Central Illinois supports three major community theatres: Peoria Players, Corn Stock, and Eastlight Theatre. In one year’s time, these three theatres mount more than 20 productions. Hundreds of local artists participate, tens of thousands sit in the audience, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue is generated. These theatres are thriving. And the question is why?
It begins with the talent pool. As a director, the most stressful time is the day before auditions. Doubt and uncertainty run rampant. Will anyone show up to audition? Will there be enough talent to cast all the roles? What if I come up short? After facing dozens of auditions myself, I can say these fears have never been realized. In fact, the audition experience always amazes me. The talented people just keep coming and coming.
It doesn’t take long to see that central Illinois is packed with many gifted artists. During the day, these individuals are teachers, students, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. While at night, they’re singers, dancers, and actors. They choose to volunteer their precious free time to the stage. That drive is a genuine demonstration of deep love and passion for the arts. And artistic passion, amateur or professional, creates a truly moving experience for audiences.
Another contributing factor for the success of local theatres is roots. The word "community" is a vital part of their identities. In the heart of Illinois, we support our own. In fact, we celebrate our endeavors. When we attend our local high school’s football game, we know we aren’t going to see the Super Bowl. That doesn’t matter. Those players are our family, friends, and neighbors. It’s a meaningful experience because of our connection to the participants and the school. The same is true for our community theatres. We know it isn’t Broadway, but it’s "Broadway-Our Way!" and all the sweeter because the people involved mean something personal to us.
Finally, an often-overlooked factor is economics. Community theatres offer a product at a very reasonable price. For example, a person can attend three musical productions at Eastlight Theatre for the same $42 it costs for one professional production. As an avid arts advocate, I hope everyone takes advantage of both opportunities. But I’m proud that our community theatres respect affordability. And the public decides if the quality of performance is worthy of spending their hard-earned income. With Peoria Players celebrating its 80th anniversary, Corn Stock just finishing its 50th season, and Eastlight looking at its 13th year, I think central Illinois has made its feelings known.
Community theatre is here to stay. We’re proud of the work we do, and we thank the public for its continued support. See you at the theatre! AA!