by Justin Brady
For me a road trip is one key to a successful summer. Last month travels to Milwaukee for the city's annual UPAF Ride for the Arts, prompted a stop in Chicago to catch a quirky one-man show that transferred from Broadway. This isn't the first time I popped into Chicago for a show, but it reminded me that I should take advantage of many of the other nearby Midwestern cities for a cultural excursion. Following on the heels of my June recommendations to Symphony on the Prairie and IMA Summer Nights, here are some ideas for outdoor performing-arts events a short drive away. I've arranged them in order of the destination's distance, starting with the nearest/easiest drive and working up to the most adventurous/farthest afield location. All of these venues strongly encourage BYO meals and drinks, so grab your picnic basket and hit the highway.
Actors' Theatre of Columbus
- Columbus, OH
Drive Time from Indy: 2.5 hours
Just a short drive south, the Actors' Theatre of Columbus presents Shakespeare and other classic plays outdoors from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at Schiller Park. If you prefer to avoid the heat of the summer, the theater's season will end in September with a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, featuring Sherlock Holmes at the Columbus Commons. Fans of urban reuse will appreciate that Columbus Commons, a green space located downtown, was created following the demolition of City Center Mall in 2009.
- Chicago, IL
Drive Time from Indy: 3.5 hours
The Ravina Festival is a bit like merging concerts on The Lawn at White Rive State Park with Symphony on the Prairie. The schedule features a mash-up of popular touring groups and classical concerts featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). In fact, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's own Krzysztof Urbański will conduct the CSO's performance of the 'New World Symphony' in July. The CSO selections range from classical standards, movie and musical favorites and an opera doubleheader with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The eclectic pop artist lineup includes James Taylor, Billy Corgan and Carrie Underwood.
The Muny - St. Louis, MO
Drive Time from
Indy: 4.5 hours
One of my favorite summer traditions growing up, and a major entry point into theater fandom, was catching a classic musical under the stars at The Muny. Billed as "America's Oldest and Largest Outdoor Musical Theatre," the amphitheater is nestled in St. Louis' lush Forest Park and always features a mix of Broadway stars and local talent. This summer's season includes the new revival of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, the US regional premiere of The Adams Family and Hello Dolly! celebrating the show's 50th anniversary.
American Players Theatre - Spring Green, WI
Drive Time from
Indy: 6 hours
Year after year I've had a friend rave to me about her visits to American Players Theatre. One of these days I will follow her advice, because it appears to be a magical place. Focused on presenting classic plays at the highest quality, this season features selections by Shakespeare, Chekov, Shaw and Wilde. All plays are performed in repertory, allowing visitors to catch more than one show a weekend. You may not be familiar with Spring Green, but it appears to be over brimming with charming bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds and caves for the naturalists among us, and for architecture enthusiasts Frank Lloyd Wright's home and the House on the Rock can be part of your getaway's itinerary.
I am sure there are many other great outdoor venues to be discovered in the Midwest, so give me a hint in the comments. If you can't make it out of town this summer, White River State Park will again be home to the Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre's annual Shakespeare in the park production of The Tempest, July 31 - Aug. 2.