Peoria, Illinois has become famous for its ability to most accurately represent a microcosm of the United States of America. Due to its diverse demographics, and perceived mainstream Midwestern culture, Peoria has often been used as a primary test market for a variety of products, services and policies that subsequently reach the whole of the U.S. Peoria’s utility as America’s litmus test was certainly not lost on the theater industry. During the days of Vaudeville, the phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” was coined as a reference to a show’s ability to appeal to the mainstream American Public. This mandate has undoubtedly lived on for 90 years in the care and keeping of the Peoria Players Community Theater.
In its 90th season, Peoria Players is the longest continuously running community theater in Illinois, and the 4th longest running theater in the U.S. Throughout its lifespan the stage has never gone dark for any season, even when faced with daunting obstacles ranging from economic hardship to national crises.
During World War II, the city of Peoria experienced a shortage of men, opting to cast mustache-laden 8th graders in lead male roles to remedy the problem. In the 1950s the creation of the “super highway” I-74 forced the company to move, with construction plans calling for the new transit artery to run directly through the space they inhabited. The 1960s found the Peoria Players in a leaking building and in a financial bind. A partnership was arranged with the Peoria Park District to transfer ownership, unburdening the Theater from the onus of maintenance, and allowing the group to focus more intently on filling the seats.
“All the rejection in the world can’t stop the power of a promise that you make to a loved one.” – Eric Brinker, Nephew of Susan G. Komen
At Metro Centre in Peoria, pink flags wave on top of parking lot lights. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but these flags stay up all year. Metro Centre used to be farmland, a place where Susan G. Komen, namesake of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, would go horseback riding. Now it is a community shopping center owned by Eric Brinker.
Eric came to the MobileBooth on one of the first crisp fall days to talk about how his family started Susan G. Komen Foundation. “Susan G. Komen was my aunt. She died of breast cancer at age 37,” Eric says. Susan had breast cancer in “the dark days” of the disease. “You didn’t talk about it. You called it the big C word. They weren’t providing treatment options that were anything more than barbaric. People thought it was contagious.”
It’s been an exciting first week for MobileBooth West in Peoria, Illinois. Carl Scott joined us after spending a couple months in Brooklyn, New York at the StoryCorps office. We got to know each other over a game of Scrabble and some Swedish Fish. (We found out – upon dictionary investigation – that zag can actually be its own word, separate from zigzag).
Opening day in Peoria came with amazing fanfare. There were refreshments, press, staff from our partner radio station, WCBU, and curious onlookers who wandered over from the nearby Metro Centre Farmer’s Market. There was also a ribbon cutting ceremony with the biggest pair of scissors any of us have ever seen!