AACT Illinois State Theatre Festival in Belvidere

Something special in community theater is happening for the first time in 10 years in Illinois, and it’s coming to Belvidere.

From Aug. 5 to 8, theater professionals, volunteers, patrons, aficionados and the general public will attend the AACT Illinois State Festival of Community Theatre, hosted by Main Street Players of Boone County, a volunteer community theater organization based in Belvidere that produces three to four mainstage productions each year.

Like hundreds of other community theaters across the country, Main Street Players is a member of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT), the national voice of community theater that represents the interests of more than 7,000 theater companies in the U.S., its territories and the armed forces.

It is also steward to the national adjudicated festival for community theaters, held every two years, at which theaters representing each of AACT’s 10 regions perform before a panel of adjudicators to receive awards for excellence, and even invitations to perform in other theater festivals in other parts of the world. Theaters that hope to perform at the national level must first win at their state festival, followed by their regional festival, before advancing to the national ACCT Fest, the next of which will be held in June 2005 in Kalamazoo, Mich.

This year’s state festival will be the first step in that process for three Illinois community theaters. Main Street Players of Boone County is submitting a performance of their production of the musical Quilters by Molly Newman and Barbara Damaschek, a show from their 2003-2004 season. Two other theater companies from the Chicago area will also be performing.

Unveiling by Vaclav Havel will be performed by the Southwest (Chicago) Theatre & Arts Resources Inc., also known as S.T.A.R., and Sure Thing by David Ives, will be performed by the Waukegan Community Players. The one-hour performances will be held on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Belvidere High School Performing Arts Center, with each performance followed by comments from three adjudicators, each with extensive backgrounds in multiple areas of theater production. Their function is to observe and react to each performance, point out areas of excellence and special achievement, and to offer suggestions of possible changes that would enhance the performance.

Another major part of the state festival is the series of theater-related workshops offered to people with an interest in community theater, regardless of their level of experience. The Friday and Saturday workshops are offered in acting and improvisation, directing, costuming, makeup, dance, lighting, writing and building a community theater. There is also a workshop on new plays, featuring excerpts of two new plays by Illinois playwrights, one of whom is Dr. Rufus Cadigan, professor of theater at Rockford College. Experienced personnel from both the Rockford and Chicago theater communities, with some from professional theater, are conducting the workshops.

To kick off the event and raise a few funds to offset the cost, an opening night reception will be held at the Community Building, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar, catered by The Huddle Restaurant. For a small entry fee, people can try their luck at winning a trivia contest. All proceeds go to offset expenses of this unique event.

The event concludes on Sunday with an Awards Brunch at the BelMar Country Club. Awards for achievement by each of the participating theater companies will be announced, and the winner of the top award will advance to the regional festival in April 2005 in Gross Point, Mich.

Costs vary for each activity during the three-day festival. Workshops are $15 each, with some being offered in more than one time slot. Adjudicated performances are $7.50 per show, with Quilters at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 6, Unveiling at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 7, and Sure Thing at 9 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 8. An all-events package is also available for $65 per person, or $55 for AACT members and member organizations.

People are encouraged to register in advance, as seating is limited for the various events. For information, call Main Street Players at (815) 229-4444.

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