Winneshiek Players is an organization of people devoted to the development and enjoyment of the theatre arts, had it’s origins in 1916. On April 28th of that year a production of “Arms and the Man” was given in the Orpheum Theater, on North Chicago Avenue, for the benefit of The Associated Charities of Freeport. The cast included such familiar Freeport names as Scott, Knowlton, Steenrod, Trueblood, Rosenstiel and Reinhold, and they enjoyed the experience so much they decided to continue.
One act plays were given in outdoor settings or in the basement of the Knowlton home at the corner of Stephenson and Locust streets, where a small theater was arranged. There were some public performances, but most productions were for the members’ entertainment.
As members moved away from Freeport, activity of the group declined. On April 28th, 1926, however, the Freeport Women’s Club presented “Unimportant Inez,” a three act comedy written by Donald L. Breed. This sparked a reorganization of the Winneshiek Players group, beginning with a meeting at the home of Mrs. Oscar Ennenga to adopt a constitution and by-laws.
That meeting marked the beginning of the 75+ years we are now celebrating, during which The Winneshiek Players established a record which we believe makes it the nation’s oldest, continuous amateur theatre. This remarkable continuity has been sustained entirely by the interest and financial support of the membership, and has been on an “amateur”, or volunteer, basis.
The first production of the new organization in 1926 was again an outdoor performance – “The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife”, on the grounds of the Freeport Country Club – but in the fall the group rented a small theater known as the Bandbox, on the third floor of Emmert’s drug store building on Stephenson Street. There were only 28 active members and 13 associates, but during the next year 12 productions were given, including two public performances at the Germania theater.
Increasing membership caused the Players to relocate to the “Loft” on the third floor of the First National Bank building, with a 104-seat capacity. That was December, 1927, and the Loft was home for 9 years and 63 productions. One act plays gave way to longer works, including two musicals directed by Hez Diefenthaler in 1933 and 1934.
Growth again prompted relocation, this time to their own theater, made possible by a gift of land at the present location from Robert F. Koenig. Public subscription and a small mortgage financed the original building, which cost $8700. The first production in the new theater was the revue “Continental Varieties” on April 14th, 1936. The lobby and additional backstage space were constructed about 1948, with some remodeling in the mid-’60’s. Extensive remodeling was completed in the ’80’s and a new main curtain was dedicated to commemorate our 75th season.
The years have seen hundreds of first-rate productions of comedy and drama, and “Little Mary Sunshine” in 1964 initiated the long-running practice of producing a major musical each season. Although incorporated as a membership organization, The Winneshiek Players strives to fulfill an obligation to bring the theatre arts to the community.
If you wish to participate actively in a production, simply come to the public tryouts announced for each show. If you prefer to enjoy the show from the audience, we would love to welcome you as a member. After over 80 years of activity, The Winneshiek Players are stronger than ever, thanks to your interest, and we look forward to more stimulating and rewarding theatre experiences in the future.