The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre (1972 -) | University of Illinois Archives
In 1972, Rick Orr founded The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre, a non-profit community theater, in an historic passenger-rail station in Urbana, IL. Originally constructed by the Big Four Railroad Co.—later called the Peoria and Eastern Railroad and New York Central—in 1889, the line discontinued passenger service to the building in 1957. Soon after, the structure was purchased by Esther B. Bean, a local resident who began renting the building in 1967. Her first tenants were The Depot, Inc., an experimental arts collective that was founded by University of Illinois English Professor Jim Hurt and his graduate assistant Tom Rickman. They called the building “The Depot” and used the space to print local magazines and present a summer festival that consisted of avant-garde concerts, musicals, and plays.
During its inaugural year, The Celebration Company became co-tenants with The Depot, Inc., collaborating on several theatrical productions. Rick Orr even became a member of The Depot, Inc.’s board of directors, serving as a leader in both organizations. In January 1974, Hurt left the University of Illinois to take a sabbatical in England and Orr took over as the director of the Depot, Inc. board. In early 1975, Esther Bean, fearful that she could not continue to maintain the property, sold the building to Orr and the Celebration Company for $35,000. Orr purchased the theatre without approval from The Depot, Inc’s board of directors and did not allow the other company to continue leasing the property. Despite Orr’s hostile take-over of the building, many of The Depot’s members joined The Celebration Company in the seasons that followed. The building reopened in April 1974. Despite renaming the facility “The Station Theatre,” both The Celebration Company and local newspapers continued to call the building “The Depot” throughout the mid-1970s.
In the decades that followed, the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre presented an average of eight productions during its Fall-Spring Season and an additional four or five productions during summer seasons with a volunteer cast, crew, and administration. Yet, the company still managed to produce original plays, including Karma Ibsen-Riley’s Nine Women and Douglas Anderson’s Mistakes I8ve Made. The company also competed at the Illinois State Community Theatre Association Annual Contest, earning first place in 1981 with their production of Shadow Box. In 1990, after years of failing to pay off their mortgage, the company approached Esther Bean for assistance. She bought the building back from Orr and paid off the mortgage. The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre continue to present high quality productions to this day.