Ready for some serious barn-raising: Abby Reel, left, and Mary Simon.


In the world of theater, angels are usually encountered winging it over Broadway.

But this time, one has flown a bit off course, to the farm fields over Woodford County.

Meet Abby Reel, who, as was revealed earlier this week, has become a hoped-for savior in the return of Goodfield's imperiled Barn II Dinner Theatre.

Reel came forward with a plan to partner with theater owner Mary Simon to build a new barn, using salvaged elements from the 1941 original disabled by a late-summer tornado two years ago.

She told The Pantagraph earlier this week that the majority of the project would be financed out of her own pocket ... once she can satisfy the bank's request for a $100,000 down payment to secure a construction loan.

It will take a flock of fellow theater-loving angels, willing to donate to the cause.

If enough do, Simon and Reel hope to have the Conklin Players back on barn boards (as the Barn III) for the 2018 Christmas season show (the Players have two more offerings before vacating their temporary home in Five Points Washington: "Smoke on the Mountain," Sept. 22-24, and "A Gift of Christmas," Nov. 30-Dec. 3).

There's a lot of work and fundraising to be done between now and then (full details are at www.thebarnIII.com), but hopes are riding high down on the farm.  

Reel's history with that turf a mile north of Goodfield is an interesting one, to say the least.

"I started attending productions at the Barn as a young girl," she recalls. "Watching Mary on stage is what first inspired my own passion for dance, theater and music."

It gets better: "My mom and dad were regulars, and my dad always told me I would be 'the next Mary Simon.' In fact, the first time he introduced me to Mary and Chaunce (Simon's original partner the late Chaunce Conklin), he said, 'Mary, Chaunce, I'd like you to meet the next Mary Simon!'

"I guess he was prophetic!"

The road to becoming the next Mary began, Abby recalls, after Simon hired her to bus the Barn's tables while she was still in high school (Eureka High School).

"Then I advanced to waitress ... then I auditioned for a show and was selected." The occasion: Performing in "Little Mary Sunshine" alongside mentor Mary Simon.

That was followed by an acting scholarship to Illinois Wesleyan University. (Reel is now assistant director of career development at IWU).

"I continued to wait tables for Mary through college off and on, and my husband did as well."

"I've known Abby since she was a toddler," Simon told us earlier this week. 

"And I treasured my relationship with her mom and dad, Les and Carolyn Reel. Abby came to me and said she was interested in saving Chaunce's and Les's legacy ... and I was committed."

So what will be salvaged from the original barn to instill the successor with its sense of heritage?

"We are keeping the box office and the kitchen ... those two out buildings are still in good shape," Reel says. "The barn itself will need to come down ... contractors and architects have confirmed that. Once Mary's case (with the insurance company) is closed, we plan to deconstruct and salvage as much wood as possible."

An attempt to interest the DIY Network's "Barnwood Builders" show has been made.

"Right now, they think the project is too big for their team,  but I'm not giving up hope," says Reel.

"If they are involved, we could be dependent on their timeline. Our goal is to demo the barn in October-November, renovate the box office and kitchen this fall/winter, then begin with the new barn building in spring 2018. We would be open for the holiday season in November/December 2018."

If you can't wait for the final results, head to "Smoke on the Mountain" at Five Point Washington" in two weekends: "You'll be able to see the renderings and the floor plan of the new venue," says Reel.

"It will be almost an exact replica of the old Angus cattle barn and dinner theater, but this time with an elevator and a little more space."

In short: "Everything about the new building will have the look and feel of an old barn inside ... minus the leaky roof!"

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.


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