Red Mask Players, Inc.
A Brief History from the 50th Anniversary Brochure published in 1986
Red Mask At 50...The Memories Are Golden
"The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."
To paraphrase Hamlet, the play's the thing that has caught -- and held -- the fancy of Danville's theatergoers for 50 years, thanks to Red Mask Players.
This Sept. 13, 1986, dinner-reunion celebrates early; the anniversary date is Dec.1. But that will give all good Red Maskers more time to "break a leg" in honor of our golden jubilee.
Red Mask was like an itinerant actor -- "have trunk, will travel" -- for the first eight years of its existence. The group's first production was presented at the YWCA on Thursday, April 29, 1937. It consisted of three one-act plays: "Sir Galahad", "Swamp Spirit", and "A Man Among Women". From there, Red Mask moved to church community room, to circuit courtroom, to school gymnasium, and back to the YWCA.
In 1944, it went "downtown" to the Palace Theater, thanks to the generosity of the late Thomas P. Ronan, then district manager of Publix-Great States Theaters.
In the next 18 years, many Red Mask plays were staged there, including a repeat performance of "The Night of January 16th." A couple of chaps by the name of Dick and Jerry Van Dyke debuted in "Rebecca" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner" respectively.
Danville people began to sit up and take notice. And they bought season memberships. In 1948 there were 1,500 adults and high school students on the rolls. But it wasn't like having a theater of our own. Overhead was so costly that a play could be staged only two nights. We could not build our own sets. We could not operate our lights. There was no place to store props. It added up to no sense of permanency.
How that changed will be detailed farther on in this book.
In 1961-62 a very important dimension was added to Red Mask-Children's Theater. Thus 1986 marks the silver anniversary of a tradition within a tradition. Behind us now are nearly 50 years of golden memories. . . memories of more than 200 stage productions (including Children's Theater). On occasion, we even took the show on the road -- to the VA Medical Center, to Hoopeston and Wellington, to Covington, Ind. And our scrapbooks bulge with photos, programs, clippings.
We can show in this book only a few pictures representative of our golden years. We hope you enjoy them. We hope you will be with us for Red Mask's Diamond Jubilee in 2011!
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"Impossible Dream" Came True
In 1962, Red Mask learned that the congregation of Immanuel Presbyterian Church wanted to sell the edifice at 601 N. Vermilion and the minister's residence behind it on Davis Street.
The price was right but at the moment it might as well have been a million dollars. Red Maskers proceeded as though they could lay their hands on a million dollars.
We took an option, and the church people, with great Christian charity, let us move in.
To say that there was a lot of work to do getting the building ready would be an understatement. The pulpit was removed and a stage of sorts was built. The audience sat in the old-fashioned wooden pews and thought the stained glass windows added to the charm of the theater so recently a church.
The Second National Bank (now First Midwest Bank/Danville) was a major benefactor, largely because of the interest of J. Harold Oberwortmann, an officer. Red Mask was able to obtain a 10-year mortgage at 4 per cent interest! Those indeed were the good old days. . .
The bank also donated two big window air conditioners and paid for a new heating system. Electric Eye Equipment Co., now Hurletron Altair, built and donated to Red Mask a light control panel.
The Fischer Theater, through its manager, Julius Connelly, donated seats which it was replacing, enabling us to remove the pews.
The residence was torn down and the late Paul Millikin, our good neighbor to the north, put in a parking lot.
Many other improvements have added to the theater's value in the past 20-plus years, such as a new roof, new heating-air conditioning system, new seats, lowered ceiling, new lighting, etc.
But none are more visible and more instrumental in raising the public consciousness of Red Mask than the sign in front, noting our founding date, and the modern lighted marquee which designates "Kathryn Randolph Theater."
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First Lady of Danville's Theater
She was our first director and continued in that role for more than 30 years. Without her, there would have been no Red Mask, no theater, no children's plays, no benefit performances, no organization. Her legacy was that "the show must go on" and it has without interruption since her death on March 5, 1968.
It is fitting that the theater, the realization of her dreams, bears her name. And it is at once consoling and inspiring that her portrait in the lobby smiles upon those who come through the big red street doors.
This was a remarkable woman. Because she was not a namedropper, few people knew that she was a personal friend of Antoinette Perry, whose contribution to the Broadway stage is immortalized in the annual Tony Awards for dramatic performance.
Kathryn Randolph was so good at her craft that she served as dramatic coach for a Redpath Chautauqua troupe that included William Jennings Bryan. Imagine being talented enough to give pointers to a man regarded as one of the greatest orators and platform performers of all time!
A great many Red Maskers privileged to have her as their mentor were convinced that she could have been one of the great ladies of the American stage, another Helen Hayes, had she chosen.
Instead, her preference was to be wife, mother, dramatic teacher to generations of Danville youngsters and incomparable director of more than 100 plays which delighted and entertained thousands of her friends and neighbors.
When Mrs. Randolph died, the Commercial News paid her tribute in a lead editorial. Among other things, it said: "Parents who had studied dramatics under her wanted their children to have a similar experience -- not because of career ambitions but so that their lives might be enriched by contact with this gracious person."
And a past president of Red Mask, Jerry Ovall, expressed eloquently what was in all our hearts when he wrote:
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"Red Mask Players has always reflected the character and integrity of its director, Mrs. Kathryn Randolph. This great lady was not just someone we knew, but someone we loved. Her work in our community will not cease but will continue through the organization that she built, the students that she taught and everyone whose life she touched."
Helen Morgan, Bobby Short, Donald O'Connor and Gene Hackman all called Danville their hometown. But Dick and Jerry are distinctly Red Mask's own.
Part of this is due to the fact that both made their adult stage debuts before Red Mask footlights. Another is that despite achieving nation-wide recognition, they never have forgotten Danville and the friends who "knew them when."
In October of 1962, Jerry came home to a testimonial luncheon at Connor's. His appearance raised several hundred badly needed dollars for Red Mask.
And the following March 16, Dick was honored with a "Dick Van Dyke Day" celebration, complete with parade. That night he appeared before a packed DHS auditorium, thanks to an arrangement with Danville Junior College (as it was known then), which had scheduled its "Kollege Kapers" for that date. Net receipts from the benefit show were nearly $6,400 -- enough for Red Mask to exercise its option to buy the present Kathryn Randolph Theater.
Many of us never will forget that when the chips were down, the Van Dyke brothers came through for Red Mask.
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