Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event sponsored by the Door County Historical Society on one of my favorite topics, the history of Peninsula Players. In preparation for the presentation I kept pondering how to present the rich history of this grand lady of summer stock theater in under 30 minutes.
Travel back to 1935 with me as I paint a picture of how life was then. It was the height of the Depression, the Great Plains were recovering from a devastating dust storm, unemployment was running high at twenty percent and the music of Benny Goodman was becoming mainstream.
Featured on a new radio program called “Hit Parade” was Fred Astaire’s “Cheek to Cheek,” Shirley Temple’s “On The Good Ship Lollipop,” The Carter Family’s “Can the Circle Be Unbroken” and Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
A loaf of bread was eight cents, a gallon of gasoline was 10 cents and the average price for a new car was $625. This was the year Babe Ruth hit his last homerun and retired from baseball, the year the engineering marvel Hoover Dam was completed and Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Pacific. Looney Tunes introduced Porky Pig, the iconic Mickey Mouse appeared for the first time in technicolor and Parker Brothers introduced Monopoly.
While Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Mama and Papa Fisher were anxious for the future of their children, Caroline, Richard and Margot. All three had ambitions in the arts, as teenagers Caroline and Richard performed a tango routine in Chicago nightclubs while attending the 10-year old Goodman School of Drama. All three were searching for something do that summer.
The Fishers asked their friend Hedwig Welcker, a supporter of the arts and owner of the Bonnie Brook Motel in Fish Creek, if their children and their friends could perform plays in their backyard garden. Mrs. Welcker said yes and on July 25, 1935 the Peninsula Players held its first performance.
“The Peninsula Players, the name adopted by the cast of about 15 professional actors, all of wide experience in their chosen field of work, have launched upon a six-week series of high class drama,” stated an article in the July 26, 1935 edition of the Door County Advocate.
They chose to perform a variety of plays that were packed with mystery, laughs, social commentary and excitement for their audiences. The plays included Henrik Ibsen’s classic “Hedda Gabler,” Noel Coward’s farce “Hay Fever,” Edgar Wallace’s thriller “Criminal at Large,” S.N. Behrman’s cultured comedy “The Second Man,” and Romney Brent’s comedy, “The Mad Hopes.”
The Players continue to offer a variety of works to engage and entertain our audiences from the poignant and funny “Chapatti” to Agatha Christie’s whodunit, “The Hollow;” from the dramazation of actual events in “Alabama Story” to the entertaining comic thriller, “The 39 Steps.”
Thank you Mama and Papa Fisher for nurturing the dreams of your children, for that dream has thrived and is now into its eighth decade. Thank you the many patrons, donors, advertisers and businesses for supporting the Players by loaning Caroline a tux or prop, hanging a poster when she asked or by joining us at one of our more than 500 shows. Thank you to the many who tread the boards before us, your legacy is alive and thriving in the woods.
This week the Players celebrate its 81st birthday the best way we know how, by opening the third show of our season, a lively, pop-rock musical “The Full Monty.” A company of 20 actors, seven musicians, dressers, follow-spot operators, carpenters, costumers, artists and a whole running crew of others are living and embodying the Fisher’s dream of professional theater in Door County. Join us as we all celebrate and “Let it Go” in the finale of “The Full Monty.”
“The Full Monty” tickets are going quickly so please call the Box Office soon to book. “The Full Monty” does contain mature adult language, themes and nudity. For more information about “The Full Monty” or the rest of the 2016 season, call the Box Office at 920-868-3287 or visit peninsulaplayers.com. Join us by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!