• Photo: Anthony C.

  • Photo: Anthony C.

  • Photo: Anthony C.

  • Photo: Anthony C.

“Strong reasons make strong actions”
-William Shakespeare 

Actors’ Theatre of Columbus is a performing arts theater troupe located in Columbus, Ohio. It was founded in 1982 by Gary and Patricia Ellson, and was initially called Actors’ Summer Theatre. Actors’ Theatre presents plays by William Shakespeare and other time-honored playwrights, with relevance, to a contemporary audience. Actors’ performs outdoors from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at Schiller Park in German Village.

In 1982 Actors’ Theatre kicked off its first season with a single production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The success of that season proved that Schiller Park was an excellent venue for open air Shakespearean theater, and the troupe returned the following summer with two productions; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the troupe’s first Broadway musical, Oklahoma!.

In 2011, the troupe celebrated its 30th annual season. Over the last 30 years, the troupe has increased its schedule from one production to two in their second season, and three productions each summer from their third season on. They briefly increased to four productions during the 2005-2007 seasons, but have returned to three productions since the 2008 season. As part of their “Cool Classics” series, they have also occasionally performed at indoor venues. Two recent Cool Classics are Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in 2010 and James Thurber’s The Male Animal in 2011, both at the Columbus Performing Arts Center. By far the most frequently produced play is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which has had five productions to date.

The troupe first performed on the grass, and later on a simple wooden stage erected at the southern end of Schiller Park. The stage had to be erected and struck for each performance. Costumes and props were stored in the Ellson home nearby, which also served as dressing room and rehearsal space. In 1995, a permanent stage was constructed on the troupe’s traditional performance site. This brick and concrete platform is completely open above, allowing the construction of multi-story sets that can remain intact throughout a production’s run. The troupe’s success is at least partly due to the popularity of open-air theatre in Columbus. The stage’s scenic location within the park allows the audience to view the show from a gentle slope facing the stage. Audiences have a choice of bringing their own chairs, or using blankets. Food and drink are permitted during the shows. Outdoor summer shows are free and open to the public, though donations are encouraged.

Although they had moved on to other activities years before, during the 2006 season Gary and Patricia Ellson returned to co-write, produce and direct a unique musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It would be the pair’s final involvement with the troupe they had formed. Gary Ellson, already diagnosed with cancer during the shows run, succumbed to the disease in 2008. Artistic Director, John S. Kuhn, has been involved with the theatre since 2003.

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