LAKESHORE REGIONAL NEWS: Door County, Kewaunee County, Manitowoc County, and Sheboygan County

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Door County theater’s online history series filled with personality

Critic At Large

Peninsula Players Theatre

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – History is unfolding in a special way in our area.

The famed Peninsula Players Theatre of Door County is rolling out its lively story.

That includes finding a gem that was hidden for 85 years.

The company claims the title of “America’s Oldest Resident Summer Theatre.”

By accident, the theater started a series on the Internet about its history.

To celebrate the theater’s 85th anniversary, it popped with an online feature in July.

At the time, the theater was presenting no live, in-person performances due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. It was holding out hope that a fall season still could be presented at its “Theatre in a garden.”

In the online feature on peninsulaplayers.com that was part of the interview series, “Peninsula Players Presents,” artistic director Greg Vinkler read portions of a newspaper article.

Titled, “Mmes. Barnes and Jackson See Premiere of Peninsula Players Theater Venture in North,” the article recounts details of the theater’s opening night July 25, 1935.

The article was in The Capital Times of Madison, far away from where the Noel Coward play “Hay Fever” was presented in Fish Creek in Door County.

“Mmes. Barnes…” had been tucked away for 85 years and was only recently discovered online by Audra Baakari Boyle, the Peninsula Players’ business manager and historian/archivist.

She “squealed in delight” at her phenomenal find.

Of note from the article, the first performance took place in the garden, meaning the Players troupe has been a “theater in a garden” from day one.

After the online feature appeared, Greg Vinkler resumed interviewing Peninsula Players notables for three months.

When the COVID-19 choke hold continued into fall, the Players decided to tell more and more of their story by year, or theme, through time – and the history series “officially” gathered momentum.

Shown from their homes hundreds of miles apart are congenial Greg Vinkler and Audra Baakari Boyle telling tales, showing photos and clippings and delighting in their discoveries.

Starring in the first episode is Caroline Fisher, who co-founded the theater when she was 21 years old.

During a brief stint in Hollywood, she married Rodion Rathbone, son of Basil Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes legend (which was just around the corner for him).

Such splashy stuff is sprinkled throughout the ongoing series.

Included is a strong connection between Peninsula Players Theatre and the William Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London, England.

The amazing thing is the delight-packed series wouldn’t be happening without the pandemic the Internet and the well-versed, personable hosts.

Stories about the first two episodes are in my column of Friday and Saturday, Jan. 15 and 16. The adventures are continuing as Greg Vinkler and Audra Baakari Boyle add more episodes at peninsulaplayers.com, where the “Peninsula Players Presents” series is available.

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