On heels of pandemic, Antioch’s PM&L Theatre hoping for new fans, donations

As rehearsals for new comedy begin, theater group launches fundraising campaign

ANTIOCH – Those behind Antioch’s PM&L Theatre want to leave a lasting impression on the community.

Thankful to have weathered the pandemic, members of the community theater look to draw attention this spring with an adult bawdy comedy and an ambitious campaign to transform the theater’s facade.

“We are really unique in that most community theaters don’t own their buildings and we do,” said Guy Finley, PM&L’s vice president of marketing and the director of the theater’s next production, “Old

Ringers,” opening May 20. “There really aren’t many like us around.”

Formed in 1960 as Palette, Masque and Lyre Inc., the theater group known as PM&L Theatre has been a staple of entertainment in downtown Antioch for six decades. A loyal fan base and grant money have kept the theater afloat.

The pandemic amplified the theater’s need to compete for entertainment dollars and new customers, Finley said.

PM&L officially will launch a marquee capital campaign with a fundraising event at 8 p.m. April 22 at the theater, 877 Main St., Antioch. With a goal to raise $50,000, the theater group looks to upgrade the facade and signage of its venue.

Donations are encouraged through PM&L’s Marquee & Facade Campaign site at pmltheatre.com.

“At virtually every event we’ve hosted at PM&L, one or more guests have exclaimed, ‘I didn’t even know this was here!’ Despite being a fixture on the north end of Main Street for decades, who we are and what we do has not been clear to many in our community,” the campaign site states.

As depicted in renderings on the campaign site, plans are to create a marquee more consistent with the theater building’s original signage as a vaudeville and movie house known as Crystal Theatre.

Because the current marquee is a flat rectangle, travelers going north or south on Main Street don’t see the sign unless they happen to turn their heads, Finley said.

If signed off on by the village, the new marquee would include electronic message boards to be more consistent with the building’s heritage and more visible to those passing by, he said.

“The location of our building doesn’t lend itself to have a flat sign against the building,” he said. “We’d like to have a classic-looking sign.”

Along with a new marquee, the fundraising campaign will support improved lighting around the building for safety and to better indicate the entrance, as well as facade improvement to unify the front of the building.

PM&L acquired the building next door to its converted vaudeville venue in 2015 and created Tribute Hall, a lounge and concessions area.

During the pandemic, Finley said, health and safety projects were completed, including the addition of air-purifying systems and improved hand sanitation facilities.

Because the pandemic forced the theater group to cut its 59th season short in 2021, next year will be considered the theater’s celebratory 60th season, he said, with a full slate of shows planned.

Meanwhile, in what the theater group is calling its “591/2 season,” the theater steadily has drawn fans. The theater reopened in October with a continuation of “Ripcord,” a production originally suspended because of the pandemic.

“When we started up with ‘Ripcord,’ it was clear people weren’t really ready to come back. It didn’t really sell well,” Finley said. “But every show we’ve done since then has done well.”

The theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” in December became the group’s fifth highest selling show, he said.

“We’re kind of hoping that what we’re going to see is that people have been COVID-ed out and they’re going to come back and embrace what they used to do before,” he said.

With that in mind, he said, they’ve been highly selective when choosing shows to ensure they suit patrons.

“Every time we discuss what shows we’re going to pick, it’s become a lot more patron-based,” he said. “We like to do shows that challenge us and are interesting as well, but I think we went too far a couple years ago with trying to do the groundbreaking show. … We’re family-oriented theater. We’re always trying to strike that balance of keeping us interested and putting people in seats.”

A survey of patrons awhile back made it clear they wanted more comedy, he said.

And that’s what “Old Ringers” is all about. In the production, four senior women try to fight the shrinking economy and their shrinking pocketbooks by opening up a home phone sex service after receiving an unsolicited obscene phone call.

“It’s hilarious,” said Rosanne Mader of Hawthorn Woods, recently cast as 81-year-old Rose in the production. “It’s going to be a good show.”

Mader has been in numerous shows since her first PM&L production in 2005. A corporate recruiter, theater is a passion she pursues when she’s not working. And she said she’s found a home at PM&L.

“I just feel comfortable there,” she said. “I love the theater. I love what they do there. They make it fun, and they take it seriously at the same time. It’s really just a fun place full of great people who do quality work for the community.”