DeKALB – Stage Coach Players is celebrating its 75th season with a year of activities and performances.
This season marks the anniversary of the group’s first production, “Pure as the Driven Snow,” which opened March 27, 1947. Stage Coach is the longest continuous-running community theater group in Illinois.
A resolution passed by the Illinois General Assembly will be presented by state Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, at 10 a.m. June 23 at Stage Coach Theatre, 126 S. Fifth St. in DeKalb. Keicher, who represents Illinois’ 70th District, presented the resolution on the House floor on May 5, and it passed the following day. Everyone is invited to attend the pronouncement.
Continuing the celebration, the group will hold a picnic from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 27, at Cortland Lions Den, adjacent to the Cortland Community Park, 70 S. Llanos St. DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes and Sycamore Mayor Steve Braser will make a joint proclamation declaring the week starting June 27 as Stage Coach Players Week. During the picnic, a memory booklet compiled by Kathy Cane and D’Ann Hamilton-White will be distributed.
Jan Kuntz, chair of the 75th anniversary committee, said the pronouncement and picnic are ways to celebrate with the community.
“Through the years, we’ve been so much more than just a theater,” she said. “We’ve had hundreds of shows, probably thousands of actors. We’ve become a community and entity as a theater.”
Bonnie Miller, who has been involved with Stage Coach for more than six years, said what makes the theater unique is the people.
“We haven’t been able to see each other in more than a year due to the pandemic, and everyone at Stage Coach are family,” Miller said. “It feels like home.”
Stage Manager Dorcas Keating describes the theater as her home away from home.
“It’s truly a place where you can be yourself and fit in while pretending to be someone else on stage,” she said. “You get to play pretend, dress up and have fun with your friends while staying involved in the community. That’s why I’m involved with Stage Coach and why I will continue to stay involved for as long as I can.”
Director Cortney Jo Newby travels 45 minutes from Elgin four to five nights a week to be involved in the shows.
“What I love about Stage Coach is that everyone is so opening and welcome,” she said. “It’s the most professional community theater I’ve ever been a part of. We pride ourselves on our professionalism, as well as being educational. We’re always learning from each other. We’re all volunteer, and the amount of work we put in and the quality of shows we put on are incredible.”
All about Stage Coach
In March 1947, Ann Eddy Gray Smith directed “Pure as the Driven Snow” with a group of DeKalb residents at the Masonic Temple. In a 1996 Daily Chronicle column about Stage Coach’s beginnings, Smith wrote that after the play was finished, people said it was too bad the theater group couldn’t continue.
“Being eager and slightly naïve, I said, ‘But it can,’” she wrote. “’All you have to do is start a theater.’”
Smith asked Johnny Ellwood for the use of one of his barns, and the theater’s first permanent location was in the Ellwood family’s barn loft at Ilehamwood Farm on North First Street, which was used from 1947 to 1949.
The Ellwoods also gave permission for the group to use a pioneer stage coach as a ticket booth. The stage coach brought Teddy Roosevelt to ceremonies dedicating the NorthernIllinois State Normal School that is now Northern Illinois University. The stage coach was later sold to the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Museum in Nebraska.
After the barn was needed for farming, the theater group moved to a few different locations, including the old DeKalb High School auditorium, Glidden Grade School’s social room and a courtroom of the DeKalb County Courthouse.
“The Masonic Lodge is gone, the barn is gone, the old high school is gone, the Glidden school is gone, but Stage Coach is still very much alive,” Smith wrote.
In 1953, Stage Coach Players moved into a permanent modular metal building on Barber Greene Road. The building was acquired from the DeKalb County Board and had been part of the DeKalb County Farm.
The group acquired its current space, 126 S. Fifth St. in DeKalb, in 2001. The building had previously been a Moose Hall and the Church of Christ for 30 years.
Kuntz, who has been involved with Stage Coach for 23 years, said technology is what has changed the most through the years. With the money raised from last year’s Give DeKalb County fundraising day of giving, audio devices to help hard-of-hearing audience members were purchased. This year’s funds will be used to update the theater’s lighting technology.
“Making sure our audience has the best experience possible by keeping up with technology is at the forefront of our goals as a theater,” Kunz said.
The show will go on
After being closed for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stage Coach opened its 75th season with “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” on May 20.
Upcoming shows include “When I Grow Up: A Musical Cabaret” in July, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof” in August, “The Red Velvet Cake War” in September, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller” in October and “Elf: the Musical” in December.
During the pandemic, the group actively helped the community. Each week, members collected food and personal care items for local food banks and organizations and gave away fabric to be used to make face masks.
The group partnered with the Salvation Army to create food boxes for Thanksgiving and collected wish-list items for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. They also partnered with the U.S. Marines at Christmas to collect for the Toys for Tots program.
“During the pandemic, we wanted to reach out and help the community because they’re the reason we’re here as a theater,” Kuntz said. “We used the bad situation of the pandemic for a good cause. We’ve expanded who we are as a theater and our role in the community.”
For more information about Stage Coach Players, upcoming shows or to purchase tickets, visit www.stagecoachplayers.com or call the box office at 815-758-1940.