Midwest Travel: Theatre-Hikes at The Morton ArboretumJul 26, 2014 11:19PM ● By Melissa Schwartz
When asked for Chicago travel recommendations, I always include The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois at the top of the list. The Morton Arboretum is a natural jewel full of stately trees, brilliant flowers and rambunctious wildlife worthy of a nice hike or bike ride. Even in winter, the snow-kissed trees delight. Over the years, I learned that The Morton Arboretum is culturally rich and invites guests to experience new concepts while reveling in natural beauty. Theatre-hikes provide one avenue for Arboretum guests to enjoy nature while expanding themselves culturally and even getting a little exercise. My family and I recently attended the Alice in Wonderland Theatre-Hike and left with a treasured family experience!
So, what is a Theatre-Hike? Theatre-Hikes is a nonprofit theater group that holds performances at The Morton Arboretum. Bradley Baker, the Artistic Director of Theatre-Hikes, gave me a little inside scoop about the organization and what makes the group special. At the surface, a theatre-hike is what it sounds like-visitors hike to a natural space to watch a scene from a play. When that scene wraps, the group hikes to another site for the next scene. After speaking to Bradley, I learned that Theatre-Hikes blends an appreciation for theater, nature and health all in one while remaining accessible to everyone. The cast takes advantage of a natural setting with specific locations chosen so that they are accessible to everyone even with consideration for those with wheelchairs and strollers. Since the hikes take place in the outdoors with plenty of space, families with young children can feel comfortable knowing they will be able to easily take a distracted child away for a little bit to play a little ball and then rejoin the show. Additionally, the shows use family-friendly language and do not contain adult situations. Great performances everyone can enjoy!
What was it like to go on a Theatre-Hike? At the beginning of the hike, the audience gathered for a short explanation of the hike. Then, we walked off to the first destination. The gorgeous backdrop of The Morton Arboretum really swept us away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. During Alice in Wonderland, this truly helped transport us to the zany world of Alice! At different stopping points, audience members spread out a blanket or set up chairs to enjoy a scene. Families also brought all sorts of treats such as sandwiches or popcorn. Water is definitely a must! Hikes have about 4-9 stops with low impact walks in between. Since the walks are less than 2 miles, you are not walking too far between stops--typically 1/4 mile. The crowd was very jovial during our walk, talking about the play and even reminiscing about Theatre-Hikes of the past. Since you are out in nature, expect mosquitoes. We felt them nipping during our hike! Bring some bug spray. Fortunately, the hike guides brought along some extra in case anyone needed spray!
Enjoying the show! Though a nonprofit organization, Theatre-Hikes hires real actors for performances. This really showed in this year's performance of Alice in Wonderland. Alice was perfectly cast—her facial expressions and expert balance of sweetness and snarkiness brought Alice alive. We were captivated by the entire performance and delighted in the cast's ability to craft Alice's world with relatively few props. A quick scan around the audience and I could see that the children were all wide-eyed with mouths agape—they were so involved in the performance! The children even interacted with the cast from time to time which was priceless! What a great family afternoon that we will not forget!
How to catch a Theatre-Hike: Alice in Wonderland has wrapped up its tenure at The Morton Arboretum for this summer. However, you can still catch it at North Park Village Nature Center, Pullman Historic Site both in Chicago. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown! will be the next production at The Morton Arboretum on weekends in August. This production is a musical and is slightly different than other theatre-hikes because it will occur in one place. Theatre-Hikes conducts performances July-October with a different production each month. The first Sunday performance of each month is especially suited for those with wheelchairs or strollers. However, there were several families with strollers and wagons on our hike and they had no difficulty navigating. The Theatre-Hikes website provides ticking information. Really a fun treat during the summer months! We look forward to more Theatre-Hikes in the future!
Melissa Schwartz is a contributor and editor of Two Moms, a Little Time, and a Keyboard, a hyper-local blog in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. She also manages the social media for Norton's U.S.A., a general store in Barrington, Illinois only selling products made in the U.S.A. She has a passion for traveling a little off the beaten path and finding gems that others have overlooked. She especially enjoys creating special travel memories with her husband and 9-year-old daughter. **Disclosure: Our family received complimentary admission in order to conduct a review. No compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.