The Scene

Raue Center, Paramount benefit from skilled PR pros

Crystal Lake and Aurora home to stellar theater venues

An audience gathers outside the Raue Center For The Arts in Crystal Lake.

Editor’s note: Today, we raise the curtain on two individuals who play an important offstage role for two of the region’s premier performance venues: Raue Center For The Arts in Crystal Lake and Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

For as long as I’ve been reviewing shows at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora and its Copley venue, Jay Kelly has been there. From his table tucked on the box office side of the Paramount’s grand staircase, Kelly greets you by name, and exchanges a comment or two about the show and staff.

Kelly has an extensive 40-year public relations background – he’s a graduate of the University of Missouri journalism school with a degree in advertising. Participating in two PR classes his senior year, he discovered he enjoyed the field. Upon graduation, he landed two job offers with a move to Chicago; one to work in the media department at Leo Burnett for $12,500, the second was “assistant, assistant assistant account executive” at the national PR firm Hill & Knowlton for $15,000. The difference in starting salary put him in PR.

He confesses that working for the Paramount Theatre is “a dream come true, especially since [President and] CEO Tim Rater and Artistic Director Jim Corti launched Paramount’s Broadway subscription series in 2011.″

It’s a series that Kelly proudly states has grown the Paramount to be the largest subscription house in the nation. He says his faith in marketing was restored as the Paramount stuck to the four P’s of marketing for the past 13 seasons: “Offer a great product at the right price in the right place with the right promotion. They say good things happen to good people. I like to think good things happen to good theaters, too.”

Paramount Theatre in Aurora

Kelly works as an extension of Paramount’s marketing team, focusing on media relations, writing and issuing press releases, contributing ideas for advance photography and producing videos. He also pitches stories, arranges staff interviews and books appearances for shows like “WGN Morning News.”

“The pipeline never slows down,” Kelly said.

But it wasn’t that easy during COVID. He said the Paramount pushed forward with a “show must go on mentality which kept a forward momentum – a lot of creativity and new ways of thinking came out of that incredibly difficult time.”

Kelly doesn’t have an extensive theater background. He played the littlest kid Jamie in the school production of “Cheaper by the Dozen.” He states that role “doubled as my walk-off role.” He does, however, have a long list of favorite shows: the most recent being “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and a production of “Once” that left a huge impression. Kelly wasn’t familiar with “Once”; at a designer run, with the cast and music director playing electronic keyboard, he was moved to tears at the ending reveal.

“Surrounded by Paramount artists, staff in full fluorescent light, I was so surprised,” he said. “And then at opening night with a full set, lights, costumes, etc., I was blown away again.”

“Once” remains his all-time Paramount favorite.

The Raue Center For The Arts’ director of marketing and institutional advancement is Meredith Schaefer, who grew up in Cary and considers herself a “newbie” at the Crystal Lake venue. Schaefer joined just as the Raue was reopening after the COVID pandemic began to ease. Previously, Schaefer had been in marketing and PR for [this publication’s parent] Shaw Media, where she discovered just how much she enjoyed public relations. While working on a Shaw website, she helped small businesses promote their events and locations. She also graduated from Leadership Greater McHenry County, and served on the boards of the Assisi Animal Foundation, Elderwerks, The Break, the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce and Veterans Path to Hope.

Schaefer admits that coming from a completely different industry left her much to learn: from vocabulary to composing press releases.

“There is always something going on; with over 150 events a year, there are RCSA [Raue Center School for the Arts] classes to launch, a new show to announce, or tickets going on sale all the time,” she said. “There is never a dull moment.”

Good thing Schaefer likes variety.

COVID presented many challenges. Schaefer began her position two and a half years ago, just as the Raue Center was starting to reopen.

“I know everything came to a standstill for a while,” she said. “We had to reschedule so many shows and contact all of our patrons.”

The in-house rep company Williams Street Repertory was just getting ready to open the play “Native Gardens,” which had to be shut down (but is rescheduled happily for this February). The Raue had no audience for over a year – no ticket sales, no revenue.

“We still had this historic nearly 100-year-old theater to preserve, and staff to provide for,” she said. Grants and donations helped the Raue weather the storm.

“Between March 2020 and now, it’s been all about being flexible, pivoting as needed, and trying new things,” Schaefer said.

Arts on the Green, which produces outdoor shows, was one successful result of that flexibility, and has proven incredibly popular; 2024 will mark its fourth summer season.

Schaefer is assisted by Michele Vazquez and Maribeth Ling. As director of institutional advancement and marketing, Schaefer focuses on overall campaigns, long-term and seasonal advertising plans, new shows, announcements and social media. Working closely with the box office, she also dives into the analytic side – ”keeping an eye on those numbers.”

Schaefer does not have a theater background, having gone to school for English and political science, and spending most of her career with Shaw Media.

“My goal is that my non-theater background adds to the diverse voices we have at the table,” she said.

She is adamant that one of the Raue goals continues to be to connect with the community and maintain the mission to provide the arts for all.

“Whether watching the amazed faces of schoolchildren coming in for the first time, as they see the stars twinkle in the ceiling; seeing a couple dance under the trees at Arts on the Green; or the much-anticipated relaunch of Williams Street Repertory, the passion that this team puts into everything is incredibly inspirational to me, and I’m just grateful to be part of it,” Schaefer said.

Kelly’s words of advice for anyone interested in public relations is: “Just do it – start your press list and go!”

Public relations is an intense and difficult job that can be rewarding, exciting and time-consuming. The field requires both human and professional skills ranging from congeniality to writing talents. Both Kelly and Schaefer certainly possess those skills in abundance, and, for me, are a pleasure to work with as a reviewer.

• Regina Belt-Daniels has been in love with the theater since the first grade; she has appeared on stage and backstage in many capacities ranging from performer to director. She recently directed Elgin Theatre Company’s adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and will direct Steel Beam Theatre’s February production of “Love Letters” in St. Charles.


• WHAT: Raue Center For The Arts

• WHERE: 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake


• WHAT: Paramount Theatre

• WHERE: 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora