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Northern Sky Theater Returns To Its Roots With Simplified, People-Centric Season

The company will present three shows outdoors in the Peninsula State Park amphitheater and two shows indoors at their Gould Theater.

Northern Sky Theater Returns To Its Roots With Simplified, People-Centric Season

Northern Sky Theater has announced the slate of shows for its 2021 summer and fall seasons. In crafting a season that could employ as many theater professionals as possible and still prioritize Covid safety, Northern Sky decided to draw on its roots as a company that built itself around stories, songs, and heart rather than lavish production values.

Northern Sky will present three shows outdoors in Peninsula State Park: The Fisherman's Daughters (a preview production in advance of the show's fully-staged future premiere), Tongue 'n' Cheek (a hit from 1991, the company's first-ever book musical), and Whatever Happened to Karl Janko? (a world premiere mystery musical written with Covid safety in mind). Indoors at the Gould Theater, the company will present Not Even Remotely (a virtual/in-person hybrid world premiere musical, also written with pandemic protocols in mind) and Naked Radio (the 2017 hit comedy originally set to be remounted in the company's scuttled 2020 season). A virtual run of Not Even Remotely will serve as a precursor to the season's other shows, which are fully in-person.

Rather than presenting shows in rotating repertory as they usually do, Northern Sky will run each show by itself 4-6 weeks at a time, in order to minimize the number of people working together at any given time.

Tickets are not yet available for sale. Though the exact date is still unknown, Northern Sky anticipates that tickets will go on sale sometime in mid-to-late May.

The Fisherman's Daughters (by Katie Dahl; runs in the Park June 14-July 10) tells the story of two sisters in 1908 Fish Creek who must reckon with their differences when Wisconsin's governor decides to turn their homestead into part of Peninsula State Park.

Tongue 'n' Cheek (by Fred Alley and James Kaplan; runs in the Park July 12-August 7) is an old-time radio comedy about a long-suffering farm wife, her work-averse husband, a snake oil salesman, and the young woman he tries to woo.

Whatever Happened to Karl Janko? (by Matt Zembrowski; runs in the Park August 9-September 18) is a musical mystery comedy inspired by a real-life unsolved mystery in small-town Wisconsin.

Not Even Remotely (written by Richard Carsey and Stephen Kovacs; runs at the Gould July 12-August 7 and virtually May 30-June 3) tells the story of two actors who try to mount an extravagant musical version of Frankenstein over Zoom.

Naked Radio (written by Dave Hudson and Paul Libman; runs in the Gould August 23-November 6) is the story of two local DJs forced to punt when a snowstorm knocks out their station's pre-programmed feed. All shows will take place at 7:30, every night except Sunday.

"These are just stellar stories," said artistic director Jeff Herbst. "They're stories we know would connect to people anytime, but especially at this time when we've all been starved for live theater."

Associate artistic director Molly Rhode explained that maximum company employment was a paramount consideration for Northern Sky as they chose their season.

"So many of our longtime company members have been out of work for this entire pandemic," Rhode said. "We wanted to hire as many of them as we could. We weren't able to bring everyone back as we would have preferred, but this season will allow us to involve over 40 artists, which makes us so happy."

To ensure Covid safety, the shows in Peninsula State Park will be performed with minimal movement, to reduce close contact between actors. These shows will also forego traditional scenery in order to minimize pre- and post-show backstage traffic. Shows in the Gould (where scenery can remain up at all times) will be presented with full scenery and full costumes and (due to different performer constraints) will be presented in typical, fully staged style.

"This presentational style is just what the authors intended for Tongue 'n' Cheek, which is written like an old-time radio play, and Whatever Happened to Karl Janko, which was written specifically for Covid safety protocols. Not Even Remotely was also written with pandemic challenges in mind," Rhode said. "Before Covid hit, The Fisherman's Daughters was originally slated to premiere in 2021 as a fully staged musical. We still plan to premiere the fully realized version of that show in a couple of years, but in the meantime, we wanted folks to be able to hear this wonderful story. A story about the creation of Peninsula State Park feels like a perfect way for us to return to the amphitheater in that very park after a year away."

For Covid safety reasons, tickets for these shows will only be available in advance (no tickets will be sold at the theater night-of), both venues will operate at reduced capacity, and all seating will be assigned and socially distanced. Until further notice, all patrons, volunteers, and staff (except actors) will be required to wear masks at both venues.

"This season will look a little different than most," Herbst said, "but these stories will be full of the same joy and laughter that Northern Sky shows always are. We're a company that built itself on stories and songs, told simply and straightforwardly. That's what we've been doing for decades-it's what our predecessor troupe the Heritage Ensemble did all the time. And it's what we're going to do again this year. We can't wait."

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