clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

SPOTLIGHT: Historic Aurora theater restored

AURORA, Ill. — If Richard and Arlene Hawks have anything to say about it, the gem of Aurora — also known as the Paramount Theatre — will sparkle even brighter in the future.

The Hawks recently were named chairmen of the Paramount Arts Centre Endowment to provide funding for the 1,888-seat, 1930s art deco theater.

With their support and leadership over the years, the Paramount already has been restored to its former glory, added a 12,000-square-foot Grand Gallery, hired its first artistic director and successfully launched a locally produced Broadway series.

The Hawks are pleased with all that's happened, but they're ready to do more. The endowment, which provides money annually for Paramount programs and equipment, needs to actively raise funds, the Hawks said in a recent interview.

"The gem of the city needs to flourish long after we're gone," Arlene said.

Although they admit they're too new at the helm of the endowment board to set specific goals, they're already starting to dream.

Their son, Victor, an actor and producer now living in Hollywood, has written a movie that's being produced and they hope he'll agree to premiere "Construction" at the Paramount.

Arlene wants to expand the theater's gift shop and sell merchandise related to the coming season of Broadway shows. Meet-and-greet events with cast members, workshops and children's theater on Saturdays are all part of the future that she envisions.

Of course, they'll need to bring in more community members involved with theater to serve on the endowment board.

"It's a board we plan to grow," Arlene said.

It was with good reason that the endowment board, with the support of Aurora Mayor Tom Weiser, chose the Hawks to spearhead the organization.

"Dick and Arlene were the natural choice to lead PACE into a new era," outgoing Chairwoman Barbara Katterman said in a news release announcing the choice.

"Arlene has spent nearly four decades instilling a love of theater into Aurora children, and Dick has served on the Paramount board for more than two decades."

Dick Hawks was appointed to the Aurora Civic Center Authority, which oversees the Paramount, in 1987 and resigned only to lead the endowment board.

Back when he started, the theater was doing so poorly that the Civic Authority board took up collections to pay staff members, he recalled. But with some new programs to make money and an infusion of cash from Aurora's riverboat casino, things at the Paramount started to turn around.

Hawks was at the helm of the Civic Center Authority when the Paramount raised $6.5 million to construct the 12,000-square-foot Grand Gallery that opened in 2006. Arlene and her friend, Hilary Brennan, headed the fundraising volunteer committee for the project.

"Their efforts are the reason we have a new lobby," said Katie Arko, director of development at the Paramount for the past 10 years.

Generous donors themselves, the Hawks provided the money for the box office, which is named after them. They also are avid patrons of all the Paramount's concerts and shows, Arko said.

"It would be very odd to go to any production at the Paramount and not see them sitting in the front row to support what we do here," she said.

Arko said the endowment fund the Hawks now head, started by the late Anne Goldsmith, has been key to the success of the Paramount.

"The endowment funds we receive every year for equipment and programming help us bring in shows we might not otherwise afford, but they also help us keep ticket prices down," she said.

The endowment board tripled its annual support of the Paramount to $240,000 to enable the theater to launch the Broadway series.

Dick Hawks was serving as chairman of the Civic Center Authority when the decision was made for the Paramount to create its own Broadway shows. The productions of "My Fair Lady," ''Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," ''A Chorus Line" and "Hair" have been a great success this season, he said.

"It's wonderful. It's been so well-accepted by the community," he said.

The Broadway series was started under the leadership of Tim Rater, who was hired as the Paramount's executive director in 2010. Dick Hawks recalls that he and the rest of the Civic Center Authority board looked at more than 100 resumes before they made their choice.

"Just a fabulous executive director," he said. "The finest I've had the pleasure of working with in many years in theater."

Rater, in turn, brought in award-winning director, actor and choreographer Jim Corti as the Paramount's first artistic director to oversee the Broadway series.

"He (Corti) is the nicest human being," Dick Hawks said. "He shows great compassion and love of theater."

A trader on the Mercantile Exchange before he retired, Dick Hawks downplays his own knowledge of theater. But he served as the Paramount's interim executive director twice. While in college, he had small, but paying parts as an actor and he has played roles in community theater. He grew up in Batavia and came to the Paramount as boy to watch movies and vaudeville.

A native of New Jersey, Arlene Hawks has been performing since she was 6 years old. She was traveling as a guitar-playing soloist when she met Dick while performing in Aurora.

Arlene holds a doctorate in theater and served as director of drama at East Aurora High School for 32 years before retiring in 2005. The school's "Arlene S. Hawks" Auditorium is named after her.

Known as "drama mama" around Aurora, she has directed Fox Valley Park District's Summer Stage program for years and coordinates the city's Summer Drama Camp, now in its third year.

Arlene said involvement in theater can help children in all their life experiences.

"It's definitely an opportunity to expand their horizons in the world of imagination and creativity," she said. "Everyone should try it, even if they don't think they have talent."

As much as the Hawks have contributed to theater in Aurora, it is by no means the end of their community involvement. Dick Hawks serves on the boards of Aurora University, the Waubonsee Community College foundation and the Aurora Public Library.

Both he and Arlene recently were honored for their work with CASA Kane County on behalf of abused and neglected children. Arlene also has given her support to such organizations as the Fox Valley United Way, Aurora Public Art Commission, Communities in Schools, Kiwanis International of Aurora and Provena Senior Services.

"They just take on a challenge and seem to enjoy it," said friend Hilary Brennan, who has been involved with many of the same volunteer activities.

"They're a couple who have amazing energy and vitality. They're just all-around good people and they care about their home in Aurora."

Arlene said after she moved to Aurora and found their home was only about a block from the Paramount, she knew she wanted to do all she could to help the theater survive and thrive.

"You don't get something like this in your backyard, and here it was," she said.

Information from: Daily Herald,