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Theatergoers hike, bike as part of outdoor shows
By Jack Helbig | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 8/22/2008 12:08 AM

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Frank Farrell has the kind of problem most theater founders dream of having - success. Eleven years ago, Farrell combined his two favorite activities: theater and nature walks. He started producing plays in various outdoor settings, spreading scenes out along trails and asking his audience to hike with him from site to site.

His first production was Shakespeare's "As You Like It," which he wittily renamed "As You Hike It." And since then he has alternated Shakespeare plays with more contemporary material ("The Wizard of Oz," "Heidi," "Tuck Everlasting").

His productions have become so popular they are regular fixtures at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. But nothing prepared Farrell for how busy he has been this summer.

"The weather has been very cooperative," Farrell says, "And I am afraid we are frequently at the mercy of the weather. When the weather is good, the shows seem to go better."

That said, I attended a play about Lewis and Clark that was actually enhanced by a sudden storm that whipped up, sending us running for a shelter where the rest of the play was acted out.

Demand for Theatre-Hikes shows has been so strong that Farrell created a production schedule that keeps him running from one preserve or hiking area to another.

Last weekend, Farrell oversaw the final weekend performances of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" at a park in Oregon, Ill., and "The Taming of the Shrew" in Lisle.

This weekend, Farrell will be confined to Morton Arboretum where Theatre-Hikes is doing two shows - "The Taming of the Shrew" and a combination bike ride/theater event called "Key Exchange."

"We have had so much fun exploring the possibilities of doing work out of doors," Farrell says. "They just completed a section of the arboretum for bike riders. So we thought we would come up with a show where people rode their bikes from site to site."

The show is a relationship play from the 1980s by Kevin Wade set in New York City's Central Park.

"We are going to stage that play far out on the east side of the arboretum," Farrell says. "It is our first for-mature-audiences-only production. Usually we like to do shows that you could bring a family to. But this production gives us an opportunity to stretch."

The play is about the difficulties couples face over commitment and that scary moment when people exchange keys.

"The play is like "Sex in the City" for men," Farrell says. "But there is no nudity in the show. We are policing ourselves because of the language. The play will be BYOB, bring your own bike."

If you think the idea of biking from one scene to another is wild, Farrell has an even wilder production coming up - an outdoor, hiked version of Dracula opening Sept. 26 and running through Oct. 26.

"It's a great play," Farrell says, "It is the one the (1931) Bela Lugosi movie is based on. But we are scared to death of that production, no pun intended. We have to fly bats in the woods. And we have to figure out some way to let nature supply the sets."

"The Taming of the Shrew" runs through Sept. 21. "Key Exchange" runs Aug. 23 and 30 and Sept. 13 and 20.

For reservations visit mortonarb.org or call (630) 725-2066. Tickets may also be purchased at the arboretum's visitor center.