It’s been a long journey back to the stage for the Barn III Dinner Theatre Conklin Players in Goodfield.
The dinner theater’s namesake red barn was rendered unrepairable by powerful winds in 2015.
For the next couple years, the performers found a temporary home at Five Points Washington while then-owner Mary Simon fought her insurance company for payment.
But eventually, Simon could no longer continue to fund the Conklin Players out of her own pocket. That’s when she partnered with Goodfield native Abby Reel to fundraise for a new building.
A new barn opened in the same spot this February, with many of the same actors and actresses who have performed for the last 45 years.
“We thought best when we opened again that the people saw our original company. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t be working on replenishing our crew as soon as we can," Simon said. "But we thought we just need to get a year under our belt with familiar faces, because our audience is so loyal, and they just wanted us to see a home again.”
Reel now owns the Barn, while Simon continues to manage the Conklin Players.
The Barn III was honored with the Bradley University Turner Center for Entrepreneurship’s Small Rural Business of the Year Award Tuesday.
“For whatever reason, as a small-town farm girl, who’s grown up right in the community that the barn resides in, to win anything that’s ‘rural of the year,’ as silly as that seems, is meaningful to me, and is impactful for many reasons," Reel said.
Reel said she rebuilt the Barn in honor of her father, Les, who she credits for her entrepreneurial spirit. Les Reel also introduced his daughter to Mary Simon, kicking off their relationship.
The Conklin Players aren't performing as much as they used to do. Simon said it was once a full-time, 50-week-a-year job for her and the cast, with time only for one brief, three-day-long vacation every year at the most.
With the new Barn being used as a wedding venue for parts of the year now, that hectic schedule is a thing of the past.
"And it's amazing, because we work a couple of days a week now. With either a wedding, a banquet, a family reunion, a class reunion. And it's really a much easier schedule than what we did before," Simon said.
She said the downside is that the actors and technicians can no longer do those jobs full-time in Goodfield.
"They made a living doing dinner theatre in Central Illinois in a cornfield, which is unheard of. That you can have a house and a car and a family, and not have to live out of a suitcase and do your craft," she said.
Still, she said Reel has found other opportunities for some of the crew during the wedding season.
And Simon said she wouldn't have left the Barn's legacy in the hands of anyone but Reel.
The Barn III Dinner Theatre's next show, "Funny Money," starts Oct. 3.