American Players Theatre celebrates 40 years

SPRING GREEN, Wis. (WMTV) -- The American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green celebrated four decades of wowing audiences on Sunday afternoon. For 40 years, the theater has given audiences the experience of watching plays and being surrounded by nature.

"People are like, 'it's just magic there,'" said Brenda DeVita, APT's artistic director.

Several audience members have been coming every year since the theater opened in 1980.

"We've made it a point to come to almost every single production, we’ve only missed one which means we’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of wonderful works on stage," said Orange Schroeder.

More than a thousand people, including Schroeder, came out Sunday afternoon to celebrate APT's 40th anniversary season. People could enjoy art installations in the woods, a silent auction and even food trucks and a dunk tank.

The day ended with APT's core company performing their favorite scenes from over the years.

"It's moving to be out here and think 1100 people on a Sunday afternoon, they could do anything in the whole world and they're coming to celebrate their theater," DeVita said.

However, the road to this milestone has not been easy. Just six years after it opened, APT had to close because of financial issues.

"It was so devastating to think that we might never go up on the hill again, never hear the whippoorwill, never watch the moon and stars rise over a stage. I knew I had to do something," Schroeder said.

Schroeder helped lead a campaign to raise enough money to reopen the theater. Two months later, APT was back on its feet.

"Forty years in this kind of improbable dream that started 40 years ago, that it’s still here and it’s just beloved by so many people, it’s really moving," DeVita said.

Now, the theater is already looking ahead to the next 40 years. DeVita said she wants to work on attracting a more diverse audience and cast.

"We use the word...universality, and I’m always like, 'Yeah, not if everybody in the room looks the same.' It's really important to us for my kids and the kids of the family members that come here that we’re creating the world that we want to see on that stage, that we want to see in the world, and I think that’s our job as artists," she said.

Even with the changes ahead, DeVita said she also wants to keep APT the same magical place it has always been.

"I hope that APT continues to be a place where people find a real sanctuary to come and spend time with family and friends and stretch themselves and learn how to grow," she said.

You can still see plays at APT's outdoor theater through the first week of October, and the indoor theater will have shows through November. However, tickets are selling out quickly.

To see a show schedule and buy tickets, visit APT's website.