A Peoria Tradition for Six Decades

Corn Stock Theatre celebrates 60 years of lively performances and dedicated community support.

In the spring of 1953, a small group of friends gathered on the front porch of Alice and Bill Oakley’s home. These folks had one thing in common: an unabashed love of theatre. It was on that porch that the founding members, including Gretchen Iben and Richard Chandler, conceived and organized Peoria’s first outdoor theatre-in-the-round.

The name, Corn Stock Theatre, was a derivative of the term “summer stock,” in which theatrical productions are performed by a repertory company for the summer season. The “corn,” of course, is representative of its central Illinois roots.

With just $35 in the coffers, those founding members, along with 70 charter members, saw their dreams come to fruition with two shows at Detweiller Park in the summer of 1954. The following spring, with the generous assistance of the Peoria Park District, the theatre moved to its current location in upper Bradley Park. Set amongst a grove of majestic oak trees on the hilltop, there’s nothing that compares to the magic of live theatre under the tent on a summer evening.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Corn Stock, which has become a summer tradition for thousands. While primarily known as a “summer theatre,” Corn Stock has grown over the past decades to include a membership base of more than 300 volunteers, two venues and three branches of the organization.

Corn Stock Theatre Center, a permanent building just south of the tent, houses the Winter Playhouse and Corn Stock for Kids programs, and serves as a rehearsal facility for summer shows. Started in 1978 by Dr. Leonard Costa, the Winter Playhouse Program produces five shows from October to March, offering works by contemporary playwrights. Corn Stock for Kids, created in 1997, produces two youth shows annually and holds a summer workshop for kids ages eight to 18. The continued success of these programs has transitioned the organization from “summer stock” to, literally, a theatre for all seasons.

This May, the 60th season kicks off with the classic tale of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. In June, The Foreigner will feature guest artist Steve Vinovich, a native Peorian and successful TV and movie actor. The season continues with the tap-dancing extravaganza Anything Goes, the urbanized retelling of Dorothy and her friends in The Wiz, and Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

The very essence of Corn Stock Theatre is the people involved—people of all ages from all segments of the community, from eager newcomers to seasoned veterans. Whether volunteering behind the scenes or onstage, or simply enjoying the season from your seat under the tent, there are many ways to celebrate the 60th season of central Illinois’ only outdoor theatre-in-the-round! a&s

For more information, call (309) 676-2196, find Corn Stock on Facebook, or visit cornstocktheatre.com.

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