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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Church parking lot joins a rogue’s gallery of play settings

Critic At Large

A bar, forests, town halls and more

Start of “Great Americans” presented by Rogue Theater in parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Sturgeon Bay. (Warren Gerds)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Rogue Theater has started a series of theatrical performances in a church parking lot.

That type of location is a first for me. It joins a rogue’s gallery of play settings.

I have attended plays in:

+ A bar.

“When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder” was put on by Pub Theater Productions in Lefty’s Tavern on Main Street in Green Bay in 1984.

Entrance was past a curtain in the back of the barroom.

The production, by the way, was something else: “Raw terror and brutality make a rare appearance on a Green Bay stage,” my review starts. “At times, the goings-on are almost too much to bear. Like five people being bound with tape. This after scenes of degradation and humiliation.”

+ A converted store in a mall.

Act 2 Ltd. with James Hart as executive producer presented a series of plays in the mid- 1990s in Valley Fair Mall in Appleton. A converted store was the setting for “Little Sandwich Theatre in the Mall.” Shows the first year included “The Mousetrap,” “No Sex Please, We’re British,” “The Tender Trap” and “Plaza Suite.” Act 2 Ltd. later moved to the Avenue Mall on College Avenue in Appleton. One production there was “Of Mice and Men.”

+ Forests.

The amphitheater of Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek is home to Northern Sky Theater original musicals. Large pine trees surround the stage and seating area. Some trees grow in the performance space.

A huge maple is central for many productions of Door Shakespeare in woods-fringed Bjorklunden garden near Baileys Harbor.

American Players Theatre near Spring Green is another theater in a forest.

+ Town and village halls.

Northern Sky Theater has performed in Gibraltar Town Hall in Fish Creek and Ephraim Village Hall, the latter notably the location for the premiere of the Wisconsin-famous “Guys on Ice.”

Rogue Theater has performed in Baileys Harbor Town Hall.

+ An old railroad train station.

Rogue Theater’s home for a time was the former Ahnapee & Western Railway station on Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay.

+ Converted churches.

Among them is Robert Lee Brault Playhouse, home of Green Bay Community Theater. The building has a variety of vintages. The auditorium space dates to 1895, and the backstage dressing room area was part of the church in 1854.

Wolf River Theatrical Troupe of New London performs in a former church (1906 building) with a distinctive new name, Real Opportunities Outreach.

Park Avenue Playhouse, home to The Machickanee Players of Oconto, was once a church hall, built in 1861.

+ Gymnasiums and active churches.

Many examples of these exist, but here’s a twofer: Calvary Players community-church troupe has put on plays in both the gymnasium and the church proper of Calvary Lutheran Church in Green Bay.

+ A former storage room.

The former Donna movie theater in Sturgeon Bay had a storage room to the side of its auditorium. A bit more than a decade after the building became Third Avenue Playhouse, the space was converted into Studio Theatre. Professional plays are done there now.

The church parking lot is that of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.

Because of the coronavirus COVID-19, the church has held services there – sparking the play idea.

Rogue Theater marked Fourth of July Weekend with performances of “Great Americans” in the church’s amphitheater-like parking lot.

Signs in the neighborhood announced the event.

The stage was the bed of a trailer, dressed appropriately for the day.

The audience listened on their car radio.

The performers were outfitted with wireless headsets with their microphones set to 107.7 FM.

Applause for the many sections was provided by car horns – beep, beep, beep.

“Great Americans” was the start of a Rogue Theater series of “Drive-in Theater” productions scheduled in the parking just about every weekend to Aug. 30.

Rogue Theater is the brainchild of a married couple, Lola DeVillers and Stuart Champeau, who just can’t resist performing.

Their Rogue Theater has its own checklist of untraditional theater locations – old railroad station, town hall, club house (Jaycees), restaurants and, now, church parking lot.

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