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Theaters hope crowds return for 2020-21 performances

The 2020-21 arts season in the South Suburbs will be a time of celebration as Drama Group in Chicago Heights marks its 90th anniversary and the Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University turns 25.

Organizers are hopeful supporters will join them for a great season that stretches from September to June, but they admit it is hard to judge right now.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. We’re using this time to try to lay a strong foundation for next season,” said Jane Cox, cultural marketing director for the GSU Center. “It seems as though people will be eager to go back to the theater once it’s safe, but we’re very cognizant of the fact that our business is large groups of people gathering, so we want to make sure everyone is feeling safe as well.”

Cox is moving ahead with a brochure for the coming season. She hopes to reschedule some of the acts that were canceled after the center complied with the statewide stay-at-home order given March 19.

In its nearly 90-year history, Drama Group has only cut one season short, said Tony Labriola, the organization’s president. That was in the 1940s and was due to World War II. This time Drama Group had to cancel its last three shows.

“It was a heart-wrenching and difficult decision,” Labriola said, “but I think especially since we’re an all-volunteer theater we want to make sure all our members are happy and safe. And we have to look ahead.”

He said Drama Group has already changed its 2020-21 schedule to accommodate “Crowns,” originally scheduled for April 24 through May 3. Performers were more than half way through rehearsals and the set was better than half built, Labriola said. Drama Group also had paid royalties for the rights to perform the show.

Greg Loudon of the Homewood Arts Council said its Kentucky Derby celebration May 2 is postponed, but he’s keeping fingers crossed that a July 11 music event will happen. “It’s with a Nashville kind of feel,” he said, with live music at different venues, including Melody Mart, the Homewood Science Center and an outdoor stage at the library.

“It’s meant to introduce the rest of the world to the musical talent we have in this area, and get people into downtown Homewood to see what a great town it is. We hope once the all clear is given we’ll all be so happy and stream out into the streets and we can jump back in,” but he admits, “Who knows how it’ll turn out?” 

Dawn Peloso of 23 Miles South Theatre is still rehearsing for its “House at Pooh Corner” production that’s been moved from April to late June. She has her cast members – ages 8 to 14 – in virtual rehearsal reading lines every weekday.

“A few days we don’t run lines at all, we just let them have social time since everybody’s pretty sick of being locked up in the house. We just kind of let them talk and goof around and play games,” Peloso said.

The theater group, which meets at St. Paul Community Church in Homewood, hosted a virtual theater event April 15 that gave more than a dozen performers a chance to present monologues. 

The theater company had bills come due, but without ticket revenue she dipped into her own savings to cover those. Still, Peloso remains optimistic. “We’ll start up in the fall again strong, I hope, I hope.”

Labriola said Drama Group still plans to host the visiting troupe from Stables Theatre in Hasting, England, in June 2021 as part of its anniversary celebration. Coronavirus has forced the closure of their theater, too, but the actors are moving forward with plans to come to the South Suburbs.

Performers and theatergoers know how important the arts are to one’s well-being.

“Theater brings living people together both onstage and offstage. Unfortunately, that joy is not open to us for a while,” Labriola said. “Everybody in the arts community is saddened.” 

“We are still trying to figure out how to connect audiences with artists,” said Cox. “I’m trying to work on a good social media plan. Even though it’s not our event and it’s not live, we can give our patrons that joy of performance. We want to be cognizant of the arts for people’s emotional health.”

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