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Community Players Theatre's glitzy gala celebrated the past while looking to the future

Two men dressed in black tuxedos smile at the camera
Lauren Warnecke
Bruce Parrish. left, and Nick Benson serve as president and vice president of the board of governors, respectively, for Community Players Theatre. The theater celebrated its 100th anniversary at a gala event at the Castle Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 28.

“Welcome to the theater! To the magic, to the fun. Where painted trees and flowers grow, and laughter’s in fortissimo. And they won’t let me say the next line.”

The line is from the 1970 musical “Applause,” starring Lauren Bacall, but the delivery was by Bruce Parrish, president and historian of Community Players Theatre. Parrish served as master of ceremonies for Community Players’ 100th anniversary gala on Saturday.

Parrish’s remarks noting Community Players’ past 100 years were followed by speakers squarely focused on the future.

Of the six productions on tap in 2023-2024, four are new to the troupe. Neil Simon’s “Rumors” opens the season. Also premiering for the first time at Community Players are “Young Frankenstein,” the staged musical version of “Mary Poppins,” and “12 Angry Jurors,” a gender-expansive version of the classic play “12 Angry Men.”

“I Hate Hamlet” will be revived at Community Players for the first time since 1996. And the perennial favorite, “Fiddler on the Roof,” comes back again this fall. Also back by popular demand: the troupe’s popular festive revue called “Holiday on Robinhood Lane.”

Board member Michael Ainslie took the mic to give an update on Community Players’ capital campaign, a long-overdue renovation of the Bloomington theater aimed at replacing seats, improving sight lines and upgrading accessibility for patrons who use wheelchairs.

“In the time since the initial launch in 2018, the world changed around us,” Ainslie said. “The pandemic would pause our efforts for almost two years. The construction industry suffered and, to a certain extent, still does suffer from chronic inflation and supply chain issues.”

A man in a gray suit and a woman in a black, beaded flapper dress smile at the camera
Lauren Warnecke
As part of the gala's festivities, Rich Plotkin (left) and Wendy Cottone were inducted as emeritus board members for decades of volunteer service to Community Players. It is the highest honor the theater can bestow and comes with a certificate and season tickets for life.

The evening’s silent auction contributed about $2,000 to the renewed capital campaign, and Ainslie urged guests to continue to support Community Players efforts to raise $80,000 in 2023. They aim to break ground in November 2025.

With all this good news about the future, Saturday’s gala was decidedly nostalgic with the Castle Theatre decked out in a 1920s theme and guests dressed in their finest tuxes and jeweled flapper dresses. The night began with drinks, appetizers and an hour-long set from Heartland Jazz Orchestra on the Castle stage. A slideshow of images from every era of Community Players was shown behind the band. A sit-down buffet dinner was followed by a medley of music theater tunes performed live, plus a nightcap of dessert and dancing.

As part of the celebration, longtime volunteers Wendy Cottone and Rich Plotkin were inducted as emeritus board members for their decades of service to Community Players — the highest honor a member can receive.

For more information on Community Players upcoming season and capital campaign, visit communityplayers.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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