Who will provide the Live Sound Expirence?
ATM Audio Productions
Andrew Meyer.................. Live Sound Engineer
Andrew is a master of soundscapes. With him behind the board you can guarantee that it will sound great in every seat of the house!
Book ATM Audio Productions
Our Sponsors (Coming Soon)
3902 Main St. Mchenry, IL
Top Level Sponsor
Big thanks to Bill and Jenny!
Clean Bee Flooring & Upholstery Care
542 Rand Rd. Lakemoor, IL
1st Level Sponsor
Thank you Dave and Michelle
Cloud 9 Smoke Shop
3421 Pearl St. McHenry, Illinois 60050
2nd Level Sponsor
Thank you for your support Mike!
The Woodstock Opera House - Built in 1889
History of The Opera House
The year was 1888 and Alderman W.W. Cook made the motion to purchase a lot on the downtown square in Woodstock, which had remained vacant since a fire in 1871. Having grown tired of holding council meetings in a local attic, the proposal was to build a City Hall worthy of the town and its citizens. However, when put to a vote the motion came to a tie and it rested on Mayor Merritt Joslyn to cast the deciding vote. Of course he voted in the affirmative and what quickly followed in the next two years was a decision to construct a City Building that would house several official elements of the community, including the City offices, police and fire departments, a public library and a central gathering place for the community, the Opera House.
Smith Hoag, an architect from Elgin, was hired to draw-up plans and day laborers were initially hired to begin work on the building. However, after months with very little progress, due to labor issues and material delays, the council contracted Smith Hoag to complete the construction for a fee of $26,000. Simon Brink, whose family had long been connected to the city, was hired to oversee construction and on September 4, 1890 the grand opening was held with the Patti Rosa Player’s performance of “Margery Daw.”
Throughout the next few decades the building functioned as the center of activity for Woodstock and McHenry County. The City offices, library, police and fire department occupied the first floor of the building and the Opera House was contained in the second and third floors. With a capacity of almost 700 movable seats the Opera House functioned as a public space for a variety of activities including, theatrical events, concerts, weddings, dances, wrestling matches, the annual strawberry festival and graduation commencements to name a few. All these things almost came to an end in 1914 when a fire broke out in the coal bin, located in the basement of the building.
Reports tell that two vagrants were living in the basement jail cell and it is believed they inadvertently set the fire while 600 gentlemen were attending a wrestling match in the theatre two stories above. The fire quickly spread up the building following the main stairwell like a chimney. Luckily, the theatre was evacuated in time and the only death reported was that of one of the vagrants who started the blaze. Evidence of the fire can still be found in charred wood remnants under floor boards and the local library lost over 1,900 books in the blaze.
In 1926, a young man came to Woodstock and was enrolled at the local Todd School for Boys, his name was Orson Welles and he had a passion for theatre. Between the ages of 11 and 16 Welles learned much of his craft on the Opera House stage before departing abroad to Ireland. He would return a few years later in 1934 and present a summer of dramas including “Hamlet” and the popular book turned play “Trilby,” which was thought to be the inspiration for Gaston Leroux's novel “The Phantom of the Opera.” Welles directed and starred in these productions opposite noted actors Michael MacLiammoir and Louise Prussing whom he had brought with him from his travels in Europe. Roger Hill, the headmaster at the Todd School even convinced the New York Times to review one of the Shakespearian plays presented that summer.
In 1939 the Opera House saw its first expansion when, due in part to years of patron complaints about the smell of horses, the fire department was moved to an addition built at the back of the building. The local library was also enlarged to meet its expanding collection. However, during this same period in the 1930’s the building lost the top of its bell tower cupola and the front portico due to extreme deterioration of the materials. It would be 30 years before the cupola was restored and 60 years before the replacement of the portico completed decades’ long restoration efforts.
The Opera House served as a location for the services of the Red Cross during World War II after which, a small group of veterans launched the McHenry County Theatre Guild. The Guild assisted in the creation of “The Woodstock Players” in 1947, which drew members from graduates of the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Through the early 50’s notable actors such as Paul Newman, Tom Bosley, Geraldine Page, Lois Nettleton, Betsy Palmer and Shelley Berman honed their skills on the Opera House stage each evening while holding day jobs at local shops in Woodstock. Sadly, the Opera House declined in use over the next decade with the Library relocating in 1959 and the Fire Department in 1965. As parts of the building were vacated much of the facility fell into disrepair. Yet, in 1960 the Junior Civic Arts League was founded as a group of young people dedicated to presenting plays and endeavoring to repair the Opera House to its former glory. The League gave rise to other supporting organizations over the next decade such as the Woodstock Fine Arts Association, founded in 1961, whose efforts set the stage for the restoration project to come.
Woodstock gained national recognition in 1964 when it was named an “All-America City” by the National Municipal League. This honor was given due to the exemplary participation of Woodstock citizens towards the improvement of their community. This award fueled the idea of community partnerships and in 1965 and 1966 the City invested almost $40,000 in repairs to the interior and exterior of the Opera House.
Over the next decade a tremendous push towards the full restoration of the Opera House was enacted and in 1972 after much political wrangling, in which it was suggested the Opera House be torn down and made into a parking garage, the City officially declared, by ordinance, that the Opera House was a historic landmark. This was quickly followed in 1974 by the placement of the building on National Register of Historic Places. By now, the City had moved all of its offices to other locations leaving just the Opera House and with the formation of the Woodstock Opera House Community Center Inc., as a fundraising body, the building received a complete restoration in 1976 at a price of $500,000 with Architect John Vincent Anderson overseeing the efforts. Reopening as the official Woodstock Opera House Community Center in February, 1977 the building was once again a thriving arts center, fully modernized, yet historically intact.
Over the next 30 years the Opera House transitioned to the modern facility it is today. Professional staff was hired to operate the theatre and minor restoration projects continued to enhance the beauty and historical accuracy of the building. In 1999 the imposing front portico of the building was reconstructed and replacement of the original firehouse barn doors followed in 2013. The lot next door, long vacant, was purchased by the City in the 1990's and the Opera House Annex was built on the site, opening in 2003. At almost 1/3 the size of the original Opera House, the annex provided much needed space for offices, back-stage areas, a massive freight elevator, additional restrooms and the most popular aspect, the Stage Left Café.
Today the Woodstock Opera House plays host to over 500 amateur and professional events and activities each year. Much like it was in its early years it serves the community as a gathering place for programs of every shape and size. In addition, it is the resident home to two community theatre companies TownSquare Players and Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, the Judith Svalander Dance Theatre, and after over 50 years in service, the Woodstock Fine Arts Association. Whether you call it the “Opera House;” “Old City Hall;” the “Crown Jewel of McHenry County;” or in the words of Orson Welles, “The Grand Capitol of Midwestern Victorianism,” the Woodstock Opera House continues to endure and flourish as the center of the arts in northern Illinois.