The Rantoul Theatre Group is not the first incarnation of community theatre in Rantoul. A predecessor existed back in the 1980s, but was disbanded due to lack of performance space and volunteer efforts.
In 1994, after the Air Force Base closed, an attempt was made to resurrect community theatre, calling itself, the Genesis Players. Formed by the late Al Aden, longtime Rantoul resident and businessman, it was comprised of actors from Champaign-Urbana, Rantoul and Paxton, who came together to build a stage and set in the hanger of the Octave-Chanute Aerospace Museum. Ray Boudreaux, then Aviation and Economic Development Director for the city, and his wife Sherri, and active volunteer with the museum, were instrumental in organizing the event. That group, in turn, gathered a cast, crew, and arranged for a caterer to prepare dinner, for the production of "Barefoot in the Park", a famous Broadway play, made into a movie, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. The show was a sucess, but with out a suitable location for continuous performances, the Genesis players faded.
In February of 1999, then Village Board member, Bonnie Moran, wrote an editorial lamenting the absence of theatre in Rantoul. A small group of people came together as a result of that editorial, forming the Rantoul Theatre Group. They met at the Village Administration building and set about finding a location and choosing their first show.
After several months investigating various former Air Force properties that were being redeveloped, the RTG asked the village for some storage space, and they were introduced to Grissom Hall. As many of the patrons and volunteers of the RTG know, Grissom is very large and a person can easily get lost. In one of those instances of searching for the front door, we found an auditorium, which was a great size for the new group. They set about getting permission, building a small stage, and rehearsing for the show.
10 Little Indians opened August 28th, 1999. It was a total success and everyone had a great time putting it together. The next season, they scheduled 3 shows, with the 2 directors, Michael C. Nelson and James L. Seay, alternating directing duties. Lend Me A Tenor, The Odd Couple, and Tom Sawyer were produced, to enthusiastic reviews. Many different people helped us, extending the stage, putting permanent seating, building a control booth, and many more areas.
The fall of 2000 also brought more volunteers, including Todd Isaacs, Thelma Morgan, and Jessica Holmes, who all went on to act, direct, accept Rtg Board positions, and were even elected as RTG officers.
With the growing pool of directors and volunteers, the RTG began to increase the number of shows per season. Spoon River Anthology, the Nerd, and the Wizard of Oz comprised season 3, and season 4 was expanded to include Deathtrap, Play it again, Sam, 12 Angry Jurors, and the Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Season 5 saw us expand further, with Glass Menagerie, Aurora: The Sleeping Beauty, Faith County, Nunsense, and A Christmas Carol.
During that time the RTG continued to expand its facilities, with separate shops for sets, painting, costumes, properties, electrical equipment, and makeup. The RTG office was referbished and dressing rooms were setup. The Village of Rantoul also joined in, by having carpet installed, upgrading heating and air conditioning systems in the building. The bathrooms and entrance way were remodeled, and a circle drive, with landscaping and an awning were installed.
2004 saw Larry Smith join our directing pool, with his production of M.A.S.H., and we were able to continue to upgrade our control booth, adding some wings which allowed for spot light operators to be positioned above and behind the audience.
Through out the next couple years, we continued to enhance our facilities and our productions, finally creating a catwalk across the back of the theater, connecting the wings and the control booth, which was a long time goal. During this time we also rebuilt the stage from the ground up, using 20ft 2x12 joists and 2 layers of plywood underlayment for an extremely stable surface. We also had the room painted by LBC painting, a nice deep blue/purple color. We also were fortunate enough to have the Red Hot Winter fundraiser series allow us to replace the hanging flourescent light fixtures with flush mount ceiling fixtures.
2007 saw many changes, notably that after having lost several of our stock directors to relocation, we had our 1st call for a travelling director, which was Mathew Green, who directed Arsenic and Old Lace. We also had our 1st revival, when we once again mounted "A Christmas Carol", and brought back over 60% of the original cast. We also continued to enhance our facilities whenever the opportunities presented themselves.
In 2008 we reached out to the Paxton Majestic Players, who had lost their performance space due to fire the year before. We shared the facility with them, and they had a wonderful production of "Pajama Game" in March of that year. 2008 also brought another new director in Tom Janowski, who has directed many shows with the Paxton Majestic Players. He directed our Christmas production of FruitCakes, a zany comedy.
2009 has brought the long awaited introduction of our Studio Theater concept, where people who wish to gain experience as a director or an actor can get involved in a smaller performance space, which does not come with the financial responsibilities of the main stage. Long time RTG actor, Blake Quinlan, will direct 2 one act shows in his directorial debut. RTG is also continuing to work with new directing talent on the main stage, as Aaron Polk, long time director at the Station Theater, directs "Drop Dead" for us in late July. Amanda Hammell, who has also been in many RTG productions, will make her directorial debut in October, with the Crucible.