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Door County has been cultivating a reputation for performing arts ever since Peninsula Players theater opened on the shores of Green Bay in 1935. Today that reputation is well-known throughout the state and the nation, with theater and music troops found up and down the peninsula.
One reason theater thrives in Door County is its remarkable roll call of unique venues, nestled in gardens, tucked into the shoreline, or blanketed by stars (the ones in the sky, not on the stage). If performing arts is on your vacation docket, these beautiful venues should be on your agenda.
(For a look behind the scenes of Door County summer theater, watch the latest episode of Our Door County - Behind the Curtain)
What better way to experience theater in Door County than in the open air?
Northern Sky Theater
Hailed as “one of the most exceptional professional troupes in the country,” Northern Sky Theater performs four shows in repertory in the amphitheater snuck into the woods of Peninsula State Park through August. Formerly known as American Folklore Theatre, this open-air theatre blends seamlessly into its surroundings, including the backdrop made of pillars that mimic the cedars enveloping the stage and the audience.
Come September, the troupe moves indoors to the Door Community Auditorium for its fall run.
Peg Egan Performing Arts Center
It might seem like an obvious place to put a stage in Cherryland USA, but it was only eight years ago that the Village of Egg Harbor built the Peg Egan Performing Arts Center amongst the orchards of Eames Farms. Funded by a generous donation from the Egan family, it was an immediate hit and has since become a Sunday night tradition for locals and visitors alike.
There are no seats, just a lawn perfect for a blanket, some BYO chairs, snacks, and a bottle of wine to enjoy with the music, the blossoms, and a sunset behind the stage. Oh, and the concerts are free!
The beautiful lakeside grounds of Bjorklunden may be Door County’s best-kept secret. A retreat for Lawrence University staff and students, the gardens of the campus are also home to Door Shakespeare, a company that performs the bard’s famous works in a theater in the woods.
A treasure on the lakeshore, Peninsula Players presents broadway quality comedies and musicals through October. The “theater in a garden” has served as a springboard to careers on broadway and Hollywood for some, but the star of the show here never leaves - a picturesque setting on the shores of Green Bay.
Arrive early for a show and give yourself time to wander amidst the cedars, stroll along the shore, and soak in a sunset with a cocktail before heading inside the theater. By the time you sit down, Mother Nature has already set the stage.
Some of Door County's coolest venues are found in beautiful barns repurposed from their agricultural days.
Birch Creek Music Performance Center
A music school by day, a concert venue at night, Birch Creek Music Performance Center is a gem in the county’s art scene.
Jim and Francis Dutton founded Birch Creek in 1976 to educate talented young musicians, who work in two-week sessions with some of the most respected musicians and teachers in the country in an unparalleled band camp.
Performances transport you to another world, as they’re held amongst the orchards and corn fields outside Egg Harbor in a restored century-old barn with exceptional acoustics.
The Door Peninsula is a place where people fight for the arts, and in some cases, fight to build - or save - a place to perform.
Door Community Auditorium
There aren’t many small communities in the country that can boast of a venue like the 725-seat Door Community Auditorium. This remarkable stage sits on the edge of the Gibraltar School campus, and exists only thanks to the perseverance of its founders, and the generosity of the Northern Door community, particularly the Hislop sisters, who were fervent fans of the acclaimed Peninsula Music Festival.
Now in its 25th year, the auditorium has welcomed the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Jeff Tweedy, Lumineers, and dozens of other legends of rock. Each August, the stage is turned over to Peninsula Music Festival, which has brought classical productions to the Door for 64 years.
Third Avenue Playhouse
For generations of Door County residents, the Donna Theater on Sturgeon Bay’s 3rd Ave. was the place to be on weekend nights when Hollywood came to town. But in the 1990s the Donna gave in to technology and cinema moved to a new, modern facility on the edge of the city. The old venue sat empty until a group of arts, business, and civic leaders rallied to preserve the shuttered space.
Sixteen years later the Third Avenue Playhouse thrives as Door County’s only year round professional theatre company, producing contemporary and modern classics in its intimate 84-seat theatre. Inside remnants of its cinematic days remain, including the marquee that has brightened Sturgeon Bay’s main drag for generations, making this small town feel a little bit big city.
Trueblood Performing Arts Center
Death’s Door couldn’t stop the strong arts blood of the peninsula from running all the way to Washington Island, where the arts thrive in a community that counts just 660 residents. At the heart of it is the Trueblood Performing Arts Center, an intimate 263-seat theater built with funding mostly from local donors in 2004.
The theater hosts the Island Players, jazz, folk, and bluegrass bands and the Washington Island Music Festival, an annual run of classical music.
See the full list of Door County arts and culture venues here.
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