Wisconsin's Peninsula Players Meet Theatre Restoration Challenge Grant

News   Wisconsin's Peninsula Players Meet Theatre Restoration Challenge Grant
The Peninsula Players, the 70-year-old Wisconsin summer stock company that bills itself as "America’s oldest professional resident summer theatre," has raised nearly half the money needed for a $6.2 million capital campaign designed to restore and preserve its facilities, which sit in picturesque Door County near the shore of Green Bay.

The campaign 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 will present their gift.

The Players announced July 19 that they had raised the $2 million from local Door County sources. The challenge gift was then presented to Peninsula Players Theatre on July 3.

  “We are thrilled that support from the Door County community has poured in and that we have been able to meet the Peterson challenge so quickly," said Willard Hartman, president of the Peninsula Players Theatre Foundation.  “With receipt of the Peterson’s gift, we have raised $3 million toward our efforts.  We are nearly halfway to our $6.2 million goal.” 

The troupe's grounds are unique. Peninsula Players performs on an open air stage located on the Door County peninsula between the resort towns of Egg Harbor and Fish Creek. The folksy theatre, comprised of wooden beams, stones walls and canvas walls, sits only a hundred feet from the lapping water of Lake Michigan.

The money is intended to replace the stage house, audience pavilion, canteen and scene shop. The new stage house will have a flexible proscenium and a 55-foot high flytower; it will also aim to improve audience sightlines and seating comfort (the currect collection of chairs can prove less than comfortable over the course of a play). The complex will remain in its current location, with the surrounding picnic areas, forest trails and gardens preserved. The 2005 season has been shortened to accommodate construction plans. The line-up will include The Uneasy Chair by Evan Smith, Red Herring by Michael Hollinger, Tom, Dick, and Harry by Ray and Michael Cooney, and Escanaba in Da Moonlight by Jeff Daniels

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.

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.

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