Tag Archives: door county

Northern Sky Theater’s ‘Doctor! Doctor!’ inspired by writer’s love of Door County

Some of Matt Zembrowski’s fondest childhood memories took place beneath the trees of Door County’s Peninsula State Park, where he and his family frequently camped during the summer. “My family has camped in that park since before I could walk,” says Zembrowski. “It is still one of my favorite places.”

That forest also nurtured Zembrowski’s love of the theater, a passion he has transferred into a career as a teacher, performer and composer. His latest creation, the musical Doctor! Doctor!, will premiere at Northern Sky Theater in Door County this summer.

Zembrowski traces the spark back to a chilly night in August 1995, when he and his brother attended a Theatre Under the Stars production at Northern Sky (then known as American Folklore Theatre).

“My brother Zach and I attended a performance of Bone Dance that evening, which had me hooked even through I didn’t realize it at the time,” says Zembrowski. “At the time, I had no idea that this show would be so pivotal in my career path.”

The ambience of Northern Sky’s space, which presents theater outdoors with the forests of Door County as a backdrop, was something Zembrowski couldn’t shake, even as an adult. In 2009, he finally got the chance to do something with it. That year, he was hired as a music director by the company, performing and co-writing songs with longtime idols and Northern Sky company members Fred “Doc” Heide and Lee Becker. “It was for a show called Sunsets and S’mores,”says Zembrowski. “It was an amazing experience which proved inspirational for me.”

After that summer, Zembrowski channelled that inspiration into several play scripts, which he sent to Northern Sky for consideration. None were accepted.

“As I look back on the rejections, I see why that was the decision,” says Zembrowski. “At the time though, it was disappointing. But I tried not to let it discourage me, and persevered.”

Northern Sky’s homegrown musicals always are rooted in Wisconsin-based themes, so Zembrowski spent the next few years keeping an eye out for the right story to tell. The answer came in 2012, while Zembrowski was flipping through an issue of the Door County Pulse while waiting to be seated at a restaurant.

The article was about Dr. Joan Traver, a soon-to-be retired physician from Sister Bay. She was one of the last remaining “country doctors,” who had spent most of her career making house calls instead of working in a hospital setting.

“The story stuck with me,” Zembrowski says, “and I realized that I may finally have the story for Northern Sky.”

That story became Doctor! Doctor!, the play Zembrowski finished a few months later and sent off to Northern Sky. This time, they accepted it — and that was when the real work began, he says.

After several years of workshopping, including a public reading in 2015, the show is finally ready to take the stage. Its production in Northern Sky’s 2016 season will be its first full performance.

Doctor! Doctor! follows the story of a retiring doctor who is rewarding his years of hard work with a vacation. In his absence, he’s called upon his nephew, also a doctor, to take his place. “It’s very city mouse meets country mouse,” explained Zembrowski. “The nephew’s take on modern medicine ruffles a few feathers at first, but slowly the rural community begins to embrace the new changes. The show explores the concept of change and how it isn’t always a bad thing.”

Doctor! Doctor! opens June 15 and runs through the summer with Northern Sky’s other three summer shows: No Bones About It, When Butter Churns to Gold and Lumberjacks in Love. Tickets are $22, $11 for students, $6 children 3 to 12. They can be purchased online at: northernskytheater.com or 920-854-6117.

The Ridges Sanctuary preserves Wisconsin’s native orchids and more

Stroll down the new boardwalk or along the five miles of trails at The Ridges Sanctuary, the nature preserve in Baileys Harbor on the Door County peninsula, and there is a very good chance you will come across a ram’s-head lady’s-slipper, one of the 49 orchid varieties indigenous to Wisconsin.

The ram's-head lady's-slipper is one of the many orchid species being preserved and protected at The Ridges. Photos: Doug Sherman.
The ram’s-head lady’s-slipper is one of the many orchid species being preserved and protected at The Ridges. Photos: Doug Sherman.

But what’s common to The Ridges is less common elsewhere. The ram’s-head lady’s-slipper is considered a “threatened” species by Wisconsin’s Bureau of Endangered Resources, and The Ridges’ efforts at orchid restoration may help save the delicate yet stunning flower from extinction.

Such a mission is just one indication that The Ridges Sanctuary itself is a very uncommon destination.

The 1,500-acre sanctuary, along with another 100 or so acres on Logan Creek in nearby Jacksonport, was the Badger State’s first private nature preserve and land trust. As one of only three boreal forests in Wisconsin — meaning that it is a northern forest consisting of trees like pines and spruces — The Ridges has a concentration of 26 of the state’s 49 orchid varieties. It’s also a home and breeding ground for the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly and families of northern flying squirrels.

Located on a Lake Michigan inlet that concentrates the water’s cold currents, The Ridges takes its name from the unusual geographic formations created by the lake’s ebbs and flows, according to Steve Leonard, the sanctuary’s executive director.

“Each of the ridges is an old lakeshore formed by the lake’s wave action,” Leonard says. “The space between the ridges accounts for between 40 to 50 years, which is Lake Michigan’s recessionary cycle.”

The 30 existing ridges total between 1,200 to 1,500 years of the lake’s ingress and egress, Leonard adds. The hydrologic activity also contributes to the unique environment that makes The Ridges such an effective natural preserve.

Fronted by a relatively new $2 million visitors center on Highway 57, The Ridges’ pristine environment makes it a peaceful retreat from Door County’s summer tourist bustle. The sanctuary’s unique flora and verdant forest also make it easy to understand what first attracted naturalists to the region more than 80 years ago.

In 1935, Albert Fuller, then botany curator at the Milwaukee Public Museum, began traveling to Baileys Harbor to study the area’s unusual plant life. His research soon led to a full-blown conservation effort when he discovered that the original 40-acre land parcel, leased to Door County by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, was destined to become a trailer park.

After two years of advocacy by Fuller and fellow conservationist Jens Jensen, the newly formed Ridges Sanctuary, the state’s first land trust, acquired the parcel in 1937. Over the years, adjoining land was acquired to grow the preserve to the size it is today.

Two lighthouses, a pair of range lights built in 1869, still stand in The Ridges. The lights in their day were important safety features for the many ships that arrived in Baileys Harbor as part of a booming logging industry in the late 19th century.

Prior to the building of the new visitors’ center, which opened in June 2015, the house at the base of the larger of the two lights served as The Ridges’ administrative offices. The house and the lights have since been refurbished and will open for public tours for the first time on May 21.

For Leonard, however, the big news is the orchid restoration project, which is being conducted with help from other members of the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) and the Smithsonian Institution.

“The primary goal is to better understand and preserve these orchid species and their habitat so we can better protect them in the future,” Leonard says.

Orchids are one of the world’s largest plant families, with more than 30,000 varieties growing in almost every habitat on every continent except Antarctica, the executive director explains. Because of the plant’s reliance on certain pollinators and fungi to survive, orchids are among the first species to disappear when an ecosystem is altered or changed.

As the botanical equivalent of a canary in the coal mine, orchids provide valuable early warnings for the declining health of an ecosystem, enabling conservation action to be taken before it’s too late. That’s part of why The Ridges has embarked on a full-scale restoration effort.

In April, The Ridges began to create a scope of work for the summer months, which begins with a survey of the preserve’s orchid varieties and comparison of habitat data with other regional NOACC members. From there conservators will begin collecting and freezing for future use seeds from different orchid varieties to be stored locally at The Ridges, nationally at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and internationally at London’s Kew Gardens.

The sanctuary and other NOACC members also will conduct research into orchid propagation and the relationship with the mycorrhizal fungi they need to survive. Additional research will be done on the various pollinators required to help the orchid population prosper.

Further steps in the plan include the establishment of a greenhouse to foster and grow orchid seedlings, restoration of areas within the sanctuary for orchid growth, and an overall orchid management plan for The Ridges.

“Our biggest effort of the summer will be to reintroduce the Ram’s-Head Lady’s Slipper, which we’re propagating offsite,” Leonard says. “Then we’ll look at the other species as well.”

In the meantime, a growing number of visitors will come to The Ridges Sanctuary for its peace and tranquility. Few of those visitors treading the boardwalk will be aware of the riches growing right at their feet.

The Ridges Sanctuary, located at 1866 Hwy. 57, Baileys Harbor, is open daily, with guided hikes available on weekends. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children under 18. For more information, call 920-839-2802.

Romantic getaways for a winter weekend in Wisconsin

Use GPS to find “romance” and the map leads to Romance, Wisconsin, off Route 56 near South Creek Road in Vernon County.

This unincorporated community, which claims to be the turkey capital of Wisconsin, is probably not the best destination for a Valentine’s Day getaway, unless there are plans to go hunting or hiking in the nearby Romance Prairie State Nature Area.

Couples looking to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day instead might use GPS to navigate to Kohler, Lake Geneva, Door County and Bayfield, all destinations to rekindle romance and spark passion.

Seeking counsel on romantic getaways, WiG turned to the experts at the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. The suggestions …

Bayfield Bayfield is Wisconsin’s true north. Visitors bundle up and cuddle close in this romantic winter destination. At the Old Rittenhouse Inn, lodgers can book a room with a working fireplace and enjoy a gourmet meal in the dining room of the Queen Anne-style mansion. At Mount Ashwabay, the downhill skiing is outstanding. Bayfield Winery offers wine tastings to toast the spirits and superior winter views of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. For the couple that gambles together, a good bet is the Legendary Waters Resort & Casino at Red Cliff.

Door County Quiet, snow-covered Door County is a great romantic getaway. The Settlement Courtyard Inn & Lavender Spa in Fish Creek is inviting, with fireplaces and in-house spa services. For an intimate dinner, the tourism experts recommend reserving a table at the Inn at Kristofer’s in Sister Bay. For breakfast or lunch, dine at The Cookery in Fish Creek. Art galleries offer an opportunity to fill an afternoon with wandering. And, if the holiday weekend’s skies are clear, take a drive to the 19th-century lighthouses along the shoreline.

Kohler The American Club in Kohler promises pampering with a massage at the five-star Kohler Waters Spa. Specialty treatments include the Hammam Ritual, an 80-minute hydrotherapy treatment based on the traditions of Turkish Hammam bathhouses. Those who travel to Kohler over Valentine’s Day weekend can attend a wine dinner, chocolate workshop, choc-tail mixer or chocolate and coffee pairings at In Celebration of Chocolate.

Lake Geneva At Fantasy Hills Ranch in Delavan, couples can go horseback riding across a 70-acre winter wonderland or get cozy under the stars on a moonlit sleigh ride. The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers luxury accommodations. This AAA four-diamond resort also offers dining in three restaurants and boasts an indoor waterpark. 

Cycling Door County: Good for the heart — and soul

There’s no better way to get a feel for the terrain of a place than by cycling it.

With generations of family ensconced in Sturgeon Bay and a lifetime of visits behind me, I thought I knew almost everything about Door County. But I came to learn that I’d never paid close enough attention to the hills.

Door County is full of them. Astride a Trek bicycle rented from Nor Door Sport and Cyclery in Fish Creek, I got up close and personal with the Door’s steep topography.

“I always say that it’s good for the heart,” said Chet Gerlach, a former state legislator from South Milwaukee who, among other things, is currently co-owner and tour guide for Door County Bike Tours.

“And for every uphill, there’s a downhill on the other side,” he added reassuringly.

“Sounds like something a politician would say,” I thought as I chuffed up a hill just south of Ephraim. “I’ll tell that to my legs when they start cramping.”

Gerlach, now a Madison-based contract lobbyist, and his wife Barb, an educator with Madison Public Schools, are four years into the bike tour business. They fell in love with the idea after taking their own cycling odyssey up the length of the peninsula and back again. The pair has been introducing other bikers to Door County’s pastoral pleasures — including its hills — ever since.

The Gerlach’s three-day excursions start and end daily at the Eagle Harbor Inn, a nicely appointed B&B tucked back from the sometimes-bustling Highway 42 at the south end of Ephraim.

I stayed in “Josie,” a very pleasant room with a four-poster bed and a view of spacious lawn. The rooms at the Eagle Harbor Inn have names rather than numbers, and mine was named for Josephine Lang, born in 1905 and known as one of Door County’s finest cooks. Given the high quality of each morning’s breakfast, it seems that Josie’s ghost still haunts the inn’s kitchen.

Our intrepid tour group was composed of five women and two men: a retired engineer from Naperville, Illinois, two medical technicians from Minneapolis, and three visitors from Michigan’s upper peninsula, one of whom was a Michigan state trooper.

And, of course, there was me.

I introduced myself by recounting the words of a bike tour guide in western Ireland: “Today’s route is flat, but some parts are flatter than others.” Gerlach smiled. I later learned that I’d given him a new line to use on future tours.

That line was foremost in my head as we struggled uphill on Highway 42 to the entrance to Peninsula Park. Wisconsin’s third-largest state park, Peninsula is visited by 1 million people annually. Once in the park, the terrain continued to roll, but by then we were becoming conditioned to it.

Our route took us along the Shore Road to Eagle Tower, a 76-foot-high wooden observation tower that stands atop a 180-feet-high limestone bluff. The tower offers a commanding view of Green Bay — the body of water, not the city — and its islands. The tower’s many steps further taxed my legs, already weary from cycling up hills, but the view made it worth the effort.

Continuing along the shoreline, we stopped at the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, first built in 1868. It was home to several lighthouse keepers and their families prior to becoming automated in 1926. A friendly docent led us on a private tour of the facility, considered palatial for its time and place.

A leisurely ride back to Ephraim took us along little-used back roads winding under the park’s canopies of massive trees. The hill we earlier had struggled up was now a sweeping free ride back into Ephraim and the Eagle Harbor Inn. 

Day two dawned to cloudy skies, which soon opened to an almost iridescent blue. This day our route turned inland and we headed out — uphill, of course — for a tour of farm and field.

Most tourists clog Highway 42 from Sturgeon Bay to Gills Rock in search of entertainment, using a few large country roads to cross over to Highway 57 on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. Few travel the warren of tiny back roads that comprised day two’s route. Other than a few other bike groups, the roads were virtually ours.

Small farms dappled with aging and crumbling barns gave our route a pastoral-postcard quality. A wealth of photo ops lined our travel — including a farm with a camel in its corral — as we made our way to the Edgewood Orchard Galleries, one of the many art galleries dotting the peninsula.

But Edgewood is a little different. This third-generation, family-owned gallery is the only one with a sculpture garden. We occupied our rest time wandering among fantastical creations lining paths that snaked through a grove of trees. 

Next we idled along a primarily downhill route past some beautiful bayside homes, which reminded me why people move to Door County, before landing at Fish Creek’s White Gull Inn for lunch.

The White Gull’s claim to fame came in 2010, when the B&B won Good Morning America Weekend’s “Best Breakfast in America” challenge for its cherry-stuffed French toast. 

The dish, two golden brown slices of egg bread with pockets of cream cheese and fresh Door County cherries, is available for breakfast or lunch for $8.70. But we had a similar dish for breakfast at our own B&B, so most of us opted for protein to continue the ride.

From the restaurant we rode easily back to our lodging and, with 25 miles behind us, spent the rest of the afternoon with wine, cheese and croquet mallets. Several of Gerlach’s colleagues were well versed in the lawn “sport” and guided us through a pair of well-managed and highly competitive games. 

On our third and final day, our route took us southeast to Baileys Harbor on the peninsula’s Lake Michigan side. The group received a guided tour of Björklunden vid Sjön (Norwegian for “birch forest by the water”), which is the summer campus of Appleton’s Lawrence University. Boynton Chapel, the campus’ centerpiece, is an excellent example of a Norwegian stavkirke, or stave church, and home to 41 hand-painted frescos and ornately carved wooden fixtures.

As nice as Björklunden and its chapel were, they weren’t the highlight of my visit. That came later, on a side trip down nearby Frogtown Road.

In the late 19th century, my ancestors Peter and Anna Muckian emigrated from Ireland to Door County, building a house on the hillside overlooking Lake Michigan. The house and its inhabitants were connected to Bailey’s Harbor by what was then called Muckian Road. 

Over the years, things changed. Peter and Anna died, their children moved away, the land was subdivided and sold and other, more impressive houses were built along what’s now called Frogtown Road.

But the old house is still there, shuttered and small on the hillside behind a very large and much newer McMansion. I had never met Peter or Anna — they died before I was born. But sitting astride my now trusty Trek and staring up at what was once the Muckian homestead, I felt a deep kinship with the people of the peninsula, and a profound sense of place and of peace.

Gerlach was right. Cycling through Door County is good for the heart, and in so many ways.


Door County Bike Tours offers three-day weekend excursions June through September. For more information, visit doorcountybiketours.com.

Midsummer’s Music Festival

Door County’s biggest classical music series celebrates its 25th year in 2015. At the opening gala June 12, they’ll be joined by the Preucil family, a cellist and violinist couple who were invited to the first festival and have since had three kids, musicians all. The full orchestra will perform a variety of works, including a Schumann piano quartet they performed as part of their first concert in 1991. The festival will continue for another month, until July 14. The gala is at Birch Creek Performance Center, 3821 City Road E, Egg Harbor, and tickets are $60.

Locations and prices for future concerts vary. Visit midsummersmusic.com to order.

7 p.m. June 12, additional concerts through July 14

Summer theater blossoms on Door County stages

Door County is known as a summer destination, a place to get away and embrace tranquility. But for theater lovers — and other vacationers looking to try something new — driving up to the northeastern woods doesn’t mean you’re cutting yourself off from a world of dramatic culture.

Quite the opposite. Door County has its own unique theater community, and June marks curtain up — or whatever’s the equivalent when you’re journeying into the woods to find a stage tucked away as if by magic.

No matter what your tastes, there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy. The community’s tried and true venues include Peninsula Players, Northern Sky Theater (formerly American Folklore Theater) and Door Shakespeare, and each has a season packed with diverse, enchanting works.

You’ve just got to head north to find them.

Peninsula Players

The Peninsula Players have been in the Door County theater game the longest, celebrating their 80th anniversary this year. 

But artistic director Greg Vinkler isn’t taking the anniversary as an opportunity to do anything more than carry on Peninsula Players’ everyday mission. “In thinking about what kind of season I would do to celebrate (our anniversary),” he says, “I realized that the best way to celebrate such a season was to keep doing what we were doing, which was offer a great variety of shows to our audiences.”

Peninsula Players performs in an all-weather pavilion, located on a former Boy Scout camp along Green Bay that also features wooded gardens and a beer garden and bonfire site overlooking the bay. The company chooses not to perform its shows in repertory, unlike other Door County companies, running each of the five shows in its season consecutively.

When selecting this year’s plays, Vinkler had two important shows to schedule around. One is their first show: A Real Lulu, a world premiere by Paul Slade Smith. Smith, a friend of Vinkler’s, wrote a play called Unnecessary Farce that the company staged several years ago, and Lulu is his follow-up. The play is a comedy about a new governor of Vermont and the slew of well-intentioned advisors who try to mold him into a regular politician against his will.

“(Smith) finally got it to a point where he thought it was ready for production,” Vinkler says. “That was a deciding factor in getting what followed to happen.”

Vinkler will perform in Lulu as an actor, but he’ll direct his other early pick: Outside Mullingar, an Irish romantic comedy by John Patrick Shanley. Vinkler says Peninsula Players performed Shanley’s best-known play, Doubt, several years ago, to great success. Outside Mullingar is a very different play, about members of two families in the midst of a land dispute, but Vinkler knew as soon as he read it he wanted to stage it as well.

From there, the season became a matter of complementing the initial choices. Neither show was a musical, so Vinkler picked one up: Nunsense. Both were comedies, so Vinkler looked for something darker: Dial M for Murder. And while both were funny, he needed something that went beyond funny all the way to silly: the classic farce Lend Me a Tenor.

Boiled down to its essence, it sounds simple. But even with more than two decades’ experience with the company, Vinkler says selecting a season is always a challenge because he’s got to find shows his actors can all be a part of. “The thing I have to think about is that I have to carry a company of actors through the season, so they have to be shows that would accommodate that.”

On his side: a loyal audience. Vinkler says audiences do include new faces, but are frequently filled by visitors who’ve been coming for years, attracted by the ambience the company offers. “It’s unique that, in an evening, an audience member can come picnic in the beer garden, watch the sun set over Green Bay (and) see a show. … It’s quite a nice evening out and a unique experience. I don’t know of very many theaters like it.”

Peninsula Players’ summer season runs from June 16 to Oct. 18, at 4351 Peninsula Players Road, Fish Creek. Its first show of the season, A Real Lulu, runs June 16 to July 5. Tickets range from $36 to $45. Visit peninsulaplayers.com or call 920-868-3287.

Northern Sky Theatre

The big news at Northern Sky Theatre this season is the name itself. It’s the new moniker of the company formerly known as American Folklore Theatre, and artistic director Jeffrey Herbst says it’s long overdue.

“American Folklore Theater wasn’t really describing what we were doing anymore,” he says. “The name change already has started to allow us to have a bigger umbrella.”

What the newly rechristened company is doing nowadays is producing original, homegrown musicals, a big shift from its roots as an off-shoot of the Heritage Ensemble, which collected and performed folk songs with Midwest ties. Herbst, who has been with the company since it became AFT in 1990, says the shift from revues to book musicals has been slowly building over the past few decades, and it was increasingly becoming apparent that the writers and composers they wanted to work with didn’t know what to make of their name.

“(Our writers) wanted to write original shows and they wanted to write them for us,” Herbst says. “But it became a little bit of an issue for me to say ‘write something for American Folklore Theater’ … because they didn’t know exactly what that meant. I didn’t know what it meant.”

Now that they’re officially known as Northern Sky (an allusion to the starry “rooftop” audience members sit beneath at the company’s amphitheater in Peninsula State Park), Herbst and his company can get on with the business of performing the original works they’re known for. This season, they’re pushing themselves harder than ever, premiering two brand-new works in the same season for the first time, alongside last year’s hit Strings Attached, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors featuring ukulele- and banjo-playing twins.

One of the two premieres comes from the usual channels Northern Sky has established in its 25-year existence. Herbst commissioned When Butter Churns to Gold from a playwriting team based in Los Angeles (although, by coincidence, writer Peter Welkin is originally from Wisconsin). After reviewing successive versions and workshopping the piece, he scheduled it for the 2015 season.

It’s a bit of a departure from Northern Sky’s usual fare thanks to Welkin’s experience working for a group called the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville. Welkin wrote Butter in the style the company’s known for: over-the-top melodrama, with black-and-white villains and heroes battling over an orphaned heroine’s family farm and the occasional dose of metatheatrical fourth-wall breaking. “It’s a combination of old-fashioned style with a modern twist,” Herbst says.

No Bones About It, on the other hand, is totally brand-new, commissioned especially for this year. “I had some other things that were in the pipeline … but I looked at what those options were and I didn’t think that I had enough pop,” Herbst says.

He needed a new musical from scratch in less than a year, so he turned to his most reliable team: music and lyrics duo Paul Libman and Dave Hudson, now the company’s most-produced pair with six musicals to their name. Herbst knew he could count on them to come up with something clever, and he got it — a Romeo & Juliet adaptation featuring dueling barbecue dynasties and “char”-crossed lovers.

Those three shows will be performed in repertory throughout the summer, followed by the annual fall show. This year, they’ll bring a classic collaboration between composer James Kaplan and the late AFT co-founder Fred Alley indoors for the first time: Lumberjacks in Love.

That show will be performed at the Door Community Auditorium, but Herbst isn’t sure how much longer that’ll be the case — going forward, he hopes Northern Sky can have a new home as well as a new name. “The lifeblood of this theater company is original works, and original works have to have a place where they can be created,” he says. Renting space is working for now, but sooner or later Northern Sky may need a permanent facility.

For now, it’s enough to just be Northern Sky Theater, even if Herbst says old habits die hard: “I still catch myself, after working here for 25 years, saying AFT sometimes. But most of the time I don’t.”

Northern Sky Theater’s summer season runs in repertory June 11 to Aug. 29 at 10169 Shore Road, Fish Creek. Lumberjacks in Love will run Sept. 4 to Oct. 17 at Door Community Auditorium, 3926 Highway 42. Tickets are $20, $10 for teens, $6 for children 12 and under, with an additional $7 charge for reserved seating. Visit northernskytheater.com or call 920-854-6117.

Door Shakespeare

More than any of Door County’s other theaters, Door Shakespeare is in the process of reinventing itself. That’s due to the ongoing evolution spearheaded by executive director Amy Ludwigsen, currently preparing for her third year of shows at Door County’s Björklunden estate.

When Ludwigsen joined Door Shakes in 2012, after the resignation of founders Suzanne Graff and Jerry Gomes, she joined a company that had been focusing on the comedies of Shakespeare and occasionally other writers. She expanded and contracted the scope simultaneously, deciding to exclusively perform Shakespeare plays for the next few years but introduce the Bard’s romances, tragedies and potentially even histories into the mix, beginning with a double-bill of Macbeth and Love’s Labors Lost her first year. 

“People don’t need to just laugh,” she says. “They can be challenged and entertained at the same time.”

Ludwigsen’s instincts proved right. Her inaugural season was well-received and it’s given her the confidence to go further, bringing in new artists to help the company grow.

One of them is director Leda Hoffmann. Introduced to Door Shakespeare last year, Hoffmann will return this year to direct Romeo & Juliet and The Tempest. 

Ludwigsen says she and Hoffmann determined it was important to stage Romeo & Juliet due to its influence on modern society. “It’s a play that you are going to deal with at some point in your life,” she says. 

The Tempest, then, serves as a counterweight to Romeo & Juliet’s urban setting, beautiful in its depiction of nature. The show’s staging will reflect the beauty of the surrounding woods rather than the stereotypical tropical island — as if Prospero’s isle is only a kayak tour away.

One of Ludwigsen’s earliest artistic decisions at Door Shakes was to make the stage more intimate by centering it around a maple tree on the property and arranging the seating on three sides. This year, with the help of set designer Aaron Kopec, they’ll go further, building their first-ever multi-level set around that tree as a way to integrate it into Björklunden itself. “We’re calling it the Treehouse. … We want people to feel like it has always been there.”

Door Shakespeare originally began as an offshoot project of American Folklore Theater in the mid-90s, and Ludwigsen believes its mission to perform classical theater in Door County remains as relevant as it’s ever been. “These stories are still our stories,” she says.

But it’s important to her that she tells those stories in ways that truly benefit the audience and artists, whether that means casting more diversely and splitting up female roles to allow for more women on stage or simply making it easier for people of all ages to see their shows, by encouraging student groups to attend and hosting family nights where parents and grandparents can bring children to engage with the shows on their levels. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting summer to be in the audience — not just for what you’re watching on stage but for who you’re watching it with.”

Door Shakespeare’s summer season runs in repertory June 30 to Aug. 15 at 7590 Boynton Lane, Bailey’s Harbor. Tickets are $27, $32 for reserved seating, $17 for students and $7 for children under 12. Visit doorshakespeare.com or call 920-839-1500.

Rest of the fests

Wisconsin is famous for its colorful array of summer festivals. Although, regrettably, the summer sun is waning, a surprisingly large number of interesting festivals are still to come in the next month.

A few of the upcoming festivities that the state offers.…

Little Bull Falls LogJam Festival, Aug. 8–10

Flannel and fireworks: Mosinee celebrates life on the Wisconsin River and the region’s rich logging history with three days of entertainment featuring the Drovers and Hillbilly Wild, re-enactments, chain-saw carving, fireworks and lumberjacks flexing some muscle. At River Park, 1101 Main St., Mosinee, 54455. Admission is free. For more, visit logjamfestival.org.

Rib Lake Ice Age Days, Aug. 8–10

Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm and bands: Rib Lake — population 910 — celebrates its place along the Ice Age Trail with Ice Age Days, a family-focused festival featuring a fish boil, a street dance, musical performances, a classic car show and a Sunday parade with marchers costumed as cavemen and cavewomen. Downtown, McComb Avenue, Rib Lake, 54470. Admission is free. For more, call 715-427-5404 or visit riblakewisconsin.com.

Perseid Meteor Showers Night Sky celebration, Aug. 12

Looking up in darkest park: Skygazers gather in the darkest park in northern Door County — with lawn chairs, blankets and coolers in tow — to picnic under meteor showers. An added attraction is the biggest and brightest supermoon of the year, coinciding with the biggest and brightest meteor shower. At Newport State Park, 475 County Road NP, Ellison Bay, 54210. No charge. 

Big Bull Falls Blues Fest, Aug. 15–16

Tuning up: Wausau is warming up for the 23rd annual Big Bull Falls Blues Fest — the state’s longest-running blues fest. The stage lineup includes Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo, The Jimmys, Candye Kane, Quinn Sullivan, John Nemeth and the Royal Southern Brotherhood. At Fern Island Park, 500 River Drive, Wausau, 54403. Tickets are $15 on Aug. 15, $35 on Aug. 16 or $40 for two days. For more, call 715-843-0748 or visit wausauevents.org.

Mexican Fiesta, Aug. 22–24

Southern neighbors: Milwaukee’s Mexican community always turns out in force for Mexican Fiesta, a vibrant celebration of their culture. Mariachi is the musical style that takes center stage, but the rest of their lineup is strong too, including major norteño band Los Tigres del Norte. The festival also features a wide array of food options, as well as arts and crafts on display at their cultural pavilion. Admission is $15. Visit mexicanfiesta.org for more details.

Bluegrass in the Pines, Aug. 21–23

Summertime rag: Rosholt hosts a three-day jam session and camping event in conjunction with its fifth annual music festival. The host band is Art Stevenson and High Water. The lineup also includes Feller and Hill and the Bluegrass Buckaroos;  Larry Gillis and Swampgrass Band; Tommy Brown and County Line Grass; the High 48s; Horseshoes and Hand Grenades; the Fish Heads; and Sloppy Joe. At Rosholt Fair Park, North Main Street, Rosholt, 54467. Tickets are $10–$15 and campsites are $5–$20 per person per night. Call 715-884-6996 or visit highwatermusic.com.

Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival, Aug. 22-23

“Ready, ready”: Dragon-boat racing is one of the world’s fastest growing water sports. The 13th annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival will draw 20-plus teams to compete in 450-meter races off Barker’s Island. Fans can watch and cheer from the shore, where organizers promise food, song and dance.
Barker’s Island, 300 Marina Drive, Superior, 54880. Admission is free. For more, call 715-395-6169 or visit

Three Lakes Nicolet Wheel-A-Way, Aug. 30

Tour de Three Lakes: Bicycling enthusiasts on the 23rd annual Three Lakes Nicolet Wheel-A-Way can peddle an 18-mile or 36-mile route through the Nicolet Forest and through the three-lakes area. The ride begins at 9:20 a.m. and breaks for a picnic lunch at Franklin Lake. At Don Burnside Park, 6000 Stanzil St., Three Lakes, 54562. Registration is $35–$40 per individual, $70–$75 per family. For more, call 715-546-3344.

Potato Fest, Aug. 30

Spud-filled day: Of course there’s a potato-salad taste-off, a couch potato race, a French Fry Frenzy and a pancake breakfast, as well as live music. At Trig’s Green Space, 232 S. Courtney St., Rhinelander. Admission is free. For more, call 715-362-7374 or visit downtownrhinelander.com.

Indian Summer Festival, Sept. 5–7

Summer’s last hurrah: As the last big festival of the season, Indian Summer is already a hot ticket, and that’s before considering it’s the biggest American Indian celebration of its kind in the country. This year’s festival includes a concurrent Horse Nation Celebration, as well as a weekend-long contest pow wow, lacrosse matches and
Olympic amateur boxing. Tickets are $14, $10 for seniors. For more, visit indiansummer.org.

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