In the beginning...
Playcrafters history traces it's roots back to the office of Mel Hodges, Municipal Recreation Commission Superintendent Rock Island, Illinois in the 1920's, and a group known as Marshall Dramatics. Several theatre enthusiasts in the Quad Cities area of Western Illinois (Rock Island, Moline) and Eastern Iowa (Davenport, Bettendorf) had formed groups to quench their thirst for theatre by meeting to read plays.
In 1929 these enthusiasts banded together to stage their own shows under the name conceived by Hodges - Playcrafters.
Despite the onset of the depression, Playcrafters pioneers performed three shows a year in whatever facility they could get their hands on, often paying for locales and scripts with money out of their own pockets. Tickets were only 25 and 35 cents, and if people didn't have the money for tickets, Playcrafters let them in free.
For it's first 30 years Playcrafters we're reminiscent of a wandering band of minstrels, as venues varied from show to show. Performances were held on outdoor stages, in Audubon School, in the old Fort Theater (now Circa 21), at the old Pronger's Restaurant in Davenport, Iowa, in the Terrace Room of the old Plantation, and at the old Tower Restaurant in Moline, Illinois before the little theater of Rock Island High School became a semi-permanent home.
Sets or flats were constructed in Henry Carlson's Rock Island garage and in members basements, then carted along with lights, and props to wherever that nights production would be held.
A home of our own.
Three decades of wandering ended in 1958 when Dr. William Otis gave Playcrafters the dairy barn from the Deere Experimental Farm. The Barn, built in 1914, had sat unused for 25 years on the Otis property on the south side of Moline. He charged $1 a year for the land.
What was at first was considered a blessing soon turned to a feeling of bewilderment. Playcrafters had indeed inherited a "barn" in every sense of the word! Three feet of compacted manure lined the floor, and above in the loft where the theater is now located were several inches of pigeon droppings. Harvey the goat and Herman the horse, along with 350 cattle grazing the pastures surrounding the barn (now a flourishing residential neighborhood) bore witness to the determination of Playcrafters to turn this barn into one of the finest community theaters in the Midwest.
Undaunted, the thespians, led by long time General Manager Bob Sonneville, spent three months shovelling out manure to find the floor. By 1959 the barn was enclosed, and with the help of a $15,000 fund-raising drive Playcrafters new Barn Theatre was ready for it's first production - Born Yesterday - on October 5, 1960.
The seats were the armless, wooden folding chairs from the old Augustana College gym/auditorium. The sound system was a tape recorder and two rented speakers. The lights hung from a big wooden wheel and were strung along the hayloft track, wired up with 500 feet of lamp cords and controlled by 25 plywood mounted toggle switches. But Playcrafters had a home!
Significant improvements were made over the following decades including the addition of heating and air conditioning, dressing rooms, set building, costume and props storage areas. In 1965 when the Coronet Theater in Davenport was being remodelled, its upholstered theater seats replaced the original wooden chairs from Augustana College.
Bigger and better.
Playcrafters underwent its next major transformation in the early 1990's. As the City of Moline expanded around Playcrafters, the Barn Theater fell victim to modern building codes. A major renovation project was undertaken to bring the Barn "up to code," which included an addition to the building.
The renovation added new restrooms, heating & air conditioning and sprinkler systems, a new box office, and a silo containing an elevator. Various fund-raising initiatives generously supported by patrons and the community at large enabled Playcrafters to finance the cost of these improvements.
In the 21st century additional improvements continue to be made to keep our near 100 year-old Barn Theater in youthful shape. These have included new asphalt and landscaping; general repairs to the building exterior; a remodelled Lobby, Dressing Rooms and Green Room; a new lightboard and new security systems.
In April 2007 we replaced all our seating with new, contemporary chairs featuring improved accessibility for those facing mobility challenges.
Playcrafters remains a vibrant, volunteer-driven, not-for-profit community organization that continues to entertain area patrons with top notch theatre.
A new generation of thespians calls the Barn Theatre home, but we haven't forgotten our roots, nor the dedication of our founders, and Bob Sonneville - General Manager from 1950 till his passing in 1989 - whose love and hard work have given us a home in which to "trod the boards."