Hail and farewell: Oak Brook's First Folio to cease operations in 2024

  • Maria von Moos (Courtney Abbott), left, coaxes what information she can from Justine (Heather Chrisler) a mysterious woman she encountered in Joseph Zettelmaier's "Frankenstein"-inspired "The Jigsaw Bride," being staged now at First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook.

    Maria von Moos (Courtney Abbott), left, coaxes what information she can from Justine (Heather Chrisler) a mysterious woman she encountered in Joseph Zettelmaier's "Frankenstein"-inspired "The Jigsaw Bride," being staged now at First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook. Courtesy of Tom McGrath

  • David Rice, executive director and co-founder of First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook, announced he will retire and the company he and his late wife, Alison C. Vesely, founded in 1996 will cease operations at the close of the 2023-2024 season.

    David Rice, executive director and co-founder of First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook, announced he will retire and the company he and his late wife, Alison C. Vesely, founded in 1996 will cease operations at the close of the 2023-2024 season.

 
 
Updated 11/9/2021 4:58 PM

Parting, William Shakespeare wrote, is such sweet sorrow. And the parting for Oak Brook's First Folio Theatre -- known for its outdoor productions of the Bard's plays -- began Tuesday with executive director David Rice's announcement that the ensemble he co-founded with his late wife, director Alison C. Vesely, will cease operations upon his retirement at the end of the 2023-2024 season.

"It was time for me to make a decision as to when I was going to wrap up this adventure," said Rice, of the theater that has called the Mayslake Peabody Estate home since its founding in 1996.

 

Motivated by their desire to have a theater near their Clarendon Hills home, the couple believed the suburbs needed a professional, nonmusical theater company. While running the financially sound company still brings Rice joy, he worries it could become a burden without a plan in place. Together he and First Folio board members determined it would be difficult to find his replacement, given the executive director's salary.

First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary of presenting Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions.
First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary of presenting Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions. - Courtesy of David Rice

"We never existed solely on our salaries," said Rice, referring to Vesely, First Folio artistic director until her death in 2016. "They were kept low so we could pump funds into productions. To find someone else with passion to take it over and do so in the suburbs for this low wage, we knew it was unlikely to happen."

The announcement allows First Folio to exit the stage on its own terms.

"We've all seen too many theater companies fall apart in the end and it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth." he said.

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Of First Folio's more than 80 productions, 14 have been world premieres and 25 were outdoor productions of Shakespeare plays. Between 1997 and 2019, more than 80,000 tickets were sold for outdoor performances. To date the theater has sold more than 100,000 tickets for indoor shows. The company earned seven Joseph Jefferson Awards including adaptation and music awards for Rice.

First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary of presenting Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions.
First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary of presenting Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions. - Courtesy of David Rice

First Folio artistic associates support the decision, including Rice and Vesely's daughter, actor/director Hayley Rice.

"Everyone is glad we can do this in a purposeful manner so when the end comes, there's a sense of completion rather than simply dissolving," said Rice, who intends to continue writing and acting.

Asked to comment on First Folio's legacy, Rice said he hopes the company will be remembered for bringing "a great deal of joy to a great number of people."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We introduced many people to theater, particularly to Shakespeare, and that is no small legacy," he said.

He recalled a conversation with two high school students who attended a performance of the current show, "The Jigsaw Bride." They were thrilled, he said. One called the experience "life-changing."

"It doesn't get any better than that," Rice said.

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