HARRISBURG — Harrisburg High School music teacher Hannah Drake was at a holiday tournament when she received a call from Principal Scott Dewar saying Harrisburg Police Chief David Morris wanted to talk to her about the high school's band trailer, which had been stolen. The police had found the trailer, and Morris wanted to know what was in it.
“My immediate reaction was everything for Theatre Fest was in that trailer,” Drake said.
Illinois High School Theatre Festival is a gathering of Illinois high school students, teachers and sponsors, who get together to experience different types of theater, share common goals with other students, and showcase their creative efforts.
Harrisburg High School was chosen to perform this year’s musical, “Seussical the Musical,” during the festival, which runs from Jan. 11 through 13 at Illinois State University.
The set, which includes large backdrop pieces resembling several Dr. Seuss books and the pages from a Seuss book, were in the band trailer, along with other props, like fish and large clovers. Morris said previously the trailer contained about $10,000 to $15,000 in handmade props. The trailer was found empty in Pope County near the intersection of Eddyville Blacktop and Illinois 146.
“I didn’t know it was stolen until it was found,” Drake said.
Drake began calling parents of students in the production, and trying to figure out what to do. At first, the task of recreating the set seemed monumental — almost too much to accomplish in time for Theatre Fest. But, how could they not let the kids perform?
“They were awarded or invited to perform,” Superintendent Michael Gauch said. “Most schools only are asked to do a piece of their play. We were asked to do our entire play.”
“It’s really a big honor. Not everyone is chosen to perform. While we are up there, we get to take classes on theater,” Harrisburg High School senior Chloe Thomas said.
“It’s also a big honor because not everyone gets to go,” senior Carter Reed said.
This is the third time Drake has taken students to Theatre Fest to perform. It is the school’s first time to take a full production of a musical.
“We were the only school south of Normal doing any kind of show,” Drake said.
Considering those accolades, Gauch said they could not just let this go.
As quickly as word spread about the missing props, people began to volunteer to help rebuild the set. One of Drake’s first calls was to Allan Kimball at Southeastern Illinois College, who offered to do “whatever was needed” to help recreate the set.
People donated money at Barnes Lumber in Harrisburg. Ladies dropped off cookies for the workers and students.
Help came not only from Harrisburg, but also from other schools and towns. Another school bringing a piece to Theatre Fest offered to help transport the set or build a piece and bring it. Carterville High School had a piece that could be used.
“It’s just another example of what is great about Southern Illinois. While we have our differences from time to time, we all come together in times like these. Nobody in this community was going to let our kids not participate in this event,” Gauch said.
Jan. 2 was set as a work day at the SIC theater. By 6 or 6:30 p.m., 80 percent of the set was rebuilt and being painted.
“I was surprised how quickly the set was rebuilt,” Reed said.
“I think we have a renewed sense of energy. We have to prove this is not going to set us back at all,” Drake said.
Most of the students in this show are also band students, so they felt the loss twice. The band trailer is damaged, and Drake said it will not make the trip to Normal.
“It was a double hit,” Thomas said.
She added that it must have taken a bunch of people to remove the set from trailer.
“One of things I picture is the night we were moving the book around the school,” Thomas said. “It was heavy.”
On Thursday evening, Drake and the cast worked on blocking with the new set.
To thank everyone for working and donating, the school will give a free performance of “Seussical” at 6:30 p.m. today in the SIC Theater. Thomas plays JoJo and Reed is the Cat in the Hat.
“We’re looking forward to sharing with everybody here and there,” Drake said.