Performing Arts Flourish in the Suburbs

By Bianchi, Laura | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 13, 2001 | Go to article overview

Performing Arts Flourish in the Suburbs


Bianchi, Laura, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Laura Bianchi Daily Herald correspondent

Suburbanites who hunger for cultural nourishment in their lives have been discovering many good reasons not to battle bumper-to- bumper traffic on the Kennedy to find professional theater, music, dance or a variety of other entertainments.

With the proliferation of suburban performing arts centers a broad range of entertainment is never far away. Better yet, ticket prices are almost always lower than in Chicago, the theaters are more intimate, most parking is free and it doesn't take an hour to get there.

Variety is one of the keys to success of any performing arts center. While the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin is presenting Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony and Don McLean, the Norris Theatre in St. Charles is offering The Four Freshmen and the College of Lake County is presenting Bonnie Koloc.

The Metropolis in Arlington Heights is offering a jazz series in association with Ravinia Festival and the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg is presenting River North Chicago.

Love of arts fuel growth

A commitment to nurture the arts and a desire to take a bite out of the $19 billion tourism industry in Illinois have fueled the construction and renovation of a number of suburban performing arts centers.

The $22 million Metropolis, with its 350-seat main stage, opened in May 2000 as part of a successful downtown Arlington Heights revitalization program. This seasons lineup includes Studs Terkel "Working," the Joel Hall Dancers and Second City.

Next fall the curtain will rise on the newly renovated Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake. The $6 million project will convert the former El Tovar theater, built in 1929, into a state- of-the-art cultural arts center while maintaining the integrity of the original mission-style architecture and interior design. It will house an 830-seat theater and several much smaller performance spaces.

"Everything we do is directly connected to establishing and developing one of America's most important resources, creativity and imagination," says director Steve Duchrow, who is keenly aware of the economic benefits to local restaurants, hotels and shops.

Six years ago Elgin city fathers breathed new life into the 32- year-old Hemmens when they hired Blythe Rainey-Cuyler as manager and sunk more than $2 million into renovations. It features a 1,200-seat main stage where entertainers like Judy Collins, June Carter Cash, and Lou Rawls have performed. It also has an 11,340- square-foot exhibition hall which has featured everything from an antique clothing show to a Great Dane show.

Community colleges have been a hotbed of cultural activity, too.

Four years ago the College of Lake County dedicated its $14 million-plus Instructional Performing Arts Building with a 600-seat mainstage theater, 250-seat studio theatre and 120-seat "black box" experimental theater.

With a little financial help from the State of Illinois, Harper College in Palatine broke ground last May on a new performing arts center that is part of a $21 million project. The center is expected to open in fall 2002.

Seven years ago Elgin Community College debuted its Visual and Performing Arts Center with a 662-seat main-stage theater and a 164-seat "black box" theater.

And four years ago, the North Shore Center for Performing Arts opened in Skokie. It houses Centre East, with 848 seats and the Northlight Theatre, with 342.

Intimate theaters, reasonable prices

The intimate size of suburban venues is among the big draws for audiences. Even the largest houses - such as the Rialto in Joliet and the Paramount in Aurora with 1,900 seats each - are far from cavernous. At the 1,200-seat Hemmens, "the last seat in the theater is no further than 87 feet from the stage," says Rainey-Cuyler. "You don't have to use binoculars to see all the wrinkles on Willie Nelson's face. …

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