First Folio History

First Folio Theatre is in its 17th season of bringing high-quality performances of Shakespeare and other classics to the Chicagoland suburbs. During that time, the theater has grown from an annual summer show to a year-round operation with three separate and distinct stages. As a professional, not-for-profit organization, First Folio relies upon the support and donations of friends and businesses to continue its efforts and build upon its success.

There was never any doubt that David Rice and Alison Vesely had the passion necessary to open and operate their own theater. Afterall, the lifelong Chicagoland residents met while working on a production together. Now married with a daughter in DuPage County, they had dedicated their lives to the arts and were well-versed in what it would take to be successful.

But as they considered launching Oak-Brook based First Folio Theatre in 1996, Rice and Vesely did not know whether the community would support a not-for-profit, professional theater dedicated to bringing high-quality Shakespeare and other classics to the suburbs. They could build the organization – but would the audience and donations follow?

Always up for a challenge, the couple launched First Folio with a performance of The Tempest on an outdoor stage at the scenic Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in the summer of 1997.

They have not looked back since.

Now in its 17th season, First Folio Theatre has evolved into a year-round operation with two intimate indoor theaters and an outdoor stage – all at the same historic Mayslake Peabody Estate located just off of either I-88 or I-355. While the theater has opened new performance spaces, broadened its production offerings and even changed its name slightly over the years, it has never lost sight of its original commitment to quality productions. In fact, First Folio last year exceeded its previous record for attendance and earned a personal best 5 Jeff Nominations for theater excellence. The theatre also earned a listing in The Shakespeare Book of Lists as one of the “150 Great Places to See a Shakespeare Play.”

In all, First Folio productions have included everything from Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the outdoor Shakespeare Under the Stars mainstage to indoor productions such Jeff Award winning productions as The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe, The Turn of the Screw, and Cymbeline: A Musical Folk Tale. To date First Folio has won 5 Jeff Awards for Excellence in Chicago Theater, with a further 18 nominations.

Beyond production excellence, though, is the reality that from the charming Forest Preserve grounds to outdoor performances of Shakespeare Under the Stars, First Folio offers more than great entertainment – it offers an “experience.” The theater regularly encourages potential visitors to come to the theater and “experience it,” – because history has shown that once they do, they always return.

None of First Folio’s success would be possible without strong community support. As a professional, not-for-profit theater, First Folio is dependent on fundraising to fuel everything from the talent and sets on stage, to seats and risers for the audience, to mosquito abatement efforts during the summer months. As a result, the organization periodically hosts special performances and other fundraising events to supplement its budget.

First Folio also makes it a priority to be a part of its community. The theater is currently in its 18th year of school touring, offering four educational shows and an artist-in-residence program. The touring shows include Master Shakespeare and His Stories, designed for grade school aged children, Shakespeare’s Warring and Wooing, designed for middle and high schools, to The Fifty-Minute Midsummer Night’s Dream, geared towards high school students and our newest show, Edgar Allan Poe and the Tell-Tale Heart.  In all, First Folio has given over 300 performances at more than 100 Illinois schools and reached more than 150,000 students.

With a dedicated volunteer Board of Directors, First Folio has developed a long-range strategy to further grow the theater, invest in staging and equipment and enhance performances. Ultimately, First Folio Theatre looks to build upon its tradition of excellence with Rice and Vesely still leading the way after 14 years – and there is little doubt they have the necessary passion to be successful.