Thespians find a new home; first play this weekend in downtown Rantoul

Papa, played by Keith Krickovich, and Mams, played by Karen Hughes, discuss Virginia’s question whether there is a Santa Claus in rehearsal for the play, “Yes, Virginia,” which will be presented this weekend at the new home of Rantoul Theatre Group, 112 E. Sangamon Ave.

RANTOUL — Rantoul Theatre Group is back and has a new home.

The group of thespians, who staged countless plays over many years at the now-closed Grissom Hall Theatre until 2015, held one play at J.W. Eater Junior High the following year. But since then it’s been crickets for the group in Rantoul.

That all changes this weekend with a new play and a new permanent home in the old Kessler building in downtown Rantoul at 112 E. Sangamon Ave.

“Yes, Virginia,” based on an 1897 New York Sun editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” is the title.

Director Jessica Holmes, who four years ago directed the last play at Grissom, “A Christmas Carol,” also directs “Yes, Virginia.”

She said the impetus for getting “the band back to together” came from RTG board member Karen Hughes, who wanted to do a Christmas play. George Papametro, who owns the former Kessler building, was contacted about using one of the rooms there.

Papametro began fixing up a room and won’t charge RTG for its use for the first play.

“Starting in January, we will start paying rent and make our home there,” Holmes said.

Donations have paid to buy seats. Seating capacity is 80 to 90 people.

“He has really fixed it up, painted it and put lights in,” Holmes said. “A woman with the old Paxton Theatre Group is providing a portable stage that, if we move and don’t make a go of it, we can pick it up and go with it,” Holmes said.

A friend from Havana, Ill., designed a poster for the event.

“It’s all coming together,” Holmes said.

ET’s Downtown Rantoul restaurant is located across the street from the theater, and Holmes said some future plays could include a dinner-theater arrangement.

In addition to enjoying directing the play, for Holmes the experience has evoked a sense of nostalgia.

“I think with this play I have realized ... it was just a simpler time,” she said. “People read their newspaper. That was their way of communicating. People didn’t have cell phones.”

Papametro said he has divided the building into four sections. The theater will be located in the northwest end. He said he thinks the addition of the theater will provide a boost for downtown.

“One reason I bought (the building) was I wanted things to go better downtown,” he said. “I think (it will be) a great addition. I’m doing everything I can. I want it to stay there, and I want it to last.”

Papametro said he completely changed the front entry, added a new ceiling, new flooring and walls, different doors, stage lighting, track lighting and directional lighting, plus a marquee-type front in the former storefront.

“I gave them a low rate,” Papametro said, adding the theater group won’t pay utilities.

He hopes to also make the area available for small groups.

The cast for “Yes, Virginia” includes Karen Hughes, Sue Sawyer, Ryan Summers, Cynthia McEntire, Kennedy Carico, Monty Joyce, Jim Rich, Michael Soltis, Sophia Swofford, Evelyn Graham, Miranda Isaacs and Keith Krickovich.

The play will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15.

Reservations may be made by texting or calling 217-552-7130.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com