In 1972, a small group of volunteers agreed to raise money for McKendree College by directing and producing a musical play. The success of this show, and the success of a subsequent venture, encouraged the group to pursue their dreams of forming a theater organization. The new organization would be called the Looking Glass Playhouse (LGP), taken from the Looking Glass Prairie which lies to the east of Lebanon and mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, American Notes. In 1973, the fledgling group borrowed $25.00 and filed for incorporation.
The next issue was a home for the newly formed organization. The Arcade Theater in downtown Lebanon had been empty for several years and, after negotiations with the owner, the players rented the theater for $50.00 a month (to begin a month after the first receipts). On the “Great Labor Day Clean-up”, volunteers cleaned layers of dirt and prepared the theater for their first production, “Babes in Toyland”. By 1974, the energized group had enlarged the stage area (twice!), added wings, and converted a first floor apartment into a concession area. Much to the relief of audiences, the apartment bathroom was now available, and a new second bathroom was built in a closet. No longer did theater-goers have to descend the narrow stairs to the basement.
The first order of business in 1981 was the announcement that “the impossible dream has become a reality”. On November 22, 1980, the organization had signed the final papers, and a champagne bottle was broken on the front corner of the Looking Glass Playhouse Theater. In the spring of 1981, the theater was a site of intense activity. Construction efforts included a 40-foot addition to the back of the building, a new ceiling and roof, a new light booth, and a new stairway leading from the stage to the basement – the first time the cast and crew were able to reach the stage by any route other than walking through the auditorium or outside and around the building. The LGP has continued to strive for theater improvement – upgraded bathrooms and concession area, new theater seats, new stage curtains – the results of many hours of volunteer labor together with the very generous financial support of our audiences.
The founders of the Looking Glass Playhouse had a dream. The volunteers, casts, crews, and audiences throughout the years have kept that dream alive. LGP has remained dedicated to the concept of community involvement and to the continuing effort to broaden the awareness of the arts in southern Illinois.
*ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – Historical events above were excerpted from “A History of the Looking Glass Playhouse 1972-1990” by Dona Monroe.