How Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles is weathering the pandemic

  • The Steel Beam Theatre in downtown St. Charles marked its 20th anniversary last week.

    The Steel Beam Theatre in downtown St. Charles marked its 20th anniversary last week. Courtesy of Dave Heun

Posted10/2/2020 6:00 AM

Steel Beam Theatre knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges.

The downtown St. Charles theater had to celebrate its 20th anniversary last week without any hoopla taking place on its stage. Like every other community theater operation, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit it hard.


But this is an entertainment venue that opened not long after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and has continued to overcome challenges thrown its way.

Those who have never been to Steel Beam are missing one of the most intimate theatrical settings in the Fox Valley. The 78-seat theater puts the entire audience nearly right on stage with the performers. The plays we have seen at Steel Beam in the past have always been highly enjoyable.

This is what founder Donna Steele had in mind when she entered the historic building at 111 W. Main Street in 1999, seeing it had a partially used storage space in which dirt and grime had covered its river-stone walls for years.

"I saw a perfect place for a theater," Steele says in recollections she shares on the theater's website. Steele was the artistic director at the theater for 15 years. She remains an ardent supporter of the theater, which is now overseen by artistic director Marge Uhlarik-Boller and board president Joe Billquist.

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Initially, I thought the theater carried Steele's name until I realized there was no "e" at the end. The name was actually based on the real steel beam that runs across the top of the stage, put in by workers to reinforce walls during the conversion to a small theater. Since then, Steele and others have made the reference of "Steel" for strength and "Beam" for the enlightenment of live theater.

Fast forward to today, when a pandemic makes live performances go quiet and forces theater operators to use modern technology to bring the theater to living rooms.

Actress and historian Leslie Goddard will perform "Meet Hamilton's Women," a one-woman show, on Nov. 22 as part of Steel Beam Theatre's "Women of Steel" series of online shows.
Actress and historian Leslie Goddard will perform "Meet Hamilton's Women," a one-woman show, on Nov. 22 as part of Steel Beam Theatre's "Women of Steel" series of online shows. - Courtesy of Sugar Grove Public Library District

To raise funds for its not-for-profit operation, Steel Beam presents "Women of Steel," a livestream series featuring professional actors from Chicago in one-woman shows at 7 p.m. one Sunday a month. The first show was held last weekend when Martina Mathison portrayed a Hollywood icon in "Meet Mae West."


The streaming performance went over well with those who tuned in. Billquist said the audience was "very responsive and appreciative," with some noting they learned a lot about Mae West.

In the coming months, Meghan Wells stars in "Meet Dracula" on Oct. 18; Leslie Goddard portrays various ladies in "Meet Hamilton's Women" on Nov. 22; Paddy Lynn takes on the role of the Peter Rabbit author in "Meet Beatrix Potter" on Dec. 27; while Debra Miller stars in "Meet Jane Austen," to explore the literary and personal life of this well-known novelist.

Tickets cost $10 per performance and are available at For details, call (630) 587-8521.

Changes in citizen honors:

The events in which our chambers of commerce or other organizations honor top citizens may change during this pandemic, but they still need nominees.

TriCity Family Services asks for nominees for the William D. Barth Award, an honor for volunteer and community service work, through Monday, Oct. 7.

The agency plans to hold a virtual ceremony through the TriCity Family Services website for its annual Barth Award ceremony at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21. Nomination forms are also on the website and can be returned via email to

Similarly, the Batavia Chamber of Commerce is in the process of gathering names for its Batavia Citizen of the Year honor.

The chamber hopes to honor that person at its annual recognition event in January, but a date and place haven't been established yet.

Those nominating a person or couple who lives in or operates a business in Batavia have to submit a letter of recommendation to the chamber no later than Friday, Nov. 13.

More information is available by contacting Margaret Perreault, president and CEO of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce, via email at or by calling (630) 879-7134.

Eat it earlier:

For many, it was somewhat surprising to find out the Colonial Café on Randall Road in St. Charles was trimming back its hours to become only a breakfast-lunch spot.

With its new hours of 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, Colonial's west-side site will be closed for dinner. The Main Street location on the east side of St. Charles will still have 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours.

So, it means that on those occasions when stopping in for one of my favorite sandwiches -- the Pot Roast French Dip -- I will have to do it earlier in the day. I'm closer to the west-side location but certainly wouldn't rule out a trip to the east side if the urge came at dinnertime.

Some outdoor sermon fun:

If the weather cooperates on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 11, youngsters from kindergarten through third grade attending the 9:30 a.m. outdoor service at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Batavia will have their own designated area for the Sidewalk Sunday School.

Kids are encouraged to bring a beach towel or blanket to sit in an area on the grass designated for them during the service's sermon.

It will be a combination of fun activities and church teachings designed for children.

Out with the old:

During these difficult times for some restaurants, you'd initially think the worst after seeing Eden's outdoor dining deck on the River in St. Charles demolished.

But this was a case of an old deck being removed to make room for what Eden owners call a "four-season" dining and banquet area. That means it likely will have an outdoors feel to it, but have heat for when the weather gets cold.

We look forward to seeing how it turns out. We've long considered that location off Illinois Street on the Fox River to be a perfect outdoor dining spot, as far back as when it was Erik & Me more than 30 years ago.

That means the deck was getting rough around the edges, to begin with, so it was time for a change.

Nurtured her voice here:

A recent Facebook conversation reminded us that singer Jackie DeShannon lived in Batavia for some time during her high school years while her father worked as a barber in Batavia.

She was already working on her singing craft, which began when the family previously lived in Kentucky.

Those who knew her family in Batavia said she wanted to become a country singer.

Those of a certain age know DeShannon did make it big in the music world by singing songs from all genres.

Her most notable hits were the Burt Bacharach tune "What the World Needs Now is Love" in 1965 and a song she wrote called "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" in 1969.

Known as Sharon Lee Myers during her two years at Batavia High School in the late 1950s, she was already singing at local events and on radio shows. Her family lived in Batavia until 1964, before moving to Hollywood.

Ultimately, she became part of the legendary music scene in California's Laurel Canyon.

Some background material about DeShannon notes she dated Elvis Presley and became good friends with the Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. To this day, she remains friends with Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Not many people from Batavia can say they hung out in that musical stratosphere.

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