Kankakee Valley Theatre had its roots with a group calling themselves “The Key City Players.” In 1963, a fine arts committee of the American Association of University Women with the aid of a Bourbonnais priest presented a children’s theatre production of Hansel and Gretel. The women of the group wrote the play, made sets and costumes, sold popcorn, and toured local schools with the proceeds going to Riverside Hospital in Kankakee.
A nucleus from that group formed the Kankakee Little Theatre sponsored by the Kankakee Park District. Its first season was performed on the stage of the Civic Auditorium. Audiences paid $1.50 for adults and $1.00 for students to sit on wooden folding chairs padded with cushions sewn at a local upholstery plant.
In 1965, the Kankakee Little Theatre renovated two rooms in the Unity Building in Kankakee for their first official headquarters. The season had expanded to three productions.
In May of 1969 during its annual meeting, the membership adopted a new constitution and by-laws. This officially changed the group’s name to Kankakee Valley Theatre to reflect more accurately the area of the organization and in keeping with the name change of its sponsor, Kankakee Valley Park District.
The 1969-70 season brought major growth and community recognition to KVT. Audience attendance grew so dramatically, that the last two season productions had to be moved to the Westview High School auditorium to accommodate larger audiences. The group had run the gamut from performing fairy tales to Greek classics to Broadway musicals!
By this time, the headquarters had become overrun with props and storage. To our rescue came a local patron with an offer of an empty warehouse downtown that could be rented for a nominal fee.
The demand from the community for more musicals reshaped the selection of seasons from then on to include at least one and more often two musicals per season. We now could compliment our musicals with full orchestras. In 1973, KVT joined the Illinois Theatre Association. By 1975, massive reorganization was needed and implemented. An auxiliary group called The Spotlighters took shape to help with membership drives, mailings and patron lounge. A telephone box office system was also introduced to meet ticket demands.
By 1985, our walls were again bursting at the seams. We purchased the building in which our warehouse storage space had been located. With added room to breathe came many added expenses of building maintenance and remodeling. With the help of a city block grant and pledges from a community fund raising campaign, KVT had its first real home. We now had a set shop and storage area, costume shop, board room, rehearsal hall, box office, prop shop, lighting and sound shop, and even our own 150 seat little theater.
In 1993, local developers proceeded to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. They relocated us in a downtown Kankakee location, which was fully renovated to our specifications. This new home stood adjacent to a closed movie theater. High hopes were given from community leaders that funds would be sought to remodel this space into a center for the performing arts. Unfortunately, major structural deterioration and stringent building code demands made staying in this location safety and cost prohibitive. Thus the quest for a new, better home began.
In July 1999, after much preparation, KVT merged with Young Peoples Theatre. We now offer theatre production experiences for audiences of all ages. Not only have we expanded our volunteer membership base, but also continue to broaden our audience base to include more families with children. We have a cooperative agreement with Shapiro Developmental Center for rehearsal space, and our performances are held in two school auditoriums. In the fall of 2000 major structural defects in our warehouse precipitated the move to another rented 12,000 sq. foot home located on the corner of Lowe Road and Route 17 East. In the summer of 2017, we moved to a more spacious studios, located at 1 Stuart Drive, Kankakee.