News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

November 13, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: Magic is always there with live theater

I’m a pushover for live theater. But movies? Not so much. For me it’s like the difference between canned peas and those picked fresh from the garden. Movies even COME in cans.

As a kid, I followed reports on every Broadway opening. I didn’t see live professional theater until I was a senior in high school. You can’t really count the touring repertory company which played in a revamped warehouse in downtown Yorkville which also served as our movie theater. It’s hard to think “professional” when the leading man is selling candy down the aisle during intermission.

Still, I relished every opportunity to perform and to try out personalities other than my own.

Each year Yorkville presented both a senior class play and an elementary school operetta. The seniors seemed professional to me, but my vantage point was limited.

My first on-stage role that I actually remember was as a member of the chorus in an operetta based on Mother Goose. I played Daffy Down Dilly. Dad said it must have been type casting.

A year or two later I had a bit part as one of the Cratchitt kids in a production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and then, when I entered eighth grade, I was ready for the big time. I was cast as Becky Thatcher in an operetta based on Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer.” It must have been my pigtails. Surely it involved singing, but memory draws the veil.

I felt that I had no hope for the senior class play. We had moved to Sycamore and I was a virtual unknown in a class that had been together for 11 years. However, my home room teacher was directing “Arsenic and Old Lace” and thought I had promise. She cast me as the murderous Aunt Martha, a role I played again years later here at Community Theatre.

But all that was amateur stuff.

The first truly professional production I saw was in Chicago. Our drama teacher at Sycamore took us to see “Tomorrow the World” with Skip Homeyer cast as the Nazi youth who conspires against an American family who took him in. I wanted to climb onto the stage and do physical damage to Skip Homeyer. He made it so real.

I have seen professional productions since. One boyfriend took me to see a revue with Joe E. Brown and Beatrice Lillie, and my BF was my escort for “New Faces of 1952.” But no matter how often I go, amateur or professional theater never fails to work its magic.

When the lights in the auditorium grow dim, the curtain opens and the lights come up on the stage, a whole new world opens. I feel the same excitement at Community Theatre as I felt in London when the curtain came up on Alec Guinness.

I may know the play, but every play is different with a different cast. Even the same play with the same cast may be subtly different at every performance.

That’s simply not true with something which comes in a can.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to

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