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Orangeville theater plans community workday
Susan Wichman, President of the Mighty Richland Players Dessert Theater (MRPDT), looks through a collection of old photos on the stage while giving a tour of their historic theater building in Orangeville, Jan. 16. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
By Emily Massingill

For the Times

ORANGEVILLE - The Mighty Richland Players Dessert Theater (MRPDT) has planned a community workday at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday, Jan. 18 to bring the public and interested parties together to see what the group is all about and to learn about hopes for the future of the historic theater building on Orangeville's High Street.

The entire public is welcome to join the community service organization this weekend, and volunteers are appreciated in any capacity. The open house-type event and workday invites anyone who would like to possibly participate in a show, act as a support staff for productions, help with care or maintenance, make a cash donation or take on any other necessary duties needed to keep the playhouse up and running.

MRPDT Board President Susan Wichman, an Orangeville native and playhouse supporter, is proud to take charge of the historic building that was given to the group from residents John and Caryl Buford before they moved to Costa Rica.

Taking over the building's ownership has been meaningful for the playhouse board and the community, and they're grateful to the Buford family.

A desire to keep the playhouse going is sentimental and easy for Wichman. She and her husband Melvin, the longtime Orangeville Fire Chief, are both Orangeville natives and have strong ties to the community. They feel the importance to keep such a historic building and community group prosperous.

Those who come to the workday Saturday are welcome to see the building, inquire about opportunities or simply help out physically with the many things that need to be done around the theater. The group is cleaning, de-cluttering and organizing before sharing a potluck meal at noon.

At 2 p.m. there will be cast tryouts for the next production, "The Little Red School House Revisited." All are welcome to stop by at any time during the day to enjoy some famous hot apple cider and treats while learning about MRP.

The playhouse

The historic building on Orangeville's High Street was originally built by the Masons in 1876 and opened as Orangeville's first public stage and auditorium with the help of John and Caryl Buford in 2001.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows rented the hall for meetings and in 1893 purchased it from the Masonic Hall Association for $1,800. The building has also served for 135 years as the lodge hall for the Orangeville Masonic Lodge. Today, the Masons still rent out the upstairs of the building to hold their events and meetings.

The building has been lovingly restored to its former glory through both public and private funds, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bufords purchased a few buildings in town to bring back to their original look and Wichman says the playhouse was always strictly meant for the community, and that they always had a plan to eventually give it back to the group that John and Caryl were a huge part of.

"He is so community minded," Wichman said of Buford. "His mind was always going."

The group is currently in the process of obtaining a 501C3 status for the building, Wichman said, and although the building is a challenge to keep up, it's been a positive thing for the community to have in its possession. Although Buford owned the building previously, he never limited the community or the group, and always made the community feel like it was theirs, she said.


The playhouse began with just local people performing until three years ago, when Buford proposed a coalition with Backstreet Theatre out of Hanover and Plum River Players Theatre out of Stockton. Together, the three groups formed the Northwest Illinois Theatre Coalition, performing four shows a year at each location. It was a great way for the small group to succeed in a bigger way and be seen by a larger audience. This year, however, Backstreet is not part of the group, so Mighty Richland will perform with Plum River and still perform four shows, but they're looking for more people to be involved.

"I'm hoping we can get a few more area people," Wichman said, noting that there will be less traveling, which she hopes will bring some people back to the group who couldn't commit in previous years.

Although the theater has had its ups and downs, Wichman says it's always worth keeping up the history of Orangeville and keeping up with the talent that comes from the surrounding area.

The Mighty Richland Players Dessert Theater boasts shows performed by friends and neighbors while guests enjoy homemade dessert in a comfortable setting. The small theater holds about 40-50 people. Patrons come from Albany, Stockton, Rockford, Davis, Lena, Monroe and further to support the community theater.

The theater group is hopeful that one day they can add some curtains and update the hall that's so close to their hearts to make it look more theatrical. They would like to have the sound and light area more aesthetically friendly. Volunteers are welcome for physical labor and carpentry. Eventually, a long-term goal would be to make the building handicap accessible. The group hopes to also rent out the downstairs of the building to anyone wishing to have a large family gathering or a small wedding.

"The more we can get the community involved, the better," Wichman said.

Fundraisers are held each year for the MRP, but this year's plans are still in the works.

"We're always looking for people willing to put their talents to use," Wichman said. "Whatever those talents might be."

Those interested in the MRPT or those with questions about Saturday's workday can call Wichman at 815-819-1310 for more information. The workday will be held Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at 203 W. High St., Orangeville. Little Red School House Revisited will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 7-8 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 9.