Oak Brooks’ first folio, which ceased operations in 2024

Farewell, wrote William Shakespeare, is such a sweet sorrow. And the farewell to Oak Brook’s First Folio Theater – known for his outdoor productions of Bard’s plays – began on Tuesday with the announcement by CEO David Rice that the ensemble he founded with his late wife, director Alison C. Vesely, will cease operations at his retirement at the end of Season 2023-2024.

“It was time for me to make a decision on when I would end this adventure,” said Rice, from the theater that has called the Mayslake Peabody Estate home since it was founded in 1996.

Motivated by their desire to have a theater near their home in Clarendon Hills, the couple felt the suburbs needed a professional, non-musical theater company. Although running the financially sound company still brings Rice joy, he is concerned that it could become a burden without a plan in place. Together, he and First Folio’s board members decided it would be difficult to find his replacement given the CEO’s salary.



First Folio Theater in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary to present Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A midsummer night's dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions.

The First Folio Theater in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary by 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.
– Lent by David Rice

“We never existed solely because of our salary,” Rice said, referring to Vesely, First Folio’s artistic director until her death in 2016. “They were kept low so we could pump money into productions. To find someone else with passion to take it over and do it in the suburbs for this low wage, we knew it was unlikely that would happen. “

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

“We’ve all seen too many theater companies fall apart in the end, and that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.” he said.

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 performances. The company received seven Joseph Jefferson Awards, including adaptation and music awards for Rice.



First Folio Theater in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary to present Shakespeare under the stars in 2016 with the comedy "A midsummer night's dream." First Folio has been known for its outdoor Shakespeare productions.

The First Folio Theater in Oak Brook celebrated its 20th anniversary by 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.
– Lent by David Rice

First Folio artistic staff supports the decision, including Rice and Vesely’s daughter, actress / director Hayley Rice.

“Everyone is happy that we can do this in a purposeful way, so when the end comes, there is a sense of accomplishment instead of just going into dissolution,” said Rice, who intends to continue writing and Act.

When 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 large number of people.”

“We introduced a lot of people to theater, especially Shakespeare, and it’s not a small legacy,” he said.

He recalled a conversation with two high school students who participated in a performance of the current show, “The Jigsaw Bride.” They were excited, he said. One called the experience “life-changing.”

“It’s not getting any better than that,” Rice said.

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