Two local women spearheading a drive to rebuild the Barn II Dinner Theater in Goodfield are hoping there’s truth to the old adage “the third time’s a charm.”
Mary Simon, owner of the Barn II, and Abby Reel of Congerville have teamed up to save the local theater after the antique barn it’s housed in was irreparably damaged by a freak wind storm in 2015.
While they’re in the process of obtaining bank financing for the project, the women are also nearly halfway to their goal of raising $100,000 in community donations needed to make the project a reality.
“We are advancing in our fundraising efforts, although every day is still a step in faith,” said Reel. The project’s website, www.thebarnIII.com, shows that about $17,000 has been donated so far online, but Reel said mail-in donations received bring the total to nearly $45,000.
“To be that far along after only opening (the donations) on Labor Day, we feel really blessed and are very thankful for the support we’ve been receiving from our loyal customers and the community,” Reel said.
The fundraising campaign is scheduled to run through Jan. 1, 2018 at which time the duo hope to release a 2018-19 schedule of dinner theater, special events and concerts to begin next December.
“If we don’t meet our goal by Jan. 1, we’re going to keep on trying,” Reel said. If bank financing can be finalized in time, the women hope to begin demolition of the old barn in early November.
“To be able to meet our timeline of getting in by December 2018, we need to pour our concrete floor and foundation for the new barn this November before the frost sets in,” Reel said. “There’s so much that’s ambiguous right now. We feel really confident and yet we’re cautiously optimistic. That’s the best way to put it.”
Located off I-74 between Peoria and Bloomington, the original Barn Dinner Theater opened in 1975 in an old cattle barn renovated by the late Chaunce Conklin and Mary Simon. It closed for awhile in the 1980s before reopening as the Barn II in 1995.
The 74-year-old barn was severely damaged by an August 2015 storm and an insurance claim was denied, leaving Simon in a difficult situation.
After unsuccessfully attempting to find other venues, Simon was resigned to closing the business for good when Reel, an old family friend, called with a proposal.
“My mom and dad were very close friends with Mary and were big supporters of the Barn,” Reel said. “I still have a firm memory of my dad introducing me to Mary when I was 5 by teasing that I would be the next Mary Simon. I was a performer myself at that age, and I think I just had a lot of qualities that were similar to Mary.”
However, with a full-time job in higher education, a part-time wedding business to run, a 5-year-old daughter and a newborn son, Reel was not thinking about the Barn until neighbors Jon and Mary Stapel put an idea in her head.
“They first saw that the brick house property that sits directly west of the Barn, which used to all be one parcel, was for sale, and they wondered if I thought it would work as a wedding venue,” Reel said. “It wasn’t on my radar at all, but I started thinking about Mary’s announcement that she was going to shut down operations permanently, so I reached out to her and said: I have this crazy idea, what do you think?”
Ironically, Simon had been about to call Reel to ask her to audition for one of her last shows at Five Points Washington.
“It seemed like we were meant to reconnect,” Reel said.
The two plan to use pieces of the old barn to create the new venue, which will be called the Barn III. After the rebuild is complete, the women will operate as job share partners, co-managing all aspects of the venue.
“In many ways it will look like the old Barn,” Reel said. “It will not be as round-topped. The traditional round-topped barns like the Barn were only made between the two World Wars and were traditionally built by German detainees here in the states. They’re very rare for that reason and also because they were structurally a little wimpy at times when it would come to certain big storms and things like that, as we’ve now learned, Our architects and engineers have done the best they could to emulate the red barn and round top, while adding additional supports so we won’t have any of the same weather issues that we encountered before.”
They envision the Barn III as being more than a dinner theater this time around. Reel said. The facility will also host weddings, concerts, community fundraisers, corporate events and maybe even themed birthday parties.
“I think dinner theater is cool as an older millennial, but I want to make sure there’s a diversity of things for all different demographics to enjoy,” Reel said.
In the meantime, Reel will be performing in Simon’s last production of the Conklin Players at Five Points Washington before the troupe hopefully returns to the Barn III next year. “A Gift of Christmas” will run Nov. 30 and Dec. 1-3. Tickets are available at the Five Points Washington www.fivepointswashington.org.
For more information about the Barn III project and how to donate, visit the website at www.thebarniii.com. Donations can also be mailed to The Barn III, P.O. Box 310, Goodfield, IL, 61742.
Donations are not tax-deductible but do include perks, such as T-shirts and barn bucks redeemable for future shows, depending on the donation amount.