All eyes in the audience were focused on King Lear, when an unannounced walk-on briefly stole Shakespeare’s play. Like others, I watched a small skunk appear onstage, pause, and then exit into the dark woods.
That summer night was part of a memorable visit to Spring Green, Wis., where the arts thrive along with nature. This small town of about 1,650, located 165 miles from Chicago’s North Shore, is where as a boy Frank Lloyd Wright fell in love with the area’s natural beauty and where you can enjoy the American Players Theatre, a perfect outdoor setting for the classics, especially Shakespeare’s plays.
The other major attraction is Taliesin, where Wright built his home and began his architectural fellowship. The rolling hills, bluffs and picturesque valleys near the Wisconsin River provided a peaceful refuge in 1911 for Wright after he abandoned his first wife, children and his architectural practice in Oak Park. He moved to Spring Green to escape the scandal that followed him to Europe and built the house he called Taliesin, Welsh for “shining brow,” on a hill about 60 feet above a valley. Over the next 48 years, it was his personal residence and became one of his most acclaimed works.
Visitors can tour both the house and most of the complex, which includes Wright’s living quarters, guest rooms, his studio, the Hillside School where he founded his architectural fellowship, farm buildings, gardens and terraces. Taliesin offers four public tours through the end of October, as well as private group tours and summer camps for children. Reservations are highly recommended for all tours, which include walking up steps and hillsides. Accessible tours are available by special arrangement with three weeks’ notice. The house tour is also offered on weekends in November. Children under the age of 10 are permitted on the Hillside studio and theater tour, but not on other tours.
Preservation work is ongoing at all four primary buildings on the 600-acre site, as well as the natural areas of prairies and savannahs, gardens and agricultural lands. “We do have a lot going on,” said Ryan Hewson, collections and preservation manager.
The highlight of the house tour is the living room, a spectacular space with large windows that open onto the hillsides and valley, framing the views like Wright’s favorite Japanese prints. The room includes chairs and tables designed by Wright, a six-paneled Japanese screen and Chinese rugs.
The Highlights, Hillside and Estate tours now include a new model of the Call Building, designed by Wright in 1912 for the San Francisco Call newspaper. The structure was never built but Wright used the original model, now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in several exhibitions.
For just the second year, the Estate Tour features a visit to Tan-y-Deri. Visitors can see the main level of the newly restored home that Wright designed for his sister Jane Porter and her husband Andrew, as well as artwork by Wright’s younger sister Maginel.
Tours begin at the nearby Taliesin visitor center, designed by Wright in 1953 as a gateway to Taliesin as well as a restaurant and meeting place with his clients. The building overlooks the Wisconsin River and houses the Taliesin Bookstore and the Riverview Spring Green Restaurant.
Spring Green’s natural beauty also attracted the founders of the American Players Theatre to its location in the woods. Now in its 37th season, the APT has two theaters. The Up the Hill theater has 1,148 seats and wonderful acoustics in its natural amphitheater, and the 200-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre down the hill offers a season that goes into November.
At the Up the Hill this summer, audiences can enjoy Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” which managing director Carrie Van Hallgren recommends. “It’s very funny and great for introducing children to Shakespeare,” she said. Other plays include “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller and “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde.
The 200-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre begins with “The African Company Presents Richard III” by Carlyle Brown, a thought-provoking play about who owns the classics.
Outdoor activities in the area include canoeing on the Wisconsin River, hiking in nearby state parks and bicycling along winding roads. Spring Green has several attractive shops, restaurants, a variety of lodgings and several artists’ shops and studios. Other attractions are the House on the Rock, Governor Dodge State Park, Tower Hill State Park and Cave of the Mounds.
To order tickets at APT, visit www.americanplayers.org or call the box office at 608/588-2361. Information about Taliesin tours is available at www.taliesinpreservation.org. Or call Taliesin at 608/588-7900, or toll free 877/588-7900. For more information about Spring Green, see http://www.travelwisconsin.com/south-central/sauk-county/spring-green.
Mary C. Galligan is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago.