Work on the $6.2 million construction project was completed over the winter. The summer troupe, which operates on a plot of wooded land in picturesque Door County near the shore of Green Bay, will now perform in a new pavilion with a flexible proscenium, a 55-foot flytower, improved audience sightlines and seating, and better lighting and sound equipment.
The theatre's basic structure remains the same, with a roof overhead but the sides of the building open to the surrounding woods and grounds, which feature a latern-lit beer garden just yards from the lapping waters of Green Bay.
Other improvements: A concrete auditorium floor with radiant heat, so as to lessen the impact of cool autumn nights; a roof covered with grass sod to deaden the sound of falling rain; the replacement of hard folding chairs with cushioned ones; a wider stage with added wings on both sides; three new full dressing rooms backstage with running water and restrooms; a modern scene shop; and redesigned parking lots with more handicapped spaces.
The campaign for the redo was launched with a challenge gift of $1 million from the Carla and Ellsworth Peterson Foundation Trust. The Players had to find $2 million before the Foundation presented their gift. The Players announced July 19, 2005, that they had raised the $2 million from local Door County sources.
The Players first season in the new digs will include four classic plays and one musical. The line-up follows:
The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, Sept. 6-Oct. 15 *
The Peninsula Players was founded in 1935 by the eccentric and charismatic visionary siblings Richard and Caroline Fisher (who eventually married Basil Rathbone's son), when Door County was not yet the tourist attraction it now is for Wisconsin and Illinois vacationers. Both graduates of Northwestern University, Richard directed and designed, while Caroline, a model and a famous beauty, charmed people into donating money. The first production was Noel Coward's Hay Fever. Initial shows were staged behind the Bonnie Brook Cottage/Motel in Fish Creek until the Fishers bought 22 acres that had been the Wildwood Boys Camp. Early performers included Sam Wanamaker.
The Fishers lost financial and artistic control of the theatre in 1960. Kenneth Carroad, a New York City attorney, bought it and appointed James McKenzie to oversee the operations as producer. Carroad sold the enterprise to McKenzie in 1978. The nonprofit Peninsula Players Theatre Foundation (founded in 1962) purchased the theatre complex from McKenzie in 1993.
Among the actors who appeared on the Players stage at early points in their careers are Harvey Korman, Sam Wanamaker, Ralph Waite and Rene Auberjonois, as well as many of Chicago's most accomplished stage performers.
For some years, the company was famous for getting the rights to Neil Simon plays soon after they opened on Broadway. This was due to the fact that Emanuel Azenberg, Simon's longtime Broadway producer, spent some time as an apprentice at the Players.