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

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Greg Vinkler to retire as artistic director of Peninsula Players Theatre

Critic At Large

Linda Fortunato to step in

Greg Vinkler and Linda Fortunato. (Peninsula Players Theatre)

FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Greg Vinkler will step down from administrative duties and retire as artistic director, and Linda Fortunato will replace him, the Peninsula Players Theatre’s board of directors announced today.

The professional theater for decades served as the artistic backbone of Door County and the region.

According to a press release: Vinkler will retire when the theater’s 2021 season comes to a close.

Fortunato, a company member of 17 seasons at Peninsula Players, has been appointed associate artistic director and will work alongside Vinkler throughout the 2021 season. Upon Vinkler’s retirement, Fortunato will take over as artistic director. Vinkler will continue to be a part of the theater’s artistic company as an actor or director.

“We are going to miss Greg’s artistic leadership,” said Jill Herlache, president of the Peninsula Players board of directors. “Greg Vinkler is synonymous with Peninsula Players and is its premier ambassador. We cannot thank him enough for his time, dedication and the artistic craftsmanship he has provided over the past 30 years to make our theater-in-a-garden what it is today. Linda understands the spirit of the theater’s artists and patrons and appreciates our artistic mission. We look forward to working alongside Greg and Linda through this transition period and are thrilled to know the future artistic excellence of the theater is ensured with Linda’s appointment.

Vinkler has directed 33 productions and performed in 51 productions since starting with Peninsula Players in 1988, when artistic director Robert Thompson cast him in “Doubles.” 

Thompson, who started at Peninsula Players in 1938, and Vinkler shared the stage in many Players’ productions, including “Ten Nights in a Bar Room,” “The Cherry Orchard,” “Tons of Money,” “Pygmalion” and “A Man for All Seasons.”

Vinkler and Fortunato were castmates in the 1996 production of “”Crazy for You” and again in 1997s “\”The Woman in Black.”

Over the years, Fortunato’s career bloomed beyond performance to include teaching, directing and choreography, eventually leading to her appointment as artistic director of Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, in 2016.

“I am exceedingly happy to pass the artistic director baton on to Linda,” Vinkler said. “She has been a talented, trusted and collaborative member of the Peninsula Players family for 17 seasons. Linda and I have always been on the same page when working together, in everything from our artistic goals to the importance of supporting all members of the company. She knows the theater from top to bottom and has been warmly welcomed by Brian Kelsey (managing director), the rest of the staff and the board with open arms. Linda understands the unique culture of this organization and understands this organization’s important place in the life of Door County. I believe deeply and completely that this passage is a natural transition true to the spirit of the theater’s founders and true to the mission it has carried through all of its 86 years.”

In 1993, Vinkler was given the nod to be appointed the theater’s artistic director by then executive producer James B. McKenzie, who started at the theater as an apprentice in 1947. 

Vinkler, as artistic director, cast Fortunato in productions such as “The Outsider,” (formerly “A Real Lulu”), “Wait Until Dark” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.” He directed her in “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Blithe Spirit and “Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” The two collaborated on the productions of “Chicago,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “A Little Night Music,” which he directed and she choreographed. Vinkler also brought her on as director for “Living on Love,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “And Then There Were None,” and as director/choreographer for the 2019 production of “Ghost the Musical.”

“I am thrilled to be joining the leadership team of Peninsula Players Theatre, which has been a very special place to me and my family for many years,” Fortunato said. “So much of who I am as an artist has been shaped by my varied experiences at Peninsula Players. Greg has been a treasured friend and trusted collaborator throughout my career. He has led Peninsula Players with passion, kindness and grace, and I have learned so much from him. I am honored to be entrusted with the legacy of this extraordinary theater. I look forward to continuing my relationship with Peninsula Players and working in partnership with Brian in leading the incredible staff, company and organization into the future.”

While at Theatre at the Center, Fortunato directed “Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America,” “White Christmas,” “Cabaret,” “Big River,” “The Tin Woman” and “Steel Magnolias” and choreographed “42nd Street,” “Spamalot” and “Crazy for You.”

Fortunato received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Outstanding Choreography for “42nd Street,” garnering Theatre at the Center’s first Joseph Jefferson Award.

Her other credits include directing “A Little Night Music,” “Next to Normal” and “Parade” (Jeff Nomination) BoHo Theatre; choreographing for American Players Theatre, Marriott Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, TimeLine, Writers Theatre, BoHo (Jeff Award – “Kiss of the Spider Woman”) and many Chicago-area high schools and colleges.

Fortunato is a graduate of Millikin University with a bachelor of fine arts in theater and a minor in dance. She has taught in the theater departments at Loyola University Chicago and Columbia College Chicago.

“I am going to miss the partnership Greg and I have built over the past 13 years of bringing high-quality live theater to Door County audiences, said Brian Kelsey, managing director. “I am excited to begin a new collaboration with Linda as the theater moves forward into a new decade. Linda has been a dedicated and supportive company member throughout my tenure, and like Greg, she understands what Peninsula Players means and why so many people cherish it. Although Greg is retiring as artistic director, we look forward to continuing to work with him as an actor or director in future seasons.

Vinkler continues to work on the winter play reading series, “The Play’s the Thing,” and the theater’s virtual programming of “Peninsula Players Presents.”

Vinkler and Fortunato will work side-by-side over the next several months to ensure a seamless transition. 

Peninsula Players Theatre is closely watching the current health crisis and will make operating decisions for its 2021 season at a later date. Peninsula Players Theatre is “America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre,” established in 1935 by the brother and sister team of Richard and Caroline Fisher. 

More about the theater’s rich history is at

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