

Which brings me back to my earlier point – that maybe work like loading a bunch of equipment and heart into a summer of theater is worthwhile in its own right. Maybe the work of setting up the logistics of Door Shakespeare is part of the temporal ethos of the theater, which is gone as soon as the curtain falls, even when the curtain is made out of velvet instead of cedar branches.

As Door Shakespeare cofounder Fred Alley once wrote, “Hope is planting a garden, buying a new hat, falling in love: anything that says we plan on being here tomorrow.” If those of us evacuating mice from seating platforms are any indication, we plan on being here tomorrow. And we’re looking forward to a season that is as hopeful as it may be fleeting.

Door Shakespeare performs July 9 through August 22 in the garden at Bjِrklunden, about 1 mile south of downtown Baileys Harbor. Sheridan’s The Rivals will play Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing will play Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Tickets are $23 for adults, $16 for students, and $6 for children. For more information or for ticket reservations, call 920.839.1500 or visit

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.