Conklin's Barn Christmas show at Five Points could be new beginning

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Contrary to what some of you may have heard, the Christmas show this weekend at Five Points in Washington is NOT the swan song for the company of Conklin’s Barn II Theatre.

In fact, it’s just the beginning of what could be new life for the company that is central Illinois’ only  theatre group with paid actors. It was left homeless when a windstorm heavily damaged the old round-top barn in Goodfield that has been its base for 40 years.

Theatre owner Mary Simon said an arrangement she’s made with Five Points will keep the Barn II company working for another year as it makes an effort to repair the barn and continue operating in Goodfield.

While nothing is for sure at this point about that long-range future, Simon said on the eve of the Christmas show that she is confident good things are in store.

“This arrangement with Five Points is wonderful and I am so thankful to the folks there. This keeps me solvent while we try and save the barn. Otherwise I was facing bankruptcy and I was going to have to sell the barn and it would have been torn down,” Simon said.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the Barn II company will offer “A Christmas to Remember,” a show filled with music and skits that will take older audience members back to Christmas shows of yesterday and open younger eyes to some song-and-dance that makes the holidays special.

The show is at 7 p.m. each night and tickets are $25 for adults and $8 for children.

“A Christmas to Remember” stars many from the Barn II company that audiences have long enjoyed. Directed by Simon, who also performs in the show – including one comedy bit involving a piano that will bring howls of laughter – other performers are Lana Warner, Pat Gaik, Dan and Tamra Challacombe, Chad Kirvan, Dave Windsor, April Bieschke, Diann Thompson and Christian Meredith.  

Simon said the company had started rehearsing the Christmas show when the storm hit Goodfield and rendered the barn unsafe on Aug. 18. The Barn was in the middle of a run of a comedy called “Nana’s Naughty Knickers,” which ran two nights before the storm hit. That would be the last show there.

Simon made arrangements to continue the season at Ashland House in Morton until the barn could be repaired. She was going to keep theatre operations, including paying actors and staff, using the business interruption insurance policy she had for the facility.

Then the unthinkable happened when he insurance company denied the claim after an engineer said the building could not be repaired. The insurance company, which had renewed the Barn’s policy only a few months before when it declared the building was sound, said the damage was not storm related but that the building had simply gotten old.

Simon was left without money to keep producing shows and operating and was forced to shut down despite about 15 offers to continue shows at other area venues. “I was astounded by the offers and very grateful, but all of them were contingent on my continuing to produce the shows. I just didn’t have any fund to do that,” she said.

Then came a call from Five Points, a new venue trying to increase usage of its facilities, including its state-of-the-art, 1,000-seat auditorium. “Five Points said just bring the show in, we’ll do all the work. It’s been wonderful,” Simon said.

There is an arrangement to split proceeds to cover Barn expenses as well as Five Points expenses, she said without going into further details.

During the next year Five Points and Simon will stage five more shows, all for one weekend. They will include a musical comedy revue on Valentine’s Day weekend in February, “Greater Tuna” in April, a tribute to Patsy Cline in July, “Forever Plaid” in September and a ’50 Doo-Wop Christmas show in December.

“I hope to save the barn and re-do the whole plant so it’s like new. We think we have a case to get the insurance company to accept the claim, but we’re waiting for a report to come back,” Simon said. If that report shows the building can be repaired and restored, a fundraising campaign will get started, she added.

“Thanks to Five Points, we will get the time to see if we can pull it off,” she said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).