Backstage at Raue Center for the Arts there’s a veritable who’s-who of photographs depicting some of the theater’s famous visitors. Joan Rivers, Amy Grant, Bob Saget, Bob Newhart, Los Lobos and Ben Vereen … the list goes on.
Crystal Lake’s hometown theater hasn’t lost a bit of its charm after nine decades of welcoming audiences. Still perched at the entrance to downtown’s main drag, Raue Center is the kind of place where even big-name performers feel right at home.
So do local audiences, who are joyous to see this spring’s return of the performing arts. Raue’s latest lineup promises new attractions, old favorites and some new approaches to live, in-person entertainment.
Since its grand reopening in September 2001, Raue Center has welcomed more than 1 million visitors. In good times, the 750-seat theater is bustling with activity most weekends, but even now, the stage is still keeping audiences engaged.
“Our mission really is to service everyone in the county and beyond, and we take that seriously,” says Richard Kuranda, Raue Center’s executive director.
GreenRoom Improv, a local improv troupe, returns in April. Singer Amy Grant is scheduled to return in November, about the same time young chefs from MasterChef Jr. make an appearance.
Kuranda is also planning for comedian Colin Mochrie, of “Whose Line is it Anyway,” to bring a show that combines improv comedy with the hypnosis of Asad Mecci.
Plans are being finalized around several tribute bands, including some that will play in the Brink Street parking lot just northwest of the theater.
Williams Street Repertory, Raue’s in-house professional theater troupe, is working out final protocols for its presentations of “Native Gardens,” “Always: The Patsy Cline Musical,” and “Matilda,” performed with help from the youngsters of Sage Studio. If all goes to plan, the holiday season will bring “A Christmas Carol,” “The Nutcracker,” and a special performance by Elgin Symphony Orchestra, among others.
There’s more in the works, but it’s still too early to announce. “I really think by September of this upcoming year, we’ll be welcoming more people back into the space above our current 50-person occupancy,” says Kuranda.
Children have become a major focus over the past decade. From its start as a summer camp, the Sage Studio program now draws hundreds of local youngsters who want to learn about theater. Classes, which have continued in virtual form throughout this pandemic, are led by working professionals who cover acting, music and production.
Through the new Sage on Stage program, a few talented youngsters are honing their skills in the classroom while applying what they’ve learned in a mainstage production. Sage Studio alumni have gone on to top theater schools, some even landing work as TV actors or performing on “American Idol.”
“I am blown away, constantly, by the sheer number of talented people in this area,” says Kuranda.
For all of its successes, Raue Center has certainly faced its challenges, none so strong as this past year’s COVID-19 pandemic. Last March, the theater abruptly cancelled its season. The stage was dark for more than a month. Since last summer, the team has been hosting virtual events and engageing with the community in new ways.
Raue’s new video series, Our Voices, Our Town launches one new episode each month in 2021. The kickoff episode puts comedian Kevin Boseman, a relatively new face on Raue’s comedy scene, in a face-to-face interview with John DaCosse, a longtime friend of the Raue. Catch the videos online at rauecenter.org.
For all the excitement that exists onstage, there’s plenty of enthusiasm offstage, as well. Behind Kuranda and his staff of 20 stands a team of 400 volunteers. Their passion and enthusiasm are contagious.
“Everything I did before coming here was wonderful, and I’m exceedingly proud of it, but I think I’m more fulfilled because this is the theater that my kids come to,” says Kuranda, a father of four. “They show up and help out at the box office, and if my wife needs a break, she says, ‘What’s going on at the Raue?’ I feel like I’m having a positive impact, but I’m only able to do my job because of the board, the staff, the volunteers and this community.” ❚
Raue Center for the Arts is located at 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, (815) 356-9212.