Imagine taking a hike with adventurous dwarves, mystical elves, and a magical wizard. This fantasy becomes reality at Morton Arboretum’s Theatre Hikes. The show combines nature with theater as guests join the actors in a hike from scene to scene.
“It’s more adaptable but definitely more exhausting then a regular stage play,” said actor James Stanton, who plays “Bilbo Baggins” in the Theatre Hikes’s version of J.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”
The Theatre Hikes program has been a summer attraction at the Morton Arboretum since 2001, after local actor Frank Farrell developed the concept in 1997. Each July weekend the group performs “The Hobbit” the novel that came before the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Like the characters in the story, the actors and the audience venture through the wild wilderness.
“Sometimes literally moving from place to place I get lost,” said actor Bruce Spielbauer who plays “Gandalf” in the show. Spielbauer has over 30 years of acting experience under his belt, and appeared “The Dark Knight” and “Dusk” amongst other movies. “Just as the characters in the play can get lost we can get lost. It helps it makes it easy to relate.”
Even though actors don’t battle real goblins and trolls, the environment surrounding the two mile path presents its own set of challenges.
“It’s different. You never know when you are in the flight path of plans from O’Hare (Airport),” said Spielbauer. “You want to keep it real and subtle. All of a sudden you might have to project. It keeps you on your toes.”
“It’s different here,” said Stanton. “We don’t see the locations until the show. You have to adapt.”
Possibly the biggest test of all is adapting a 300-page novel to fit a two hour play.
“They hit a lot of the big points,” said West Chicago resident Charles Fortner. “They missed a couple, but it was still really good.”
“We loved it and do lots of hiking through the (Morton) Arboretum,” said Elgin resident Nancy Lamia. “Theatre is great so it’s a perfect match.”
As an encore to “The Hobbit,” Theatre Hikes will perform “The Wizard of Oz” in July, and go “Around the World in 80 Days” in September. Finally they will wake the dead by staging the “Night of the Living Dead” in October, just in time for Halloween.
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