Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Taliesin, The Tali-essentials

As you may or may not know, for the past two weeks I’ve been on this tour with the show, and have commuted between Madison and Taliesin four times now.

I’m kind of sad that the tour is over. But just kind of. As in, kind of a little bit. Not for the hour-long ride each way in a van that may or may not be full of cool (or conscious) people, but for the novelty of performing at one of architecture’s most beloved sites, and one of three “official” homes of Frank Lloyd Wrightthe other two being Taliesin West in Arizona (which I got to see last summer) and Oak Park in Illinois.

Each time has been a little different, but rather than boring you about all the details of all the shows (like the time when one of the actresses’ cell phones went off and it was a slo-mo run to get to it, or the times when actors walked around in flesh-colored bodysuits backstage), here’s a brief tour of my tour.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 6: Taliesin

Thanks to the Wisconsin Idea Grant, we got the chance to perform at the Hillside Theatre, on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, WI. There is nothing in the town of Spring Green itself, so I’ve nipped that in the bud.

But as for the theatre itself.

Not a bad theatre at all; it’s beautiful, for one thing. The seats are comfortable. The acoustics are fantastic. The set looked wonderful.

The problem…was pretty much everything else. The sight lines are terrible; FLLW clearly designed the space so that he had a great view, and no one else. The sound and light system is practically prehistoric. The stage’s curtain is on loan from MOMA in NYC, I think, and is so expensive that we were not allowed to touch it. There is a ladies’ room, but no mens’ room. And here’s the best part: it’s 50 degrees. The stone absorbs all the heat, we can see our breath, and we are actually huddling for warmth. The actors actually put their costumes on over their clothes, and the kids in the audience shivered under blankets.

Behind the stage is a storage area that is basically a dungeon. It’s damp, colder, wet, and has a dirt floor. Two of the actors found a secret tunnel/passageway thing that is actually the Black Hole of Calcutta because they crawled down it far enough to not be able to see the dungeon anymore and they still didn’t know where it was going, so they scurried back before encountering any mythological monsters. Upstairs is a kitchen and dining area which is lovely, and even lovelier is the fact that it’s about 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the building since it’s above ground level and has lots of windows, so whenever people weren’t inside the theatre, we knew they were thawing up above the stage.

Working in Taliesin is slightly different from being a tourist. For one thing, I couldn’t leave the backstage area, so I spent several mornings resenting Frank Lloyd Wright and the lack of heat. I had limited mobility; because of sight lines, there were about 3 places I could sit backstage and not be seen. I did manage to get a short nap in during Friday’s show, but during today’s show I was totally peaced out for the majority of the duration. Afterwards, one of the kids asked me what I do backstage, and I resisted the urge to say nothing. But resistance proved futile, and I did, indeed, say “Nothing.” Isn’t higher education great? But still, when we got a free tour of the main house, the big house that FLLW lived in, you could really tell that it is a special place, with gorgeous views and questionably interesting but always visually pleasing household decor. And for architecture enthusiasts, it’s a cultural mecca.

Here’s the stage, just so you can see how awesome it looked.

003Oh, and I thought I took several pictures of the Black Hole of Calcutta, both with and without flash, but apparently only this Flash-version survived. Still, it gives off the creepy vibe. The hole is about four and a half feet tall and three and a half feet wide:



Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Little Winery on the Prairie

After a tumultuous semester, it was time for some exploring. So, today, I went west in search of wine and cheese. I found one of the two, and some other things as well. Join me for another episode of…

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 2: Little Winery on the Prairie

About 45 minutes northwest of Madison, just where Dane County meets Sauk County on the Wisconsin River is the town of Prairie du Sac, home to the Wollersheim Winery. I had tasted their wine before. Their most well-known vintage is Prairie Fume, which is light, white, and wonderful. At their beautiful vineyard, their hour-long winery tour and subsequent tasting is worth way more than the paltry five-dollar entrance fee.

Wollersheim Winery dates back one hundred and fifty years. The “modern” era, as they call it, started when a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and his wife bought the land and revived the practice. They hired a French man to work for them, and sure enough, he ended up marrying their oldest daughter, and now the two of them run the winery. Funny how that works. After a short film, we walked outside through the carriage house to see the slopes of grapes. It was a gorgeous day. Back inside, we saw the huge vats where they process the wine, and then went downstairs to a pungent underground wine cellar with casks and barrels of wines. One barrel had a window so we could see inside, but it was mostly sediment. Then, we went back up into the carriage house for a wine flight, which is a fancy way to say “wine tasting.” We got to try six wines: Prairie Fume, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, River Gold, Eagle White (a special!) and a Semi-Sweet White Riesling. Obviously the Prairie Fume was the best, but the River Gold and the White Riesling were quite tasty as well. Outside, we walked up to the top of the hill, where another wine cave is built inside the hill. There are also wine gardens where you can sit and enjoy wine bought from the gift shop, ten dollars a bottle (eleven in stores!). They also had these cute miniatures in the refrigerator. It was my first ever winery tour, and overall, it was lovely.

After that, I drove to Plain in a vain attempt to see the Cedar Grove Cheese factory; alas, they were closed for the day when I got there. However, we weren’t far from Spring Green, which is famous for the House on the Rock.

It took so long to get there on winding, twisty roads up a hill, but The House on the Rock is something to be seen. When you drive in, it’s like an alien garden with giant Chinese urns covered in flowers. Alas, I only had an hour left before they closed, so I could only do one section of the three-part tour. But of that one section, I saw a heck of a lot.

Walking through the winding staircases, you enter a tiny, dark house full of Asian art and sculpture. The ceilings are low, but the atmosphere is so architecturally high, and high above the valley. There are rooms upon rooms of Asian furniture, hidden waterfalls, and so much art. Then comes the Infinity Room, which is truly a sight to behold. It’s a long, narrow room that seems to go on forever and ever, jutting out over the valley. They also had an automated violin/tambourine/harpsichord thing that scared the hell out of me whenever it came to life. Then, you go back inside to see even more rooms, sit on the couches, and climb the twisty staircases to the sun deck. The Japanese garden is splendid as well. I hope to go back and visit again.