The plan was made. Months of work had already gone into the Madison Street Theater (MST) building – much appreciated, but sorely in need of work. Flooring has been updated; fresh paint had been applied; some walls were added and the building was brought up to code. Many volunteer hours and generous offers from local tradespeople went into the $ 75,000 renovation.
“An Evening at Madison Street Theater: Renovated and Reimagined”, planned for months, would raise the funds needed to tackle the next part of the project – dealing with the HVAC system, parts of which were 25 years old, 10 years old. apogee. The performance was scheduled for March 12. The tickets were purchased by around 150 people. Then COVID struck.
“It was a tough decision, but we know we made the right decision and canceled the fundraiser,” said Tina Reynolds, Madison Street Theater board member. “Our hope for fundraising was to start the fundraising campaign, to start repairing and repairing the HVAC. “
The building itself, located at 1010 Madison St., Oak Park, has a long history, beginning as a tile warehouse and storefront in the 1920s, according to the MST website. In 1961, the non-profit Oak Park River Forest Civic Theater was founded and housed for years on South Blvd. In 1984, the group acquired the Madison Street space and opened the theater in 1984. Over the years, different groups have used the space, including Circle Theater and Village Players.
For the past seven or eight years, BRAVO, the theater program at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, and Ovation Academy, an award-winning performing arts program that offers classes and theater productions for young people, have used the Madison Street Theater for an additional summer theater camp. Reynolds runs both programs, respectively as Art Director / Program Director and Art Director / CEO.
Seeing the MST space decline over time broke her heart, Reynolds said, and she acknowledged the building was a challenge for the nonprofit board of directors at the time. She started talking to them for 18 months about acquiring the building.
Then the theater was also approached by a developer who was building condos in the area.
“This particular space, I thought, was so special to have done shows there, to have seen shows there, I couldn’t imagine it being torn down and turned into condos,” said Reynolds. “I know how much this community supports the arts and finds it important for their children and for themselves. ”
She saw an opportunity to save the Madison Street Theater and turn it into a professional-grade venue for local and Chicago-area arts groups.
“It needed more TLC,” she said. “It really took a galvanized board that could have the passion, the time and the connections to really transform the place and save it. “
In June 2019, the current board of directors agreed to dissolve and hand over the reins to a brand new board of directors. Reynolds is the chairman and acts as vice chairman, she said.
“The previous board was thrilled,” she said. “What they were hoping for was that new life could be breathed into the building.”
Together with Forest Park Bank, the new board of directors was able to refinance and acquire this original non-profit Oak Park River Forest Civic Theater, which owns MST.
Ovation became the main tenant, paying the rent, running their classes and hosting their performances at MST. It was located in a cluster of rooms under Oberweis Ice Cream on Oak Park Avenue. “Ovation was kind of cracking up at our previous location,” Reynolds said.
Rental space at MST consists of a 200-seat main theater, a 65-seat black box theater, and a rehearsal space. There is also a music room, pianos, changing rooms, a props room and halls. A drone tour of the MST website shows how the space has been updated.
Since the closure in March, the theater has not been able to be used to its full capacity. It reopened in July with security protocols in place. Ovation has a strong program in place, offering in-person lessons, virtual lessons, and safe productions. However, rentals have been very slow. Directors auditioned, musicians rehearsed and there was even a marriage proposal – a couple who met about six years ago in this theater during a performance returned for a bit of nostalgia. romantic.
Still, MST “is just trying to make ends meet,” Reynolds said. With “strict guidelines for indoor events,” an upcoming performance scheduled for Dec. 18 by a dance company is now uncertain.
The association was creative in cutting costs, initially deferred its loan and may refinance its loan, Reynolds said. They also apply for grants.
“Because we’re so new and it takes a little bit of time to establish and create a relationship with a lot of these foundations that give grants,” she said, “we are applying for them, we didn’t simply received no subsidy. . Everything that happens at Madison Street Theater right now is in the hands of our Board of Directors and volunteers. “
And then, just before Thanksgiving, two of the HVAC units stopped working. Without replacement of units, the theater is expected to be closed for the winter. A GoFundMe was created by the board of directors and in seven days more than $ 34,000 was raised by 214 donors. The goal of $ 60,000 will cover the complete replacement of HVAC systems for the entire building, which includes the rental of a crane, as the units are located on the roof. The council is working with a local contractor and has obtained reduced rates and permits have been granted by the village of Oak Park.
“That this community comes together around this gem of a theater, that it stays open, that it stays alive… it’s breathtaking, it’s amazing,” said Reynolds.
More information on Madison Street Theater or to donate: mstoakpark.com