Longtime director, instructor helped create Elgin's Janus Theatre

  • Terry Domschke

    Terry Domschke

  • Terry Domschke directed a Janus Theatre production at the London Fringe Theatre Festival in Ontario, Canada in 2004.

    Terry Domschke directed a Janus Theatre production at the London Fringe Theatre Festival in Ontario, Canada in 2004. Courtesy of Sean Hargadon

Updated 4/6/2017 6:33 PM

Study. Practice. Pass it on.

If theater artist and educator Terry Domschke had a credo, that would have been it. One of the principle architects of Elgin's Janus Theatre and a retired Elgin Community College theater instructor, he died Sunday in Wisconsin.


He was 76. A celebration of his life will be held this summer in Elgin.

Sean Hargadon described his mentor as a fun, intelligent, magnanimous man who, in the tradition of Yoda from "Star Wars" or Gandalf from "The Lord of the Rings," served as a kind of sage to fellow artists and countless students during more than 50 years in theater.

As a child, the St. Louis native tap danced for an audience on a Mississippi River riverboat, said longtime friend and colleague Sylvia Grady. But it wasn't until 1962, when the then-college student went to Europe, that he considered pursuing theater professionally.

After graduate school at Indiana University, he studied acting in England at Oxford University, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon. He worked in Germany and the Netherlands.

"He spent a lot of time studying, workshopping and traveling," Hargadon said. "But he didn't brag about himself. He was very modest."

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In 1966 he began teaching drama and English at ECC. His early classes took place in the YMCA basement, said Grady, who began working with Domschke in the 1970s.

Domschke retired from ECC in 1999.

"He was a big believer in education and training. He believed it never ended," said Hargadon, adding that Domschke insisted theater was a noble profession, that theater artists were part of something bigger than themselves and were "privileged to be part of that tradition."

Working with him required effort, said Hargadon, who met Domschke in 1995. He had high expectations.

"He is the only director who made me cry," Grady said. "If he thought I could do something and reach deeper into my soul, he would push me until I got it. He took his job seriously and expected his actors to do the same."

Domschke's work with Michael Langham, artistic director at Canada's Stratford Festival and Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre, "changed his trajectory" to directing, Hargadon said.


During the 1970s, Domschke took up directing, working with the Hemmens Summer Repertory and Encore Musical Theater, Grady said. In the 1980s he worked with professional ensembles Synquest Plays, Renaissance Repertory Theatre and Watch Theatre Company and its student ensemble Pocket Watch, among others.

He produced plays for Larkin High School and Elgin Academy, Grady said. He also helmed professional productions at Janus and at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. At the time of his death, he was planning a production composed of excerpts from Shakespeare's love scenes featuring his former students, Grady said.

"He loved comedy. He loved the classics. He loved Shakespeare," she said. "He loved people ... and felt they could do amazing things."

He enriched his community, she said. "He expanded our horizons. He brought forth things we hadn't seen before."

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