Nestled in the heart of downtown Aurora, sharing the building with the Aurora Memorial Library and Aurora Historical Society, is Aurora's 45-year-old community theater.
Aurora Community Theatre officially got its start in 1960 with a staging of "The Tender Trap." The theater's cast and crew staged its productions at the Church of Aurora and Aurora High School until it found a permanent home in the Center for Performing Arts next to Aurora Memorial Library.
Currently, the theater stages four shows per season -- in the fall, winter, spring and summer -- in addition to a limited run fundraiser show. Also, ACT offers a children's theatre workshop in the summer.
Reflections on past
Longtime producer and volunteer Marianne Paul said she found working at the theater "was a great way to meet new people and make new friends while having fun.
"I have been involved with ACT since the late 1970s when my then-husband talked me into auditioning with him for the musical 'Fiorello,'" Paul said.
"It's the one and only time I have been on stage and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I prefer to be behind the scenes. I started out helping with the programs and then graduated to props. When ACT found out I could sew, it was a natural move to costuming.
"I have served on the board of trustees for a six-year period three different times, twice as president. When my youngest son became interested in directing at ACT's summer youth productions, I agreed to be his producer and have been producing shows ever since."
Another longtime associate with ACT -- both on stage and off -- is Karen Haus, who said she first became involved when acting in its productions were limited to Aurora residents.
"My first ACT show was the second I ever did," Haus said. "At the time, I lived at home in Moreland Hills, and I heard Aurora was auditioning for the musical 'Anything Goes' that required tap-dancing.
"Since I loved to tap dance, I tried out, not knowing that Aurora was a 'closed' theater then. I found out later I had to be voted in by the board because I was not an Auroran. The only reason I got voted in was the fact I was a hoofer. That was in the mid-70s.
"When I built a house in Aurora in the 1980s, I became involved at ACT by volunteering to head publicity for 'On Golden Pond.' I also helped sell program advertising.
In the late '80's I auditioned for 'The Music Man,' 'Camelot' and 'The Sound of Music,' in which I was fortunate to play leading roles. In the 1990s, I lived out of town, but upon my return, I bee-lined to ACT, where I auditioned for 'Anything Goes' again -- and won the same role I had performed several years earlier.
"Since then, I have been on stage many times and have worked behind the scenes as well, having had three tours of duty on the board of trustees, including president twice."
Veteran actor Kevin Horak said he first became involved with ACT in 1982.
"Shortly after moving back to Northeast Ohio to serve at the Church of Aurora, the church's music director Sally McGill -- who also was ACT's resident musical director -- invited me to consider auditioning for the spring musical, 'Hello, Dolly.'
"Having dabbled in theater in my church youth group and my high school's production of that same show, I nervously prepared a musical number to sing and hoped to be cast in the chorus."
Horak was not cast in the chorus, but in the role of Cornelius Hackle, one of the principal roles. He said he has done more than 40 theatrical productions since, all of them at ACT.
When he first became involved with the theater, Horak said the regular season only included two shows that ran three weekends.
Present day progress
As well as increasing the number of theatrical offerings through the years, ACT recently underwent a capital campaign to upgrade its facilities.
The first capital renovation was completed in fall 2010, with the upgrades to the theater and seating areas. The ribbon cutting took place at the beginning of the 2010-11 season.
"I am most proud of the completion of our first capital campaign and the renovation of the theatre, resulting in more leg room for patrons, newly upholstered seats and all new carpeting, paint and safety railings," Paul said.
"We are currently in our second capital campaign, which will bring all new curtains and renovated dressing rooms and a better sound system. All of this could not have been accomplished without a very savvy business manager, Christine Patronik-Holder, and a wonderful community support system."
Horak said he felt the theater "has one of the nicest facilities this side of Playhouse Square."
The 2014-15 season opened with the classic murder mystery "Deathtrap" by Ira Levin in late October and November. This was followed by the contemporary drama "Other Desert Cities" by Jon Robin Baitz in late January and February.
This year's spring musical is "Man of La Mancha" by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and music by Joe Darion. "Man of La Mancha" was scheduled to open April 24 and run through May 16. The benefit show, "2Across," was staged in March.
This summer, ACT is slated to produce the contemporary musical "Avenue Q" by Jeff Whitty, with music and lyrics by Robert Lope and Jeff Marx. The play is scheduled to run July 10-25.
The theater's youth programs will include the participants staging a production of "Peter Pan Jr." this year.
There are two workshops offered: one from July 20-Aug. 1 and one from Aug. 3-15. The workshop is open to children entering grades 2 to 9 in fall 2015. Workshops are limited to 60 children per session.
"Along with the two sessions of children's summer workshops, we offer periodic one day youth workshops where we bring in experts to focus on areas of special interest," said Michelle Regelbrugge, co-producer of the workshops.
"In the past, we have offered improvisation, theatre dance, audition and stage combat. We plan to offer more one-day workshops in the future."
Regelbrugge said the goal of the programs is to "allow children to develop confidence in a comfortable environment while gaining hands on experience in all aspects of theatrical production.
"We hope their experience instills a lifelong love for performing arts. Every child improves at his/her own pace. We hope everyone gains practical knowledge of theatre such as acting, singing, dancing, set construction and decoration, sound and light, costumes, makeup and props.
"Some move on to perform in school productions, ACT and other community theatre productions, or even Broadway. For others, the friendships and memories are the most important part of their experience."
Regelbrugge said she first became involved with ACT and the youth workshops after her daughter enrolled in one of the workshops.
"My daughter was a participant in the children's summer workshop before she entered third grade," she said. "This was her first theatre experience and she was hooked. She returned as a participant for six years.
"In the process, I became involved with ACT and currently serve on the board of trustees as secretary. I have served on the children's summer workshop committee and as board liaison for the children's summer workshop. I am currently co-producer of CSW with Vicki Rizzo-Prato."
Paul said the community involvement and the theater's sponsors are crucial to Aurora Community Theatre's success.
"Our donors and patrons are our bread and butter, and we could not have accomplished all that we've done without them," she said. "Our sponsors are also extremely important to our financial success and many of them sponsor shows year after year. There are a great many benefits that we offer to our sponsors."
Longtime supporters Norm and Denise Wells, who helped support the renovations of the theater and named the stage, said they encourage Aurora residents to patronize the local theater.
"The Aurora theater has a great history," said Norm Wells. "In order to continue serving the community, upgrading was essential for quality performances in the future and a positive audience experience. We are proud to have been part of designing the new theater and watching the construction."
Other community sponsors have included Anna Maria of Aurora, Vicki Kline, CPA and Aurora School of Music.
and parting thoughts
The Aurora Community Theatre is at 115 E. Pioneer Trail. For details, call 330-562-1818 or visit www.auroracommunitytheatre.com online.
"To me, Aurora Community Theatre is more than just a place for children, youth and adults to 'play,'" Horak said. "It's a place where we can go to remember and to forget, to cry and to laugh.
"It has transported us to old worlds and new worlds and even other worlds. It has helped us to relive the past, sort out the present and imagine the future. It is a place to learn, to stretch and to grow. It is a place to share with old friends and to make new ones.
"Even if 'all the world is a stage' I am grateful that my little corner of the world has the Aurora Community stage."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4186