on July 15, 2013
The American Folklore Theatre (AFT) stage is nestled among the tall pines of Peninsula State Park, between Fish Creek and Ephraim in Door County, Wisconsin. The outdoor stage provides the perfect setting to enjoy stories of the type that have been passed down from generation to generation, creating the very folklore that brings people back year after year.AFT was created from the vision of a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor who in 1970 worked with students and co-wrote an original piece in celebration of the heroes of the Great Lakes Region. Later that year while camping at Peninsula State Park he stumbled upon the park's amphitheater and began dreaming about putting on a show based on the work that he and he students had done. He assembled 18 musicians and singers for "Song of the Inland Seas" which had a limited two week run. The Heritage Ensemble was born, providing summertime entertainment at Peninsula State Park for the next 20 years.The original stories told were about the history and heritage that is deeply rooted in Midwestern lore. As the Heritage Ensemble continued to have success, the needs also changed. In 1990, the decision was made to professionalize their production company, thereby forming the American Folklore Theatre. From that time forward, they have continued to see growth as they have created new shows featuring some of the best talent available. While originally a company of local players, today auditions are held in New York with actors also accepting roles in the off-season on and off-Broadway. Additionally, many of the AFT productions have played to wider audiences in other towns and villages throughout the country. During my visit to Door County I am so happy that I was able to attend the premier season of the show "Windjammers" . . . the heartwarming story of the post Civil War age of wooden schooners powered by the winds to move people and goods throughout the Great Lakes. The story tells of how life sailing the Great Lakes affects all who live in the region. It's a story of adventure, perseverance, personal growth and of course, love. Can you have a great story without an element of love?There is also a bit of the sailing tradition that is passed down from father to son; from experienced mate to greenhorn. One of the more engaging characters in "Windjammers" is a young farm boy who leaves the comforts of home in order to help financially support his widow mother. Having largely been self-taught through reading, he quickly learns some of the harder facts of life on the water first hand from his caption and shipmates.The dialogue and musical scenes are engaging and entertaining. The eight actors are all very talented and believable in their roles. At the end of the 90 minute performance, I was wanting more . . . a second act . . . but alas, this was a one act (no intermission) show. I suppose I'll have to return when the sequel comes out!For the 2013 season at Peninsula State Park, AFT is featuring three musicals. In addition to "Windjammers" visitors can return throughout the summer to attend "Loose Lips" which has was first introduced to audiences in 2001 and is a tribute to the WWII generation of women working to build ships in Sturgeon Bay; and/or "Muskie Love" which is loosely based on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" with the backdrop of fishing. Their 2013 fall season production of "Victory Farm" will be presented at the Door County Auditorium.Open seating ticket prices are very reasonable at just $19 (adults); $9 (teens) and $5.50 for younger children. Reserved seating tickets are $25, $15 and $11.50 respectively. For those camping in Peninsula State Park, look for your discount offer when checking in at the park office.For more information on show times and to purchase tickets, check them out online at http://www.folkloretheatre.com/ .
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