The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

November 27, 2011

Live theater ‘elevates the soul’

Seventy-five years ago this coming Saturday, a small group of dedicated individuals met in Danville to form a local theater company. It took courage to attempt to organize a successful performing arts group at that time. The nation was still gripped by the Great Depression and unemployment was rampant in the nation. But the theater group was fortunate to have among the organizers a dedicated professional with experience in live theater; her name was Kathryn Randolph.

Kathryn was born in 1890 and graduated from Ridge Farm High School. She attended Fargo College in North Dakota and studied theater. Following college she became a member of the Red Path Chautauqua organization. It was with Red Path she gained valuable experience in live performance. The woman who had once borrowed a mule to ride to an engagement in Mississippi was up to the task of being the leader in establishing a theater company.

She was a widow with three children when she directed the first performance of what became Red Mask Players on April 29, 1937. The three one-act plays were performed at the YWCA on Hazel Street in Danville. In the early years, Red Mask performances were held at various places in the community, including the Vermilion County Courthouse.

In the 1940s the theater company entered into an agreement with the management of the Palace Theater on Vermilion Street and for 18 years the Palace was the home of performances. During these years members of Red Mask continued to search for a site where they could have a theater of their own. They found it in 1962 when the Emanuel Presbyterian Church at 601 N. Vermilion was put up for sale.

The church was purchased by Red Mask and converted into a performing arts theater. There was seating for more than 150 people and the theater provided an intimate atmosphere for performers and audience members. It also allowed Red Mask to control every aspect of a production.

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