Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-07-18
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER Sullivan, Illinois, a theater and a thruple thrive
by Catey Sullivan
2018-06-20

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


If a theater survives five years, a theater has reached a major milestone. A decade? That's a relative rarity. Endure for 60 years and it's not so much of a stretch to say you've defied astronomical odds and all common sense. Especially if you are located in the heart of Amish country more than two hours away from a major city ( in this case, Chicago ).

Put Sullivan, Illinois' Little Theatre on the Square squarely in odds-defying category. Since its inaugural production of Brigadoon in 1957, the 418-seat Equity theater in tiny Sullivan, Illinois ( population just over 6,000 at the last census ) has endured.

The man behind the curtain

It's tough to imagine the Little Theatre without the round-the-clock ministrations of John Stephens, 40, who this year celebrates a decade as the venue's executive director and producer.

"I feel like we do sometimes have to work a little harder than big-city theaters, both to get audiences and draw talent. People who had started here have gone on to Broadway, and the major regional theaters," Stephens said. "I love spotting talented people early, and giving them a chance to shine."

This year's six-show season started with Million Dollar Quartet ( ended June 17 ), and continues with Hello Dolly ( June 20—July 1 ), Damn Yankees July 5-15, Annie ( July 18—29 ), Young Frankenstein ( Aug. 1—12 ) and finally Noises Off ( Aug. 15—26 ). The annual holiday show follows in December.

Of thruples and Astoria Weed

Stephens' affection for Sullivan extends beyond the theater's walls. The Millikin University music education major lives in a Victorian mansion ( about the same price as a one-bedroom in Boystown if local real-estate listings are to be believed ) with his husband of 15 years, Timmy Valentine. For six years, Valentine and Stephens have been in a thruple that includes Tyler Mosier.

While Stephens tends to the theater, Moser and Valentine run the thruple's Astoria Soap Company, a line of luxury bath items they make in their home. The Astoria products range from whimsical soaps ( "Clown Repellent" and "Werewolf Moon" are popular, as is the hemp oil-infused "Astoria Weed" ) to more traditionally scented/infused lip balms, moisturizers and lotions.

"Our house always smells wonderful," said Stephens.

Defying demographics

Sullivan doesn't initially seem like the typical town where non-traditional relationships, Equity theater and high-end, weed-themed toiletries line would flourish. The town is the county seat of Moultrie County, where Donal Trump garnered 77.1 percent of the vote in 2016. Demographics, however, don't always live up to assumptions about them.

"It's not an issue, being in a thruple. We're not a secret. People just accept us," said Stephens. "I don't go around talking about who's in what bed, but I think people kind of know. It's honestly not a big deal."

The offstage influence of Betty Grable and friends

Since its inception, the theater itself has been an integral part of shaping attitudes in Sullivan, according to Dr. Beth Shrevey's The Little Theatre on the Square: Four Decades of a Small-Town Equity Theatre. The 2000 hardcover talks about the theater's origins as a for-profit "star" venue—a place where touring celebrities were featured starring in short runs of classic plays. Shrevey writes that the influx of actors and other stage folks interacted with the townies, leading Sullivan to deal with issues such as homophobia and racism a lot more regularly and sooner than many other small Midwestern towns.

Started in 1957 by John Little, the 16 Street Harrison Street theater was a commercial venture through 1978. Close to 200 stars performed there—Mickey Rooney, Alan Alda, Ann Miller, Don Ameche, Betty Grable, John Carradine, Leonard Nimoy and Forrest Tucker among them. The theater went non-profit in 1981. During Stephens' tenure, it expanded to its six-show season.

Damn the tornadoes

Stephens takes the old "show-must-go-on" credo to extremes. "We're in tornado alley," he noted. "Unexpected things can happen." When a storm cut the theater's power mid-show several years ago, the cast finished the production with flashlights and no microphones. Stephens recalls huddling with the cast and crew in the building's basement during a tornado—and finishing rehearsal after it had passed over.

The Little Theatre is a lean enterprise—the entire season comes in every year at around $1.5 million. That might sound like a lot but it isn't, not for Equity theater. According to an NPR report, it took roughly $87 million to stage Harry Potter. At Chicago's larger Equity houses, expenses for a single musical such as the Goodman's lavish Brigadoon can hover close to the $1 million mark.

Naughty, not dirty

Ticket sales account for less than half the theater's revenue, something Stephens became keenly aware of during the three years he spent in the theater's marketing department.

"Programming a season can be tricky," he said. "We try to do a mix of family-friendly shows, and then at least one that's a little bit edgier. I always say our audiences like naughty, but not dirty. So this year, for instance, we've got Young Frankenstein, definitely not a family show. I mean, there's a whole song about 'don't dare touch our tits', ( Don't Touch )." One year we did Hair," he added. "We did a matinee for seniors where, after a lot of debate and an abundance of caution, we decided not to do the nude scene. People complained that the scene had been cut."

Extrovert in action

For Stephens, ensuring the theater thrives financially isn't just about programming. It's about cultivating relationships with the people of Sullivan, and those that travel from as far as Indianapolis and St. Louis to see Little Theatre shows.

"It sounds trite, but it really is all about reaching out and meeting people," Stephens said. "And I love to make people smile. Good theater can do that. So can just being friendly." A veteran of countless Chamber of Commerce luncheons and tourism programs, Stephens says he enjoys promotional duties. It's tough to imagine the theater surviving if he didn't: Every year, he raises roughly $450,000 of that $1 million budget. Combined with ticket sales and the theater's educational programs, he keeps things in the black.

The secret value of ( fake ) hairdryers

In 2016, Stephens launched an additional $1.2 capital campaign to pay for refurbishments to the theater. He wants to build a scene and costume shop, and install a state-of-the-art movie screen. "Then we can program classic movies too. We'll truly be a 52-a-week operation," he said. He's about $700,000 toward his goal.

He also wants additional storage space, which would help expand the Little Theatre's capacity to rent out costumes and scenery. "We have literally thousands of set pieces and costumes we could rent out. It doesn't make sense, for example, for a local community theater to build a whole beauty salon from scratch for Steel Magnolias. We have all the chairs, all the dryers."

S.T.A.R. power

The educational wing of the theater draws interest as well. Stephens estimates that some 275 students are involved in the theater arts and dance-classes. There's also a touring program—Students' Theatre Arts Reach, or S.T.A.R.—that takes kids' shows on the roads. Little Theatre records estimate that some 130,000 people have taken advantage of the S.T.A.R. shows.

For Stephens, it all comes down to making people happy. "There is no greater high than hearing an audience laugh or applaud," he said. "For me, it's always been about making the audience feel good, and giving them an escape. People want that. They need it. And I hope we can give that to them."

For more information about the Little Theatre on the Square, go to TheLittleTheatre.org or call 217-728-7375. For more information about Amish Country and other attractions in and around Sullivan, visit SullivanIL.us or call 217-728-4223.

Also see www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/MORE-ON-SULLIVAN-Reminiscing-about-Sullivans-theater/63294.html .

and

www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Activities-in-Sullivan-Boutiques-antiques-beaches-and-more/63293.html .


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Milly's Orchid Show Summer Musical Spectacular Extravaganza July 21 2018-07-18 - ( Chicago, IL ) Celebrating it's 30th year the variety show Milly's Orchid Show is thrilled to announce it's "Summer Musical Spectacular"—a one-night-only ...


Gay News

THEATER South Side native comes home for 'The Color Purple' 2018-07-18 - South Side native Carla R. Stewart looks to Rihanna when summing up Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel "The Color Purple." "It's ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Pamplona 2018-07-18 - Playwright: Jim McGrath At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: GoodmanTheatre.org; 312-443-3800. Runs through: Aug. 19 Stacy Keach tried to ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Topdog/Underdog 2018-07-18 - Playwright: Suzan-Lori Parks At: Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, 927 Noyes St., Evanston. Tickets: $15; Noyes Cultural Center; 847-866-5915. Runs through: July 29 In the ...


Gay News

Critic's Picks 2018-07-18 - Support Group for Men, Goodman Theatre, through July 29. These are confusing times for everyone, but Ellen Fairey doesn't neglect the other half ...


Gay News

SPOTLIGHT Bus Stop 2018-07-18 - In Bus Stop, director Steve Scott takes on William Inge's classic about a bus stranded by a snow storm and the group of ...


Gay News

Ysaguirre named new Court Theatre ED 2018-07-18 - Angel Ysaguirre has been appointed executive director of the University of Chicago's Court Theatre, effective Sept. 4. Ysaguirre will join Marilyn F. Vitale ...


Gay News

Emanuel announces plan to reopen Uptown Theatre 2018-07-18 - Recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Ald. James Cappleman, Jam Productions and Farpoint Development to announce Chicago's Uptown Theatre will be restored and ...


Gay News

'Carnaval of New Latinx Work' July 19-21 2018-07-18 - The Latinx Theatre Commons ( LTC ) is presenting the 2018 LTC Carnaval of New Latinx Work ( Carnaval 2018: ConeXion! )—featuring readings ...


Gay News

THEATER Medieval morality makeover 'Everybody' at Pride Arts Center 2018-07-18 - A 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Everybody is a modern retelling of the 15th-century morality play Everyman, an allegory where ...


 



Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.