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Church Basement Ladies presented, sorta, by Hemmens

The city-owned Hemmens  Cultural Center Elgin.  | Sun-Times Medifile

The city-owned Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin. | Sun-Times Media file

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2 and 7 p.m. Jan. 23

Tickets, $22-$40


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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:18AM

ELGIN — The success of a show set for this week could determine future city-sponsored productions at the Hemmens Cultural Center.

“Church Basement Ladies: A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement,” is set for 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hemmens, 45 Symphony Way in downtown. Tickets are still available for both shows.

Unlike most productions held there in the past two years, the company bringing “Church Basement Ladies” to the Hemmens is not renting the city-owned theater. Neither, however, is the center “presenting” the show, said Hemmens Director Butch Wilhelmi.

“We are not a presenting venue; but if somebody approaches us with an idea for a production in which we can participate with minimal risk, we are looking at that type of option,” Wilhelmi said. “This is one of those.”

Instead of paying for the troupe to perform there, the Hemmens will split any proceeds with the touring company, he explained.

Elgin got out of the “presenting season” business in 2012. Looking to cut expenditures at the arts venue, the city council voted to do away with paying to bring shows to the Hemmens and, therefore, assuming financial risk. The last city-sponsored show there was Dennis DeYoung in March 2012.

Instead, the Hemmens became a rental-only facility, with those using the center paying a fee. Renters include the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Children’s Theater, area school districts, dance schools and other touring groups.

The “Church Basement Ladies” tour is a slight change to that.

Taking a risk

Instead of a rental agreement, the Hemmens is co-promoting the show. Rather than a flat fee for the touring production to appear, the deal is based on a split percentage of box office receipts, Wilhelmi said.

“There is a little risk to us with this show,” he said — but added it is a calculated one, as other shows have been, too.

For the past two years, the Hemmens has been co-promoter of the Green Room Improv. That troupe has been performing live improvisation in the Hemmens Exhibition Hall on the first Saturday of the month, and recently moved those shows to the first Friday of each month.

“We know what our expenses are to put on the show,” Wilhelmi said. Once expenses are met, any profit is split between the Hemmens and the Green Room players, he said.

Other shows that include some risks for the Hemmens include the Elgin Short Film Festival and Elgin Summer Theatre, Wilhelmi said.

Proven popularity

Thursday’s production is one of those calculated risks because of the popularity of its story lines in the past, he said.

“Church Basement Ladies” has played at the Hemmens a few times over the past five years, Wilhelmi noted. William Christopher, who played Father Mulcahy on the TV sitcom “M*A*S*H,” starred in the first “Church Basement Ladies” installment in 2009.

“Away in the Basement — A Church Basement Ladies Christmas” played at the Hemmens in 2010.

The 2 p.m. matinee on Thursday “is a show that screams for senior and church groups,” and is actually outselling the evening show, Wilhelmi said.

He encouraged residents to plan a night out to dinner and a show.

“Right about now, people are getting antsy” with cabin fever, he said.

“This is a great way to get out of the house,” Wilhelmi said. “So come down, park the car, go grab something to eat at Bangkok House, Elgin Public House or any of our downtown restaurants, then come and see a show.”

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