Scarcity of theaters, rehearsal space a tremendous challenge for active local theater companies including Class Act, Twin City and more
Class Act, one of the area’s training grounds from budding actors and musical theater artists, has long been a staple of the youth arts scene in Champaign-Urbana.
But when the curtains close for the final time after the Class Act Showstoppers’ four performances of the Polkadots The Cool Kids Musical this weekend, it will mark the end of its 11-year tenure at the SoDo Theatre.
The space in the building at 111 S. Walnut – which straddles Neil and Walnut Streets, with entrances on both streets – has been fully leased.
The Sodo Theatre has been the host of many events. Longtime chambanamoms.com fans will remember a Justin Roberts children’s concert there in 2011.
Over the years, Class Act has shared the SoDo with many other users, but soon the the vast space will be completely occupied by a bar and axe-throwing venue, according to Jacki Loewenstein, Class Act’s artistic director.
And it reflects a bigger issue in the Champaign-Urbana arts community: a lack of places for performances, rehearsals, and classes for most groups that are not part of the University of Illinois, local school systems, or Parkland College.
“Shortage of affordable space is a major concern for all theatre companies that aren’t affiliated with academic institutions,” she said.
Class Act isn’t the only theater group to be left scrambling for space moving forward; the theatre has also been the home to the local improv troop, Zoo Improv, and others.
“With the closing of SoDo, we now have four ‘homeless’ theatre companies: Class Act, Zoo Improv, Twin City Theatre Company and Prompting Theatre,” said Loewenstein, who is also a board member at Station Theatre and is active with Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company. “And, of course, SoDo will no longer be available to the occasional renters from the community. So…we’re all brainstorming alternative spaces for classes, rehearsals, and especially performances.”
Loewenstein is committed to finding new space for Class Act, and is excited for a full summer of camps. But right now, she doesn’t know where that will happen. She is joining forces with other groups and seeking to find a sustainable, if not creative, solution to address these challenges.
“Theatre people tend to be rather resourceful in their ability to create theatre just about anywhere, but it really is challenging to find large, safe, clean, affordable (or free!) spaces that are available evenings and weekends,” she said.