As the premier non-profit professional theater in the western suburbs, First Folio’s mission is to present intimate productions of classic and contemporary works. By making our home in residence at Mayslake Peabody Estate, we create a unique theatrical experience that enriches the community.
First Folio History
First Folio Theatre is in its 23rd 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 both indoor and outdoor 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 his late wife Alison C. Vesely had the passion necessary to open and operate their own theater. After all, the lifelong Chicagoland residents met while working on a production together. By the late 90’s they married, had a daughter, and were living in DuPage County. Having spent most of their adult lives working in the arts, the couple were well-versed in the ins and outs of running a small theater.
However, 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 a brand new, custom designed outdoor stage at the scenic Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in the summer of 1997.
Following Alison’s passing in 2016, David has continued to run the theater in conjunction with First Folio’s Managing Director, Kate Danziger, and Associate Artistic Director Melanie Keller.
Their works have earned 5 Jeff Awards and 36 Jeff Nominations for Excellence in Chicago Theater. The theatre also earned a listing in The Shakespeare Book of Lists as one of the “150 Great Places to See a Shakespeare Play.”
First Folio productions have included fully half of the Shakespearean canon, everything from Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale, all on the outdoor Shakespeare Under the Stars mainstage, not to mention its original adaptation Cymbeline: A Musical Folk Tale, which won Jeff Awards for Original Adaptation and Original Music. Beginning in 2004, First Folio has also offered indoor productions, including world premieres such as The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe and The Gravedigger, as well as stage adaptations of classic works such as The Turn of the Screw (winner of two Jeff Awards) and the Jeeves and Wooster series of stories by P.G. Wodehouse.
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 budgets.
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, 24 years and counting.