The History of Clinton County Showcase
There has long been an interest in live theater and performing arts in the Clinton County area. From the time the first settlers came to the area one of the staples of entertainment has been performing in one capacity or another.
One of the early organizations in the Breese area was the Concordia Saengerchor, known as “The Singers,” organized in 1862. They would sing, dance, and perform plays as entertainment as a means of raising money for the City of Breese. They built their own building on North Main Street. The building & lot were sold to the Breese American Legion and was raised for the new Legion Hall.
Clinton County Showcases history does not go back quite that far. In fact it wasn’t until almost 10 years after a Children’s summer theater event was formed by the Breese Junior Women’s Club that CCS became an organization.
Maxine Bruegge was one of the first members of the Breese Junior Woman’s Club, formed in 1979, she grabbed a new resident, Lynn Venhaus, to join the group in 1980. They lived on the same street, about two blocks from each other, and shared common interests, including a love of music and the theater.
They became very active in the club, elected as officers, and worked together on many projects, serving successive terms as presidents in 1982-83 and 1983-84. They helped launch Maxine’s idea for the first “Munch with Santa” as co-chairmen in 1981, along with ramrod Jeanne Gerstner who would take the project and run with it from then on.
In the summer of 1982, Maxine helped get Lynn’s idea for a children’s summer theater off the ground. Maxine worked part-time as a substitute teacher and Lynn worked at area newspapers, so they were familiar with students and various school productions. Lynn would start writing “County Lines,” a people-and-events column in the Breese Journal, in May 1982, so she was able to announce auditions and plans for productions in that forum.
They both liked working with kids, had many creative ideas and had fun collaborating with youth on the very small-scale productions. Lynn had taught drama and speech, and been involved in other theater groups as a performer. Maxine had a music background, and had been involved in many a church presentation. Maxine minored in music at Sam Houston College and Lynn had minored in theater at Illinois State University.
The BJWC sponsored the first program — two one-act plays and a selection of musical numbers — which were presented one night under a pavilion at the Breese North Park by a small group of students including Maxine’s niece Anita Bruegge, along with Larry Deiters, Ric Brandmeyer, Maura Berndsen, Tim Jansen . Darla Kalmer accompanied on piano. Lynn directed and Maxine helped backstage.
The next year, a more ambitious project was launched — the musical “The Wizard of Oz” was presented for one night and a day matinee at the far pavilion. Lynn directed and Maxine was the music director. The BJWC sponsored it and members worked behind the scenes. Deb Duing was Dorothy, Ric Brandmeyer was the Scarecrow, Jim Deiters was the Tin Man, and Paul Szczepan was the Cowardly Lion. Alice Carlisle was the Wicked Witch of the West, Susan Jansen was Glinda the Good Witch, Michelle Berndsen was Auntie Em, and Gary Kohrs was the Wizard. Munchkins included John Roane, Tim Jansen, Maura Berndsen, Michael Berndsen, and others.
The next summer, Lynn was pregnant and working at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and it just wasn’t going to work out in 1984. Maxine had two young daughters. They took a break, and because no one else wanted to take over the project, it was on the back burner.
In the spring of 1989, Lynn was home with her two young sons and volunteered to BJWC that she’d resurrect the summer children’s theater program provided they select something small and that rehearsals would mostly be at her house. BJWC was very excited to start it up again, with Carla Litteken and Monica Venhaus big helpers that summer. Rita Page was the music director, and had the music rehearsals at her house.
The musical was “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and it featured Michael Berndsen as Charlie Brown, Jenny Sheridan as Lucy, Steve Klostermann as Linus, Tim Schleper as Schroeder, Darcy Holtgrave as Snoopy, Joy Venhaus as Sally and Sarah Hitpas as Peppermint Patty.
Maxine’s health prevented her from helping. But she was always supportive. She had found out a few years earlier that she had cancer. In the summer of 1988, she was well enough to plan to return to school. But by May 1989, she was back in the hospital. By late fall 1989, she was home in a hospice situation. In January 1990, at the age of 38, Maxine died.
After directing the Mater Dei spring musical “Anything Goes” in 1990, Lynn suggested that a bigger summer musical would give an outlet to a larger group of teens.
So, BJWC mounted “Bye Bye Birdie” with Lynn as director for the first weekend of August in 1990. Students from Central, Mater Dei and Carlyle High School came to auditions, including newcomers Crystal Roseberry of Breese (Rosie) and Casey Hayes of Carlyle (Hugo). Kelly Montague (Mrs. McAfee), Josh Manwaring (Randall), Annie Athmer (Ursula), Rachel Klostermann, Marty Diekemper, Tim Diekemper, Chad Rakers, Kelly Hummert, Amy Zurliene, Keri Holden, Kelly Richter, Brian Blaguoe and others joined the ’89 veterans – Jenny Sheridan (Kim), Steve Klostermann (Albert Peterson), Darcy Holtgrave (Mae Peterson), Tim Schleper (Conrad Birdie), Michael Berndsen (Mr. McAfee) and Joy Venhaus, Heather Osborn, Jonathan Osborn (chorus). Lynn had gathered some of the BJWC as helpers for the show — including Debbie Stratmann.
In the winter of 1990-1991, Lynn believed that the musical productions had outgrown the BJWC, whose foremost mission was children’s projects. She wanted to get all ages involved and have productions throughout the year, not just summer. She talked to the BJWC, asking them if they would be upset if she started a community arts group and therefore transferred the summer musical, and they gave their blessing. She asked a few people to gather for a meeting to form the new group. They agreed it was feasible and came up with the name Clinton County Showcase.
Lynn asked the park board if they could use the area by the band stand that no one used, and the productions moved from the far pavilion to the center of the park. A flat bed truck was still used as a stage. Barb Von Alst and Debbie Stratmann would thatch cardboard for the roofs of the village of Anatevka.
The first CCS production in August 1991 was “Fiddler on the Roof” with Mike Huelsmann as Tevye, Pat Ofstedal as Golde, Darcy Holtgrave as Yente, Casey Hayes as Motel, Kelly Montague as Tzeitel, Crystal Roseberry as Hodel, Steve Klostermann as Perchik, Jenny Sheridan as Chava, Glenn Netemeyer as Fyedka, Marty Diekemper as Lazar Wolf, Rachel Klostermann as Grandma Tzeitel and Jenny Hitz as Fruma Sarah. Tim Schleper was the rabbi and Mike Klostermann was a constable. Amy Zurliene was the fiddler. Nikki Schuette was the fourth daughter and Eric Buscher, Annie Athmer, Josh Manwaring, Lynn Klostermann, and many others were in the ensemble. Mike Huelsmann was the music director and Beth Haselhorst the choreographer.
The organizations structure soon followed with the creation of a constitution and the following goals:
The Promotion of the arts in all aspects through the organized efforts of its members in the community of Clinton County and the surrounding area through active, constructive, artistic projects.
It shall be the further purpose of this organization to provide to the men and women of Clinton County and the surrounding area educational experiences through art related projects, seminars, and workshops.
In the fall of 1991 to continue with the goal of performing throughout the year the play “You Can’t Take It With You” was decided to be the first CCS comedy and Mike Huelsmann was tapped to be the director. Other CCS members and participants who made up the 17 person cast included Lynn Venhaus, Dr. Deurmody, Tim Schleper, Bob Haag, Glenn Netemeyer, Keri Holden, Tara Budde, among others. This play was held at Central High School.
In the spring the organization decided to fill out its first year with “Bleacher Bums.” This hilarious Comedy featured Mike Huelsmann, Keri Holden, Marty Diekemper, Josh Manwaring, Bob Haag, and others. It was held in St. Augustine’s Gymnasium in Breese.
Over the next several years the CCS season continued to evolve adding a play in June at the park and a winter show. It also started to invest in its infrastructure by purchasing used lights from a theater troupe in Central Illinois and adding onto the band stand by building a permanent stage in front of it. During the fall, winter & spring CCS continued to hop from venue to venue for the next several years and continued to modify its season to fit the availability of space, actors and directors, but continued the “summer musical” the first weekend of August at the north park stage and added the addition of an all youth show in July as well as another show the weekend after Labor Day all at the north park stage.
In 1996, the young community theater purchased the historic Avon Theater in downtown Breese for its productions. After initial renovation during the summer, spearheaded by board members Joe Richter and Moe Zurliene, the first production in the theater was “Other Peoples Money” directed by Mike Huelsmann. That winter the first musical was “Forever Plaid” directed by Elaine Laws.
The Avon became the new home of CCS for its Fall, Winter and Spring Production while continuing to perform its large-scale productions on the Breese North Park stage. This also allowed CCS to now sell season tickets as a definite recurring season was set at their new downtown home.
In the summer of 2008, a major renovation of the Avon Theater took place. The first 2 phases of this 4 phase project were completed to allow for a more pleasant viewing area for the audience. The final two phases of the project include an expansion of the theater to allow for larger scale productions downtown. With the increased dedication to fundraising activities, CCS hopes to complete this project within the next few years.
Focus on YOUTH Continued:
As the organizations beginnings are rooted in a focus on Children, Clinton County Showcase continues that tradition with a focus on the youth of the community in several ways.
Since 1994 Clinton County Showcase has presented a youth musical each July, with an entire cast of performers less than 17 years of age. This brings CCS full circle to its roots in Children’s Theater.
In addition Clinton County Showcase awards talent scholarships each August to deserving students who have shown dedication to the theater.
Clinton County Showcase continues to grow through the time, talent, and efforts of countless numbers of people. New members are always welcomed and new participants are always encouraged.