Page 13 - Volume 2, Issue 4

The award was named for
Gretchen Iben, one of the found-
ers of Corn Stock Theatre and the
person many say was the driving
force behind creation of a theatre
that performed in the round, a
proponent of Shakespearean-type
intellectual theatre that she didn’t
believe Peoria audiences were
Iben and a few others, includ-
ing a young man named Richard
Chandler, gathered one evening
in 1953 on the front porch of the
home of Bill and Alice Marie
Oakley to discuss the possibil-
ity of starting a new community
theatre that would meet those
Planning continued and in
March 1954 a meeting to solicit
interested people was held at
CILCO Hall. Iben was elected
the first president and Chandler
named the first theatre manager.
With 70 charter members and
$35 in the bank, Corn Stock The-
atre was born and that summer
a wall of canvas was erected at
Detweiller Park. Risers consisting
of old picnic tables were set up
and about 200 chairs borrowed
from the Peoria Board of Educa-
tion were put in place. A make-
shift light board followed and on
July 27, 1954 the musical “Gigi”
became the first show produced
and presented by Corn Stock
A popular memory of those
days at Detweiller Park was
how the actors in shows would
freeze in character each time a
train went by because audiences
would be unable to hear them
In 1955, a pit was dug in a spot
in Upper Bradley Park, concrete
was poured for risers, a tent was
erected and Corn Stock Theatre
had its permanent home.
For years, Bourland said, “it
was pretty primitive out there,
with mud floors in the dressing
rooms and horrible outhouses for
bathrooms and a pump for water,
only cold water. But you know
what? We didn’t care. We were
with family and friends and we
loved what we were doing. And
we were giving the audiences
good shows, good entertainment.
That’s what counted more than
anything else,” she said.
Added Costa, “We, volun-
teers involved in the theatre, did
everything for years and years.
We had no hired help. We built
the sets, we built the furniture,
we did the painting and made
the costumes for every show. A
lot has changed since those early
years, but out of necessity.”
The Past
Rebekah Bourland, who basically
grew up at Corn Stock Theatre as
her mother Jane Bourland was a
charter member, portrayed Annie
Oakley in a 1977 production of
Annie Get Your Gun.”