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Waiting in the Wings: The Road to the Studios

This Saturday, Kankakee Valley Theatre Association will be participating in a very auspicious event, the ribbon cutting for the new KVTA Studios! This move has been years in the making, and there have been so many people who were instrumental in making it happen. To mark this historic occasion for our organization, I thought I might share a little of KVTA’s history that’s lead us to this location. The organization has, after all, been around for over 50 years. That makes it the longest standing community theatre organization in this area! It only makes sense that KVTA would have a long, rich history.

In 1963, a core group of members from the Key City Players formed Kankakee Little Theatre, the earliest faction of what is now known as Kankakee Valley Theatre Association. Their first productions were two one-act plays, And the Villain Still Pursued Her and Poor Old Jim. In 1964, Kankakee Little Theatre produced its first full season using the Civic Auditorium as its main location for productions.

When the group began their second full season in 1965, they were still without a permanent meeting and rehearsal space. Kankakee Little Theatre renovated two rooms that would become their headquarters, located in the Unity Building on Court Street. Just a couple years later, the theatre group would begin utilizing the stage at Eastridge High School. The first production to be put on there was a comedy, Light Up the Sky. Eastridge was an appealing location as it offered better acoustics, lighting, and seating. However, this move was not as successful as the group had hoped and resulted in smaller audience numbers plus higher production costs. The group decided to move their productions back to the Civic Auditorium.

In May of 1969, the membership of Kankakee Little Theatre voted to officially change the organization name to Kankakee Valley Theatre. The theatre group once again produced two of their season shows, Medea and Once Upon a Mattress, this time at a different location, Westview High School. At this point, the theatre group was utilizing both the Civic Auditorium and Westview High School to host their productions.

Only a couple years later the KVT group would outgrow their headquarters and be forced to find a new location due to demolition on their current home. The group moved to an empty warehouse in the Lasser Building on Merchant Street. This moved proved to be very beneficial and provided lots of space for new equipment that the group had acquired.

During the 1971-72 season KVT would find a new location to host Mame! The new location offered more seating, 1,200 seats to be exact. Mame! would go on to break all of KVT’s previous house records by selling out, and it was the first show to be produced with a full orchestra, conducted by Ovid Young. This new location was King Upper Grade Center, which was previously Kankakee High School and what is now Lincoln Cultural Center. LCC currently hosts multiple KVTA shows per season.

Over the years, ambitious board members dreamed of having their own space for the organization. Unfortunately, costs were always seemingly out of reach for the theatre group. By 1984, KVT had been renting their space from Stanford Lassers for nearly 13 years. When the building became available for purchase they jumped on the opportunity; this was finally their chance to have their own home! The building offered two floors which allowed for a ticket booth, set construction area, and added storage.

The group began plans for a future Warehouse Theatre which would be located on the second floor of the building. KVT was now in the process of raising money for their very own theatre! The group hosted fundraising events and received several grants. By April 1986, the group had raised $99,000 for their building fund, just shy of their $100,000 goal. On Friday, June 24, 1988, Kankakee Valley Theatre opened the doors of its new Warehouse Theatre, located at 7 Dearborn Square. The grand opening performance was a production of E/R Emergency Room, first performed on July 29, 1988, and directed by Miles Quentin (Turner).

Sadly, after only four years in their newly built theatre, KVT was relocated due to city plans to pave a parking lot where their location stood. The theatre group was, once again, without their own theatre. KVT was moved to the old Town Cinema, what is now the Majestic Theater, where they would remain for several years. The group held their Grand Opening Gala in August of 1994 with dreams of creating a fine arts complex in their little corner of Kankakee. Productions continued as usual, most being held at LCC with a few at alternate locations, such as Kankakee Junior High School which is also a current home for various KVTA productions.

In July of 1999, KVT became Kankakee Valley Theatre Association after merging with Young People’s Theatre. The performing group would now be able to offer stage experience to performers of all ages!

In that same year, KVTA again faced challenges with their location. Deteriorating framework made the building an unsuitable location and the group was tasked with finding a new space. The following year in September of 2000 the current board president, Paula J. Hasik, would be instrumental in finding a new space. KVTA found a new home in the empty J & B Fruits and Vegetables building on the corner of Lowe Road and Route 17 East in Kankakee. The group moved there in October of that same year, and this location was what we all have come to know as the KVTA Warehouse.

Years later, the acting board president, Paula J. Sutter, made it her mission to secure a permanent space for KVTA that would allow our organization to have its own theatre space. After years of planning and fundraising, Paula saw her vision come to fruition in her final year of a 16-year presidential term. KVTA made its official move to the new KVTA Studios at 1 Stuart Drive in Kankakee in July of 2017.

We are so excited to be located in our new space and for all the possibilities it holds! We are so thankful to the many, many people who have brought us here today. Please join us in celebrating the opening of our new space this Saturday, September 30th, from 10 am to 12 pm at the KVTA Studios. The Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce will perform a ribbon cutting at 10 am, with tours and refreshments to follow. All are welcome to attend! It has been a long road, but we are excited to see what is in store for the future of this fine organization!

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