Peoria IL Theatre

Peoria IL Theatre

From the earliest days of vaudeville to the many cultural performances today, Peoria IL theatre has long been a part of the rich history of the city. We’ll explore the origins of theater in Peoria IL and the evolution of the theater culture over the years, including the many changes in the types of theater performances, the venues where performances take place, and the impact of theater on the community. So, let’s take a look back at the last century of theater in Peoria IL.

The Golden Age of Peoria IL Theater

The 1920s marked the golden age of Peoria IL theater. During this decade, the city saw a surge in theater activity, with a number of vaudeville shows and movie theaters popping up. Many of these theaters still exist today, such as the Apollo and the Madison, both of which opened in 1924. The theaters of the time provided a much-needed escape during the Great Depression and World War II, and were a major source of entertainment for the city.

The Apollo and Madison theaters catered to a wide range of audiences offering a variety of shows, from silent films to live vaudeville acts, and even the occasional opera. They also featured world-renowned performers, such as the Marx Brothers, who graced the stage at the Madison. Other popular venues of the period included the Grand Opera House of Peoria, Orpheum, Lyceum, Majestic and the Hippodrome.

Peoria IL Theatre

The Palace Theater – Peoria IL Theatre

The Palace theatre was torn down in 1982 to make way for the construction of the Peoria Civic Center. The Peoria Civic Center is now is a vital part of the Peoria, IL theater scene. It is the premier venue for a variety of events, including musicals, concerts, plays, and more, the Civic Center boasts a 2,173-seat theater that has hosted top acts such as the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and the Cirque du Soleil. Their popular Broadway in Peoria series brings in touring companies of recent Broadway hit musicals and other shows.

The Vaudevillian Era of Peoria IL Theater

An important time for Peoria IL theater began in the late 19th century with the introduction of vaudeville. This popular form of entertainment brought a mix of comedy, music, dance, and drama to the city, which quickly became a popular destination for theatergoers.  On the vaudeville circuit, it was said that if an act was successful in Peoria IL, it would play well everywhere.  The phrase “Playing in Peoria” has now become a metaphor for whether something appeals to the American mainstream public.

Vaudeville flourished in Peoria, with multiple theaters hosting shows throughout the city. The most popular was the Grand Opera House, which opened in 1891 and hosted some of the biggest acts in the country. The theater was a major draw for Peoria residents, as well as theatergoers from across the Midwest.

The Great Depression and World War II had a major impact on Peoria IL theater. Many of the theaters closed their doors due to lack of funds or the need to focus on more pressing matters. Despite this, the city still had a few small theaters that persisted throughout the period, providing some respite for theatergoers.

The Madison Theatre in Peoria, IL is a historic landmark that has been in operation since 1927. Throughout the years, it has served as a movie house, a live music venue, and a gathering place for the local community. The theatre has been closed since 2000, but the effort to restore and renovate the theatre continues today. A 501(c)(3) organization, Madison Theatre Preservation, Inc., was established in 2005 to lead the effort. The group has been able to raise money through fundraisers, grants, and donations to help make the theatre a destination for the community again. The group’s long-term goal is to make the theatre a vibrant part of the downtown area with a mix of live entertainment, movies, and more. With the help of local businesses and generous donors, the Madison Theatre will once again be a part of the Peoria community.


The Rise of Community Theater in Peoria IL

Peoria IL has a long and rich history of theater, with its roots stretching back to the mid-1800s. While originally a small-town affair, the theater scene in Peoria IL has grown dramatically over the years. From its humble beginnings, the theater here has evolved into something much grander and far more sophisticated.

In the early days, theater in Peoria IL was a local affair, with small community productions often taking place in makeshift venues. As the years went by, however, larger and more professional productions began to take root. These included a broad range of plays, musicals, and other theatrical performances.

Over the years, a number of iconic and influential productions have taken place in Peoria IL. These have included everything from Broadway-style musicals to more experimental works. These productions have helped to shape the theater scene in Peoria IL and have had a profound impact on the local community.

Today, the theater scene in Peoria IL is thriving. It is home to a variety of professional theaters, as well as numerous amateur and community theater groups. This has allowed for a wide range of theatrical experiences for local audiences. It has also provided an outlet for local talent, with many actors, directors, and other theater artists finding their start in Peoria IL.

Corn Stock Theatre is the Peoria area’s only outdoor community theatre founded in 1954. Originally performing in Detweiller Park,  but moved the following year to it’s current location in Upper Bradley Park.  Their main stage season takes place in the summer under their iconic tent which normally includes 4 musicals and 1 play.  Their winter season includes 3 – 4 shows which are performed in their Theatre Center which is also located in Bradley Park.  Corn Stock for Kids performances also take place their with a musical and a play each year featuring kids aged 7-18.  Get more details about Corn Stock Theatre

Peoria IL Theatre

Peoria Women’s Club: Peoria Players Theatre’s First Home

Peoria Players Theatre was founded in 1916, is the oldest community theatre in the state of Illinois and the 4th oldest in the nation. Each season, Players produces six main stage shows, a summer youth show, and several other special holiday shows. Located in Lakeview Park currently, the theatre originally was housed in what is currently the Peoria Women’s Club on the corners of Madison & Fayette in downtown Peoria.  Find more information about Peoria Players Theatre

Eastlight Theatre is the newest community theatre in the Peoria area with performances taking place in the East Peoria High School auditorium.  It was created in 1992 as a cooperative effort between the City of East Peoria, the Fon du Lac Park District, and the East Peoria Community High School to promote the arts in East Peoria.  The Penguin Project, which gives area children with developmental disabilities the chance to perform on stage as part of their annual production, also calls the Eastlight Theatre stage home.  Get more information about Eastlight Theatre

The Barn III Dinner Theatre in Goodfield, IL somewhat recently reopened after being destroyed by a tornado in 2015. The theatre, which originally opened in 1975, has been completely rebuilt and renovated to include a new stage, seating, and also offers a full bar.   Though the town of Goodfield remains “dry”, when the theatre re-opened in 2019, it was granted a long-awaited liquor license.  Now offering a variety of menu options, with the beginning of the 2023 season, reservations can be made for the performances which must be pre-paid, however payment for your meal will be expected when you attend the show.  The Barn III produces six shows per year including farces, musical reviews and comedies.  Learn more about the Barn III Dinner Theatre


The Impact of Movies on Peoria IL Theater

Since its inception, the Peoria IL theater scene has been a major component of the city’s culture and economy. The first movie theater was opened in the early 1900s and it quickly became a popular destination for movie lovers. As the popularity of movies grew, so did the Peoria IL theater scene. It became a hub for the film industry and a place for filmmakers to showcase their work.

The early days of the Peoria IL theater scene were marked by the introduction of silent films and then the introduction of talkies in the late 1920s. This was a time when the theater industry was booming, and Peoria IL was no exception. As the demand for movies increased, more theaters began to open, leading to a larger variety of films being shown.  Several of the popular Vaudevillian theaters transitioned into movie houses including the Madison, the Palace and the Beverly.  Other movie theaters in the early days of movies in Peoria included the Varsity and the Rialto.

The impact of movies on the local economy was significant. It provided employment opportunities for locals and gave the city an influx of visitors. It also provided a way for people to experience entertainment outside of the home. The theater industry also had an impact on the culture of Peoria IL, as it introduced people to new ideas and ways of expression.

Today, Peoria IL theatre is still a major contributor to the city’s economy. It has become a premier entertainment destination, with multiple theaters offering a variety of movies, live events, and other forms of entertainment. The theater scene has also evolved to include more independent and alternative films, offering a wide variety of entertainment options.


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