Sharing the Stories You’ve Shared!
Throughout Krannert Center’s two-season 50th-anniversary celebrations, patrons, former students and staff, and community partners have been encouraged to share their memories from the past five decades. As one can imagine, the stories run the gamut of emotions from silly to sentimental, from romantic to embarrassing, from the everyday to the truly inspiring. As the commemoration of this milestone comes to a close, particularly under such difficult circumstances, Krannert Center would like to share some of these stories with you and invite you to share your own recollections as part of our ongoing story collection.
My memories of Krannert Center go back to the days in 1964 when I was getting ready to move to the University of Illinois and saw an article in The New York Times with an announcement of the Krannerts’ grant and a photo of the model. At the time, I said to Wanda, “I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time there, eventually, if we do stay in Illinois.” My next memory is of getting a tour in 1967 as a member of the School of Music Executive Committee through the partly finished building and wondering how that mass of concrete could possibly become a real building. In the end, I missed the opening in 1969—I was doing fieldwork in Iran. But my prediction that we would spend a lot of time in Krannert Center has certainly turned out to be correct for 45 years. I was on the search committee for the first director, headed by the distinguished Dean of FAA Alan Weller, where there were endless discussions about the philosophy behind such a center in which Ludwig Zirner, professor and opera director, played a great role.
We now say (a bit in jest) that Krannert Center is not a performing arts center but a way of life where you can see performances of all sorts (not restricted, for example, to European classical music), eat your meals, do your Christmas shopping, have meetings, sit and work with your iPad, make coffee dates, and stock up on greeting cards. It’s one of the U of I’s great successes.
I started bringing classes of four- to eight-year-olds to the Krannert Center Youth Series from its inception in 1983. From the wonderful “Stage Page” used to help prepare children for what they were about to experience to the day of the performance and all of the amazing followings, every single visit to Krannert Center was as pure a learning experience as exists. For 20 years until I retired from teaching, I enjoyed each and every performance (as many as three or four per season) and the expansion of children’s perception of the performing arts. Truly invaluable! Thank you, Krannert Center!
More so than any dorm or apartment I lived in during college, more so than any other building on campus (physically or psychologically), Krannert Center feels like home. Those giant concrete steps. The darkened doors that are sometimes surprisingly tricky to open, the quiet, warm wood floors, the hushed theatre carpeting, the intimate dim lighting—nothing is more perfect (other than, perhaps, the performances occurring within). From casual wine tastings to black box theatre to Yo-Yo Ma in the Foellinger Great Hall, there are simply too many memories. As a Krannert Center Student Association (KCSA) volunteer, AdBoard member, and then Executive Board member, I spent countless hours in the lower level hallways, slept in the KCSA office more than a few times, and even tried my hand at a few student volunteer-led theatre productions. I developed a physical dependence on the delicious pasta salad from Intermezzo. I bought greeting cards from Promenade for every single life event. As an usher, I developed a pathological urge—never acted upon—to chuck cough drops at the heads of disruptive guests. I learned to love opera. Without a doubt, Krannert Center was and is my favorite part of campus and my fondest college experience. I wish I could go back in time and relive it all. Those few times I have been back since graduating to see a show or attend an event, I walk through those doors, and a zen-like calm and happiness rushes back. It is blissful.
I was at Illinois as a graduate student during construction of Krannert Center and enjoyed the seasons of 1969 and 1970 before completing my degree. I vividly remember the performance of the Berlioz Requiem. The quiet positioning of the off-stage brass choirs had gone largely unnoticed; I think they were in the balconies at all four corners of the hall. When they all came in at the “Tuba mirum,” it just electrified the audience! It’s a moment I remember every time I hear that piece, but it’s never been equaled for me. Another fond memory was seeing the American Ballet Theatre and then afterward, at dinner at the Lincoln Inn, being able to tell the dancers in person how much I had enjoyed their performance.
As an usher for many years, I have met some of the best community volunteers. The camaraderie extends well beyond Krannert Center doors. Thank you for supplying a super reason to “head on out to provide the big hello, welcome, and share time with others.” This avenue continues to be open to widowers, widows, seniors, singles, young/older, tall/shorter . . . . This is the road to community and international friendship. No one in the volunteer group ever attends Krannert Center alone.
Maybe one of our most memorable Krannert Center experiences in our 43 years here in the community was going into labor during the April 8, 1982 dance performance. (It was either Alvin Ailey or Twyla Tharp.) Every time I had a contraction I nudged Roy, who timed them on his digital watch. No problem—they were still 10 minutes apart, so we stayed beyond intermission. During the second half, the contractions got closer, but we were determined to see the end of the performance! Our son David was born at 2:45am on April 9. He was our “Krannert baby.”
—Ann and Roy Campbell
My name is Tyrone Phillips, and I am the founding artistic director of Definition Theatre Company. The first time I walked into Krannert Center, I knew I had found a new artistic home. I was a senior at Niles North High School attending the Illinois High School Theatre Festival. There was something about the building that whispered, “The arts matter,” on every floor. As a student in the Department of Theatre, I got to know Krannert Center on a personal level on and off stage. I was exposed to world-class artists almost every weekend. I found my chosen family—the artists that I collaborate and create with now and forever.
Definition Theatre Company is a Chicago ensemble-based theatre founded by graduates of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Definition prides itself on leading the way as an anti-racist, multicultural organization that gives a voice to underrepresented communities. Our mission is to tell language-driven, relationship-oriented, socially relevant stories. Our story can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UajbXr1ggY. And visit DefinitionTheatre.org.
My memory is fading . . . 1971 or 1972? I was about 14 years old, and we lived in Monticello at the time. I had seen Yehudi Menuhin with the Seattle Symphony with my grandparents in 1968 or so and owned his East Meets West album. So, when I saw Ravi Shankar was appearing at Krannert Center, I asked my parents for tickets. I attended by myself—not their cup of tea. After a few tunes, during one extended break where all three musicians seemed to wander musically without regard for one another for about 10 minutes, they all leaped back to the main theme with complete precision. Quite the demonstration. I became enthralled then with Indian classical music and eventually a variety of the popular music as well. Not a typical story of the farm or prairie. Keep in mind the remarkable Central Illinois pop music scene of that time. I went to school with a girl whose brother was in All-Star Frogs (Eric Krogh). Try to place Krannert Center history in a context that includes both exciting high-brow and exciting low-brow music. When I began studying at the University of Illinois in 1975, I saw Oregon at Ruby Gulch. Hard to imagine a more intimate space for that music. I also saw Little Feat at the Auditorium (south end of Quad). Please try to convey how much the entire region reverberated with music. Thank you.
I was raised in a small, downstate Illinois farm town. When in high school, I went with a group on a field trip to newly constructed Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I was incredibly impressed with the structure itself as well as the acoustics within the Great Hall.
Fast forward years later, and my child had entered the University of Illinois to study for her bachelor’s degree. When she began looking for a work-study program, I told her about that field trip years earlier and how exciting it would be to work in such a unique venue. She applied and got a job in guest services. She continued to work each year and became a supervisor, and she met the young man she recently married. They worked together at Krannert Center and have some great memories of the people they became friends with and the staff they grew to care for.
I think they would agree that it was not just a job for them, but a life lesson in the arts, running a business, and making life-long friends. I am positive the building itself is a cornerstone for their lives that they will share stories about some day with their children. Prior to their wedding, they hired a photographer to take their engagement pictures at the Center. They have some very sweet pictures taken there that are as beautiful as their story. I am so happy that I took that initial field trip and will always be a fan of this remarkable venue.
I shared a blind date one lovely evening in May of 2009 that ended with us wandering up to the Krannert Center Amphitheatre and talking for nearly three hours. In 2010, I proposed to her on the spot where we’d sat to converse the year before. In 2011, I married her in that Amphitheatre. That place is as special to us as any in the world. We still take walks and stop there, just to watch the sunset or share in the lovely memories we’ve had in the space.
My husband suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He would continue the love of arts until his death because of Krannert Center. Mark Morris Dance Group worked with local Parkinson’s patients and stimulated local specialists to continue their work during the remainder of the year. People frozen with Parkinson’s could move when influenced by music and dance.
—Brenda Berg remembering her husband Morris
From 2005 to 2008, I spent three of the most important years of my life at Krannert Center. I packed up my life in Southern California and pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree in theatre with a concentration in stage management. During my years in Champaign-Urbana, I learned about myself, the business in which I was receiving a higher degree, and how to become the working professional that I am today. I was mentored by some of the most incredible instructors who not only invested time into helping me achieve my very best, but who also cared about the work that I was creating. Being trained at Krannert Center set me up for success in ways that I never imagined. Upon graduating, I went on to stage-manage at some of the top entertainment venues in the country and eventually transitioned into production management and producing for corporate events and shows. When I look back over the past 10 years at the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, I marvel at how three fast and furious years on professional training soil have brought about a career that has bloomed into something special.
Among the many highlights during my time at Krannert Center are the Valentine’s Day blizzard of 2007, which shut down the campus for two days; Yo-Yo Ma and Lyle Lovett greeting me in the hallway (I was on cloud nine!); and the production of Bernstein’s Mass that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Stage-managing that production changed my life and turned my attention towards the integration of music and performance in show production, which eventually became my career focus. I owe so much gratitude to everyone who was a part of my life (and still is!) at the Center. Your faith in me and my abilities helped me rise to new levels. And to the dear friends I made during my time in Illinois: if you’re reading this, I hope you’re happy and well. I look back on our times together with fond admiration.
My first news about Krannert Center was when I learned that the University of Illinois was tearing down the student boarding houses where I had delivered the Chicago Daily News and the corner store where I had sometimes played pinball. After the buildings came down, Krannert Center started to go up, and I watched it grow each day as I pedaled my bike past, headed home from high school. One day, a worker called me over and asked me whether I’d like to see what they were building. What I recall most strongly was his pride in the amazing marble walls, which he said came from Italy. They were indeed beautiful enough to impress even a boy of 16.
About six years later in 1975, Krannert Center did me the favor of impressing my guest on our first date to Krannert Center’s Colwell Playhouse where we saw Butley. It was a great start, and eventually we married and still are today.
Other events at the Center that stick in my memory include my brother’s high school graduation in the outdoor Amphitheatre and my father’s retirement ceremony, along with modern dance, theatre, and music. To close the circle, my wife and I have gotten to see our daughter Alison be a dramaturg for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the Colwell Playhouse. My life would not have been the same without Krannert Center.
When I first came to campus as an undergrad in the fall of 1975, I was shown Krannert Center by an Illini Guide. It was love at first sight, and I became a tour guide as well as an usher almost immediately. I remember being most struck by Ellnora Krannert’s insistence that in the design of the building, the lobby be large enough to allow for a spacious experience, even if all four theatres held their intermission at exactly the same time, and her vision for the quality of the materials throughout the lobby and each theatre, selected to do justice to each task. The lobby floors had a glorious pattern. I believe they were in what was called the Haddon Hall design. This vast expanse of patterned floor made for almost a surreal experience. The walls were bookplate marble and stunning, and the subject of many Rorschach challenges to visitors. The interior of the Great Hall had been designed so that each sound that issued from the audience was directed back into the audience, while each sound from the stage was directed into the hall and warmed in tone by a hollow wooden stage, designed to be the perfect resonating box for voices of classical instruments. The interior doors to the Great Hall were on hydraulics so that even if you were standing right next to them, you couldn’t hear them close. I remember the softness of the sound in that magnificent wooden space where it seemed that every great musician in the country and some of the best in world came to play . . . . Krannert Center is a world class venue that we had the run of all for the price of a few hours of work each week. And yes, Intermezzo opened when I was there, and I did get to share a bite of what seemed to be an impossibly glamorous piece of chocolate cake with my beau when he came in from Northwestern on a rare occasion. Delicious memories.