The lights are down, but our area arts venues are far from out, as they adapt to changing circumstances and embrace new ways of connecting with audiences. Here’s a look at how three venues – Paramount Theatre, Raue Center for the Arts, and The Dole – continue to keep their work front and center.
The audiences are absent, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely dark at our region’s arts venues. Despite the widespread shutdown of local theaters due to COVID-19, area venues are finding creative ways to keep the arts alive.
From “virtual events” online to creative re-uses of spaces, these venues are adapting in a myriad of ways.
Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Hope remains a powerful force in downtown Aurora. The 1,855-seat Paramount Theatre hasn’t hosted a live show since “The Secret of My Success” closed abruptly in mid-March, due to COVID-19. The theater’s 10th anniversary Broadway Series was pushed back to late 2021 and events were cancelled all summer at Paramount’s sister venue, the outdoors stage at RiverEdge Park.
President and CEO Tim Rater is holding out hope that audiences can return in some capacity this April when Killer Queen, a tribute band, is scheduled to arrive.
“We want to keep some hope for Killer Queen,” says Rater. “And then we have two weeks of shows in the beginning of June, with Frank Caliendo, Jay Leno, Straight No Chaser. We’re still holding out hope they can happen.”
Paramount’s popular Broadway Series is scheduled to kick off June 29 with the delayed production of “Kinky Boots,” a musical featuring 16 original songs by Cyndi Lauper.
About the same time, Blues on the Fox is set to return to RiverEdge Park with performers who’d planned on playing this year.
Meanwhile, the Paramount team is producing a handful of virtual events to fill the winter months. Unable to stream performances, they’re focusing on new ways of connecting.
The Inception Project, scheduled to launch in January, brings two new plays to life. Centered around new works by marginalized voices, the project will involve a dramatic reading of these works by Paramount talent.
A few weeks later comes a 10-year retrospective on the Broadway Series, which has delivered big-budget musicals and numerous awards for productions including “Disney’s the Little Mermaid,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Les Miserables.” The retrospective is set to premiere for subscribers and patrons in January or February, says Rater.
“It’ll provide a stroll down memory lane and the productions we’ve done over the past 10 seasons,” says Rater. “It has insider glimpses into our process, and there’ll be some snippets of interviews with directors and the creatives who produced the shows.”
Though the theater remains quiet, its adjacent Paramount School of the Arts is busy producing classes for children and adults.
These all-virtual lessons include live broadcasts from instructors’ homes and the school’s state-of-the-art facility. Subjects include dance, ballet and acting for children as well as acting, tap dance, improv and fitness for adults.
“One of the few benefits of having so many actors and performers being out of work is that they are available to teach virtually through Zoom,” says Rater. “So, we have some very talented and very gifted people not only doing classes, but also doing master classes. These are Broadway stars and other very talented people who are willing to work with us, or have performed here in the past.”
Until shows can resume, the nonprofit Paramount remains ready to accept contributions of any kind, including subscriptions to the next season. Rater recommends signing up for Paramount’s e-newsletter to stay up-to-date.
“It’s just a matter of time for us,” Rater says. “We’ll get through this, and it’s just a matter of time.”
Raue Center for the Arts, Crystal Lake
This venue in downtown Crystal Lake has spent nearly 20 years providing quality programming while enriching lives through the arts. It’s established an in-house professional theater company (Williams Street Repertory), fine arts education programs (Sage Studio and Mission Imagination), and a loyal following.
When the pandemic hit, Raue Center was one of only four Illinois arts venues still producing live, in-person events while complying with state mandates. In part, that’s because of a new, four-camera setup that enables live streaming from the 750-seat auditorium. Virtual events have become the new norm, as Raue Center continues with encore presentations of stand-up comedy and improv, educational and fundraising events, live music, cabaret and more. Touring artists and Williams Street Repertory have been put on hold for now, with plans to return in the coming year. Sage Studio, Raue Center’s arts education workshops for children, continues with all-virtual classes.
“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it has been heartbreaking to miss out on our annual production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which usually features an adult professional cast acting alongside a youth cast of actors, many of whom are students in our Sage Studio arts education workshops,” says Amanda Flahive, program manager for Raue Center’s Sage Studio. “This year, we had to be creative, so we went virtual.”
“Let it Show: A Virtual Holiday Party,” features more than 50 Sage Studio students, their instructors and special guests, all joining together to celebrate the season with a family-friendly variety show. The special will be available for viewing online, during select dates through Dec. 28.
Looking ahead, Raue Center is preparing to announce a 20th anniversary season that includes indoor and outdoor offerings.
To access Sage Studio and Raue Center’s many digital events, sign up to join the RaueNow membership program. Traditional memberships begin at $50, while a new Digital Membership costs $20. Family memberships include 25% off Sage Studio classes.
Donations to the nonprofit Raue Center are always welcomed and can be made online at rauecenter.org.
The Dole, Crystal Lake
This venue is doubling down on its mission of supporting the arts and the community. Though it’s been largely closed to the public since March, The Dole’s popular art openings have become virtual affairs and creative pursuits continue inside.
The property is best known for its 1865 Dole Mansion and 1920s-era annex, where three floors of private suites play host to 26 resident artists. It’s not just painters and photographers who work here; the halls are also home to musicians, hair and makeup artists, performing artists, writers, yoga instructors, healing specialists, and the Creative Arts Fine Arts School.
“I still have several studios for rent, and it’s pretty reasonable,” says Jody Fields, business manager. “It’s in an historic building, so there aren’t too many amenities, but it’s the coolest old building. It emits a wonderful creative vibe, and people dig it.”
Monthly rent, which depends on square footage and ranges from $200 to $1,200, brings 24/7 entry to the facility and access to common spaces like the mansion or the Sage Gallery, which once served as the ballroom for Crystal Lake’s first country club. Resident artists routinely display their works around the building and its dual galleries, including during Nancy Merkling’s popular 4th Friday art opening events.
“We have free Wi-Fi and utilities, and they get access to the Listening Room, if they’re a musician, and the Sage Gallery if they want to teach a class,” says Fields. “The photographers and artists really love the mansion. They book time there and the lighting is beautiful.”
Facilities are still available for events like weddings and corporate events, though they’re still subject to state guidelines on public gatherings.
The community support this past year has been enormous, says Fields, as The Dole has raised more than $300,000 from grants and various fundraising campaigns – all while being largely shuttered. Despite the uncertainties about what next year will bring, Fields is confident that The Dole remains on a solid financial footing. The board has been securing donations to pay down the property’s mortgage, support ongoing operations and provide for needed repairs at the historic property.
To rent a studio or support the fundraising campaign, contact Fields or visit thedole.org.
“There’s a hopeful vibe here and a community of artists who are all supportive – not competitive,” says Fields. “I love it, and I’m thrilled that it feels like a family. The people all have a creative mindset and value the arts in our community. Our resident artists and I are thankful to have such a cool place to work.”