Still active at 80

Mary Wicoff I Commercial-NewsThe Kathryn Randolph Theater has served the community as a church and later, a home for the Red Mask Players.

DANVILLE — For 80 years, the Red Mask Players have been bringing a taste of theater to people who might not otherwise get to attend a live show, as well as inspiring children to try acting.

In celebration of its 80th season, Red Mask is inviting the public to an open house from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at the Kathryn Randolph Theater, 601 N. Vermilion St. There will be refreshments.

People will get a chance to see playbills from past shows, histories from the 75th and 50th anniversary brochures, winners of the annual Katy Awards, held since 1955, and a brochure celebrating the 1962 opening of the theater.

Visitors also may meet actors and directors, and learn how they can get involved in the theater.

There’s just one limitation — the audience seating area (known as the house) will be off-limits to visitors because of falling ceiling tiles.

Visitors will be asked to enter from the side door. Also, a tent will be set up behind the theater for those who aren’t able to handle the steps inside the theater, and people can take a “virtual tour” (via video) of the building.

That’s the challenge of owning a 115-year-old building, said Maureen Niedenthal, a member of the Red Mask board.

But, she said, the show must go on: “We made it 80 years and we want to keep going.”

She added, “You don’t get to be 80 by letting little things stop you — and big things, too.”

In fact, she and others are hoping that someone in the community will volunteer to help with the ceiling, and that people might want to make donations toward repairs.

The Red Mask board still is trying to figure out how much the work will cost, and how long it will take. It’s the ceiling, not the roof, that needs work.

Board president Amanda Coutant said she’s hoping the work can be finished in time for the fall show, but the children’s show will have to be staged elsewhere. Auditions will be that weekend for “A Comic Book Artist” at DLO Center Stage at the Village Mall.

She appreciates that the other theatrical groups in town are offering their spaces for use while the theater is out of commission.

Despite the falling ceiling, Coutant said, “We really want to open our doors (to the public). Some people still think it’s a church.”

The open house is an opportunity to invite the community to see behind the scenes, and to give people an opportunity to volunteer or help.

“There are a lot of people who love the theater and want to see it continue,” Niedenthal said. “Anyone who loves theater — you’re welcome to come. We’re excited we’re 80.”

The damaged ceiling won’t stop the open house, she said.

“It’s not going to limit us. We’re going to be flexible,” she said. In fact, setting up a tent outdoors allows the group to include everyone in the celebration.

“If you have limited mobility, we want you to participate,” she said.

Coutant noted how Red Mask has had a positive impact on the community over the past eight decades. It’s one of the oldest still-active community theaters in the state and one of two that owns its building.

Most people don’t have a chance to go to Chicago to see plays, and Red Mask fills that gap. Also, she said, the children’s theater has attracted a lot of young people who have gone on to become involved in the community. Acting gives them something to do, and they often continue that as they get older.

Coutant is a good example. She was involved in shows as a child, starting in the mid-1990s, and her mother, Jamey, is still involved in theater.

Niedenthal said, “We’re proud to have a former child performer sticking with theater and loving it so much. It’s so exciting she got her love of theater from her mom and now she’s leading us.”

HISTORY

Red Mask didn’t have a building for the first eight years of its existence. Its first production was April 29, 1937, at the YWCA. It consisted of three one-act plays: “Sir Galahad,” “Swamp Spirit” and “A Man Among Women.”

From there, Red Mask moved to a church community room, to a circuit courtroom, to a school gymnasium, and back to the YWCA. In 1944, it went to the Palace Theater. In the next 18 years, many Red Mask plays were staged there. A couple of actors by the names of Dick and Jerry Van Dyke debuted in “Rebecca” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” respectively.

In 1962, the group purchased the former Immanuel Presbyterian Church, which was renamed the Red Mask Fine Arts Center, and later The Kathryn Randolph Theater following the death of the first director in 1968.

In 1971, the mortgage on the Kathryn Randolph Theater was burned in a ceremony — three years ahead of schedule.

The building has undergone numerous improvements over the years, including new seats, a new roof, new lighting, a lighted marquee and others. In the summer of 1991, a sound and light booth was added in the auditorium. In 1997, a new roof was installed and in 1999-2000, an awning was put up over the front steps of the theater. A major renovation project at the start of the 21st century was tuck-pointing and sandstone repair of the building due to age and the ivy that had grown up and around it.

The project was completed in time to celebrate the summer 2002 centennial of the historic building. The seats were reupholstered in 2005. Also during this time, the box office in the lobby was moved from the south side to the north side of the entryway, other work was done to the lobby, and two of the church’s original stained glass windows were hung in the entryway.

In the basement, Red Mask historians have updated the scrapbooks and display collages of past shows on the walls.

FYI

Learn more about Red Mask, its plays and its history at http://www.redmaskplayers.com/

People who want to help may make donations during the open house or mail to: P.O. Box 814, Danville, IL 61834-0814. Email address is redmaskplayers@hotmail.com.

People also may send messages through Red Mask’s Facebook page.