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A Milestone for Raue Center

A decade after it was founded, Raue Center For The Arts remains dedicated to enriching lives through the arts.

From a teen couple’s first kiss in the balcony to the twinkle in a 5-year-old’s eyes as the curtain opens for his first play, the walls of Raue Center For The Arts have bore witness to many memories, milestones and cherished moments during the theater’s lifespan.

The 2010-2011 season marks the its 10th anniversary as a modern performing arts theater at 26 N. Williams St. in downtown Crystal Lake.

With seating for 600 on the floor and 200 in the balcony, the best seat in the house is every seat. Its comfort and intimacy are major highlights of the theater, the only one of its kind in the county, offering something for everyone from live music and theater to comedy and children’s programming.

The theater’s 10th anniversary is a celebration of community and community is key to Raue Center’s longevity and quality programming, according to Laurie Bivona, marketing and development manager.

With more than 400 volunteers, local business supporters, dedicated board members and staff it’s a community of arts patrons that have made the theater what it is today. And while 10 years is cause for celebration, those involved believe the best is yet to come.

‘Rock the Raue’

The theater celebrates this season with the theme “Rock the Raue.” If there was ever a time to subscribe, it’s now. “To thank the community for 10 years of patronage, we are offering a special ‘Rock the Raue’ promotion to subscribers,” said Amy Malpica, director of marketing.

“Those purchasing a subscription before September 12 are automatically entered for a chance to get their subscription free. In addition, all subscribers receive a discount card valid at local restaurants.”

A new winner is picked weekly. Remaining participants roll over into the next week’s drawing to multiply their chances of winning.

A Place for Kids

Sure, Raue Center is a wonderful place to take in everything from an energetic live concert to a classic ballet.

But for children, it’s a place where an afternoon class in Comedy Improv or Film Bootcamp can inspire a lifetime of passion for the arts. It’s a place where kid-friendly programming can transport children’s imaginations to a different world.

“Children always have a place to learn and imagine at Raue Center,” Malpica said. “And when you engage children, you reignite the passion in the adults.”

Children’s programming has a profound effect on young patrons, according to Bivona. “The minute the lights go down, children’s eyes grow wide and the entire audience falls silent as the curtain rises,” she said. “They’re entranced. It’s an amazing thing to witness.”

Arts education is a whole other side of this equation that Raue Center is proud to promote through Sage Studio. This is a collection of educational classes for all ages during the summer that features workshops in theater, film, acting, improv and stand-up comedy.

“Research has shown that children exposed to the arts do better in school settings,” Bivona said. “And thanks to the support of the Foglia Family Foundation, tuition for each course is only $100 per student and this price is locked in for three more years.”

Where Big Kids Can Let Go

There are plenty of opportunities for adults to sit back and enjoy the show at Raue Center.  But one program in particular has enthusiastically captured the funny bone of comedy lovers in the area since it was founded in 2008.

Lucy’s Café has become a hugely popular monthly event featuring some of the best comics in the nation. Set entirely on stage, this intimate nightclub atmosphere has been known to cause a chorus of laughter to fill up the theater. And at $20 per ticket in advance, it’s an affordable date night close to home. “People need to laugh,” Malpica said, “especially in these stressful times.”

Though originally thought to attract a younger demographic, everyone from the college-age crowd to seniors comes out in droves for a night of laughs once a month. In 2009, the theater expanded Lucy’s Café offerings to include music.

A New President

Paula Dorion-Gray has been an outspoken advocate and president of the board of directors for Raue Center for three years. Her tenure is spoken of highly and her contributions were instrumental in the growth and evolution of the theater as we know it.

Her work with Raue Center came at a time when a free-falling economy caused setbacks for even the most diligent and financially sound theaters. “Getting through this recession has not been an easy task,” according to Dorion-Gray. “There are theaters closing all over the country.

“We have a city that supports us as best they can, but we need the community to continue to support us,” she added. Former Vice President Matthew Turk succeeded Dorion-Gray as president on July 1. “It is wonderful to have another passionate and dedicated partner as we look to build on the legacy of Paula Dorion-Gray and Bill Dwyer,” Executive Director Richard Kuranda said.

In his new role at Raue Center, he plans to continue family-friendly programming, expand participation in the endowment fund and increase awareness of Raue Center across the region.

The Next 10 Years — And Beyond

Simply put, Raue Center’s mission is to “enrich the lives of all through the arts.” That will continue to be the strategy for the next 10 years, with a focus on “all.”

“We want to continue to grow and we want to engage our neighbors outside of McHenry County’s borders.” Malpica said. “We’re only a short train ride or car ride away. We want to invite everyone to experience the arts at this gem in Crystal Lake.”

And there are many ways to get involved with Raue Center beyond seeing performances. Opportunities exist to volunteer, sponsor, donate and tour the theater.

A Community Effort

Originally opened in 1929 as El Tovar, the theater once drew hordes of show-goers as it showcased popular talkies and dazzling vaudeville performances. The opening night of the El Tovar was called “A Night in Spain” and Edward Van brought his orchestra to Crystal Lake for the movie, which was “Broadway Babies.”

The local newspaper announced that this movie only played at the best movie houses. Over the years, the building lost much of its glory and began showing movies to a dwindling audience.

All of that would change in 1998 when it was discovered that Lucile Raue – who lived and worked most of her life in downtown Crystal Lake – left a generous gift upon her death, for the improvement of downtown Crystal Lake.

An advisory group of local citizens and the executor directed that gift to the Crystal Lake Civic Center Authority to buy the building and $1 million for renovation. Another $500,000 was given in matching incentives.

Ground was broken for the renovation in 1999 and in August of 2001, “a painted, polished and suited in newly upholstered seats dressed in a rich russet color, the grand dame emerged,” as stated on Raue Center’s website.


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