On a cold November night in 2014, Jane Ann Cruse stood beside several fellow volunteers from Artstarts Company in Marion and watched the organization’s set building burn to the ground.
Cruse, now president of the performing arts nonprofit, had been nearby at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center when she heard the news of the fire and rushed over to the building, which was “absolutely packed to the gills” with handcrafted set pieces and props.
“It was devastating,” she said. “… The stuff that was in there — we had some tools for set-building, but for the most part, it was stuff that we had created. It was art, set pieces and things like that. They’re forever gone. You can’t recreate that; it was one-of-a-kind. So that was probably one of the hardest things to watch.”
The cause of the fire was never determined. Community supporters pitched in with donations and found a place for the organization to rent as a storage and set-building space, and Artstarts continued to produce two musicals a year and provide scholarships to high school students studying theater, music, opera, writing and art.
“Our little theme for that first year of rebuilding, we felt like a phoenix, rising from the ashes. That was our little kind of buzzword. That was how we had to see ourselves. And it worked. Anyone who’s been through a fire experience knows that it’s so demoralizing, and it’s heartbreaking and you have such a sense of loss. But we said, ‘Nope. We’re not going to take that on,’” Cruse said.
The new set building will officially open this month. It provides ample space for building large set pieces and for storage — which is essential, as the organization routinely reuses and repurposes items from one show to the next.
“It really is a dream come true,” Cruse said.
The new building is located right beside the Artstarts rehearsal space at 104 S. Van Buren in Marion, which is especially convenient, Cruse said.
“When we have questions on set building and we want to talk to the director, he doesn’t have to wait until after rehearsal, get in the car and drive to the set building. It’s all in one location, which is fabulous,” she said.
Artstarts will present a production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 to 18 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center. Tickets are $15 and are available at http://marionccc.com/hunchback17.
The show, backed by a live orchestra, was geared more toward middle-school and high-school-aged performers.
“We went out on a limb with this show. This show is not a junior show — it is a full-fledged Broadway production show, and it is the hardest show we have ever produced,” Cruse said.
The play is based on the Victor Hugo novel and features songs from the Disney film, and it has a timeless quality, Cruse said.
“(The Hunchback character is) ugly and rejected, but it’s all about when he steps out into the world and he finds someone who accepts him. So it’s a story everyone can relate to, because at some point almost everyone has felt left out or not good enough or rejected,” Cruse said.