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September 3, 2004

Celebrating the Past and Setting the Stage for the Future - The Little Theatre On The Square (Sullivan, Illinois)

In an all too familiar economy of low-ticket sales, early closing notices, and theatres struggling to see another season, The Little Theatre On The Square continues to honor professional theatre, Actors, and a healthy relationship with Actors’ Equity.

On June 5, 2004, 46 glorious years of theatrical excellence was marked with the grand opening of the totally renovated theatre and adjoining administration building. The $2,000,000 capital campaign for the renovation began in 2002.

Founded by long-time Equity Member Guy S. Little, Jr., and hailed as “a cultural jewel in central Illinois”, The Little Theatre On The Square (originally a 1928 silent movie house called “The Grand”) raised its first curtain in 1957 with a lively production of BRIGADOON.

Mr. Little, who fulfilled his dream of opening a professional theatre in his hometown, operated The Little Theatre On The Square as a commercial venture from 1957 to 1978 and welcomed such stars as Mickey Rooney, Alan Alda, Ann Miller, Don Ameche, Betty Grable, John Carradine, Ann Southern, Forest Tucker, Vivian Vance, and many others.

In 1981, after a short hiatus to re-organize and re-structure, the theatre opened as a not-for-profit corporation. Executive Director Leonard Anderson, who has been at the helm since 1988, happily discusses the fact that the current renovation was not the first.

In 1992, the Board of Trustees purchased and renovated the adjoining Administration Building (which also houses dressing rooms, a green room, and business offices). Year-round productions were realized in 1995 with the purchase of a brand new heating and air conditioning system. Another building, which houses a rehearsal hall, a dance studio, and Actor housing was secured in 2000. In 2001, another building (this marks four for those keeping count) was purchased and converted into a fully realized technical production facility.

Mr. Anderson, wanting to keep the artistic standards as high as those in the theatre’s past, hired Artistic Director M. Seth Reines in 1988. (Both men previously enjoyed a working relationship at the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota.) Seth, who resigned as the Artistic Director of the Utah Musical Theatre in order to take the position, wanted to work with Equity Actors and Stage Managers. The majority of Actors, for each season, are brought in from Chicago, New York, and many other cities in the Central Region and across the country. Seth also wanted to create a professional Internship Program. Still in existence today, the Internship Program has a direct tie into Equity’s EMC program.

The Little Theatre On The Square draws over 53,000 theatre patrons per year. Not bad for a town of 4,400. Thanks to the theatre’s economic impact on the city, and most of the surrounding cities, the city of Sullivan and the Sullivan Area Economic Development Group has expressed a desire to improve the square with plans to add and renovate restaurants, shops, and all historic buildings.

A standing ovation and Bravo to The Little Theatre On The Square!

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Contributed by Luther Goins

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