In addition to an ever-growing lineup of top-notch entertainment, the Raue Center for the Arts engages its Crystal Lake neighbors through employment, volunteerism and economic strength.
Thriving communities need more than good schools, a healthy environment, sound infrastructure and sufficient human services to remain viable. Its cultural climate is every bit as important, adding that spark of enthusiasm and well-being to the basics.
With 15 years of experience behind it, the Raue Center For The Arts in downtown Crystal Lake fills that need with a continual line-up of top-notch entertainment, educational programs and fun events. But more, Raue is not just there for the community but it also engages the community through employment, volunteerism and economic strength.
“We have 9 full-time and 11 part-time staff,” says Richard Kuranda, Raue’s executive director and founding artistic director of the Williams Street Repertory. “We have about 600 volunteers but we normally get by with 230, depending on hours. Some of our dedicated volunteers put in a lot of hours.”
Kuranda adds that those volunteers are vitally needed. Cumulatively, Raue offered 340 events in 2015, during which volunteers did everything from ushering to street team involvement to manning phones.
“We are incredibly lucky,” Kuranda continues. “They help with everything from rock and folk concerts to comedy performances to street fairs to fund raising efforts.”
Kuranda stresses that Raue offers a broad variety of entertainment from McHenry County’s only professional theater troupe to stand-up comedy, concerts, lectures, classes and more, engaging the attention of every age and taste not only in the greater Crystal Lake community but also drawing from Chicago and other regional metropolitan centers. Events based on Irish and African American themes among others offer a rich diversity that increases the center’s appeal.
“We have been able to attract top-name performers such as Amy Grant Louie Anderson, and David Sedaris ” Kuranda says. “No matter how big the name we always try to treat them the same with small town sensibilities.” One of the Raue’s favorites was Joan Rivers. “Joan was so taken with Raue that she occasionally called or sent notes long after her appearance. And we have been able to develop resources that enable our marketing efforts to reach ever further.”
Raue’s appeal to the community’s children is self-evident, Kuranda adds.
“Over the years, we have hosted about 20,000 children in the theater,” he explains. “You can imagine the fascination for children ages 6 and 7 when they experience their first theater and see the 1,400 twinkling lights that make it magical.”
Kuranda says the rest of 2016 will be as busy as ever, as Raue puts on a theater fest in July followed by improv and sketch comedy, art competitions, and more.
Through July 31, Williams Street Rep, Raue Center’s in-house theatre company, will present “Art,” a comedy of art appreciation and friendship. Overlapping this theatrical offering, from July 15 through August 6, “[title of show],” is about two friends who take on the challenge of writing a play for a competition is just three weeks.
From August 16 through October 23, Williams Street Rep performs “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”, an imaginative meeting between two great minds, Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, written by Grammy winning actor and comedian Steve Martin that is funny and thought provoking. Raue will also present the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” just in time for Halloween.
As the holidays approach, Kuranda adds that Raue is planning an ambitious array of events.
“In December, we have something almost every single day,” he continues. “Raue will welcome the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra for its annual holiday pops concert as well as the McHenry County Youth Orchestra and Voices in Harmony with its performance of Handel’s Messiah.
Williams Street Repertory will present ‘A Christmas Survival Guide’ and we will again offer ‘The Nutcracker’ Ballet,” in partnership with The Berkshire Ballet Company. The ballet company is huge asset to the city of Crystal Lake. Immediately after Christmas, Kuranda says, Raue has its New Year’s plans firmly in place.
“For the fifth year, we will welcome Steve Cochran from WGN doing a New Year’s afternoon show for those who don’t like to stay up late,” Kuranda says, chuckling. “Our new late night New Year’s Eve party will feature hometown blues superstar Jimmy Nick and various WGN television personalities doing some great comedy.”
The ambitious schedule continues deep into 2017 with “First Date,” from January 20 to February 12, just in time for Valentine’s Day. “First Date” focuses on a blind date that transitions from a simple cocktail into an elaborate dinner accompanied by music and dance.
More than a destination for quality entertainment and education, Raue has a strong, positive impact on the Crystal Lake community. Kuranda says the main theatre, built in 1929, is the keystone for events that reach not only into the surrounding streets but also into nearby restaurants.
“Raue’s economic impact is substantial,” he adds. “Our venue adds $4.4 million to the local economy in McHenry County and generates approximately $120,000 in tax revenue for the City of Crystal Lake. We are understandably proud of what we add to this vibrant, growing community because we think Crystal Lake is a GREAT place to live!
Plus, we do this with reasonably priced admissions that average $39 a ticket and the downtown area is full of free parking. Even at that, we continue to uphold our high level of talent in a healthy mix that brings visitors from local and regional areas.”
Kuranda points out that, as is the case with so many downtown districts, Crystal Lake’s downtown was practically deserted seven years ago.
“The retail space had a 38-percent occupancy rate in a three-mile radius,” he states. “The current rate is 98 percent. We have a couple of fantastic new restaurants scheduled to open this summer, increasing the viability of the district and contributing to upward momentum across the city.”
Kuranda points out that this is not typical of downtown growth because it is not solely based on the sale of alcohol. “Alcoholic beverages are offered, of course, but they are not the primary reason why people congregate here,” Kuranda adds.
Of far more importance is the continuing high quality, diversity and appeal of Raue’s programs. It is the reason why the center enjoys significant support from across the Crystal Lake community and draws from an ever-increasing market in the Midwest. Raue is also one of the primary reasons why Crystal Lake’s downtown district has developed into, and remains, a strong core element in the city’s vitality.