From left, Christopher Watkins as Danny, Kit Arehart as Max and Mayana Wilson-Ahlstron as Penelope rehearse a scene from “Danny, King of the Basement,” which 23 Miles South produced in November. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Entertainment, Feature

Performing arts: 23 Miles South: Community theater with open arms

From left, Christopher Watkins as Danny, Kit Arehart as Max and Mayana Wilson-Ahlstron as Penelope rehearse a scene from “Danny, King of the Basement,” which 23 Miles South produced in November. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
From left, Christopher Watkins as Danny, Kit Arehart as Max and Mayana Wilson-Ahlstron as Penelope rehearse a scene from “Danny, King of the Basement,” which 23 Miles South produced in November. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Both kids and adults can find a home with 23 Miles South, a community theater group.

Founder Dawn Peloso said there are people who don’t easily find a place to fit in at school or in the community. She makes 23 Miles South a place they can thrive.

“We have a great soccer program in Homewood, and we have a great baseball program in Homewood. And these are not those kids,” she said. “A lot of these kids are kids who don’t have another place. We create a place here for everyone.”

There is no fee to get involved in the program, either. Peloso said the modest ticket prices patrons pay to see shows covers the cost of costumes. She wants the theater to be a place for kids whose families might not be able to afford other extracurricular activities.

Peloso said the group currently has about 25 members, including adults and kids.

In a small group, Peloso has the opportunity to pay attention to and nurture the potential of her young actors. She said some are really good actors but struggle to get parts in productions at area schools.
She described one actor who doesn’t read well and gets nervous at auditions.

“Once he’s memorized (his part), he’s the best actor. He’s a phenomenal singer,” she said. “He’s just not a good auditioner.”

The group also helps nurture talent. Peloso said teen actors often mentor the younger kids. Teen actor Tavis Marsalis, an H-F High student who was playing the role of Alfred in the fall production of “Alice by Heart,” agreed and said the mutual support makes the group special.

“It feels more like a family usually,” he said. “I feel very comfortable and safe here.”

Family support also helps make the group feel tight knit and helps keep the theater going, Peloso said.

“I’ve got a couple of really great parents who’ve kind of stepped in lately,” she said. “I had a grandma the other night make a donation and say, ‘I just want to make sure this is always here.’”

Peloso has decades of experience managing community theater groups. She had a theater in Tinley Park prior to moving to Homewood 19 years ago. When she arrived in 2004, she found a dearth of community theater opportunities, so she contacted the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District and found a willing sponsor.

After helping start what became a flourishing theater program with the park district, the situation changed a few years ago, when the district was notified that the Village of Homewood had decided not to renew its lease on the auditorium, which takes up the eastern section of village hall.

That was the home base for the theater program.

When Peloso created 23 Miles South five years ago, she found a home on the small stage in the basement of St. Paul Community Church.

That arrangement worked well, she said, although the situation has become less certain. The St. Paul congregation merged with Faith United Protestant Church in Park Forest to become Abundant Grace United Church of Christ.

The combined congregation is bigger and more active, so Peloso worries the theater will have new limits on how much time and space it can use at the church.

She would like to do more fundraising work so the group would have the ability to rent space when necessary, but that’s been a challenge.

“I’ve got the background. I just don’t have the time,” she said. She has a full-time job and runs her own photography business in addition to managing 23 Miles South.

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