GOODFIELD — The Conklin Dinner Theatre began its second resurrection Saturday as the first wall of the Barn III was put in place.
Five women wearing red high heels and white hard hats pulled up the first wall of a reborn barn in a barn-raising celebration.
Abby Reel and Mary Simon, who have led the barn-raising project, pulled the ropes and were joined by Abby’s mother Carolyn Reel, Shelly Hunt of Morton Community Bank and Marcia Schlicht, vice president of Growth Corp in Springfield.
Reel said these are the five women most instrumental in making the Barn III possible.
In its third act, the barn will host the Conklin Players for dinner theater as it did in its previous life, but with the addition of Reel’s experience in the wedding industry, the Barn III will be a venue for weddings, too.
“We aren’t even built yet and we’ve already booked five weddings and a prom,” Reel said. Engaged couples who are willing to book without being able to tour their venue will receive the “brave discount.”
With the help of RK Custom Builders, the new barn will be built to look almost identical to the Barn II, except a bit larger and without the leaky roof, Reel said.
It will also have an elevator, a modern HVAC system and no support columns bisecting the stage.
In June 2017, Reel first approached Simon, who owned the property and co-founded the troupe with Chaunce Conklin, with her idea for bringing back the barn after it took severe storm damage in 2015 and had to be torn down.
Together they launched a fundraising campaign that brought in more than $84,000 between September and March to help secure a $1.5 million Small Business Administration loan.
The first dinner theater tickets will go on sale on Labor Day — exactly one year from the start of the fundraising campaign — and hopefully the first show will be ready in January 2019, Reel said.
Reel met Simon when she was 5 years old and her father, Les Reel, said, “Mary, I want you to meet the next Mary Simon.”
“I’ve acted on stage with her before at the barn and also waited tables all through high school and college so I’m not a stranger to the barn,” Reel said.
A few decades later, they have partnered together to make this rebuild a reality.
“Her wisdom and experience of running dinner theater for the last 40 years coupled with my experience in the wedding industry — together we make the perfect team moving forward,” Reel said.
Reel now owns the property, including the brick house built in 1857 and the Studio @ the Shed, which houses a dance and fitness center.
“I wasn’t expecting two businesses out of one, but it happened,” Reel said of the studio. “It was a happy surprise.”
During Saturday’s barn-raising event, the Barn III crew also held a “make an offer” garage sale, the barn’s final fundraiser, which will help them operate until it’s open for business in January, Reel said.
“The loan really just covers the rebuild, so this money will go toward tables and chairs and the other little details,” she said.
The event also featured an Abraham Lincoln impersonator and tours of the pre-Civil War brick house, where Simon now lives.
“The original owners of this property were friends with Abraham Lincoln, and he was their personal attorney,” Reel said. “He stayed in the brick house and worked several cases for the family who lived here.”
Once they gain more business as a wedding venue, Reel and Simon plan to turn the house into a bed and breakfast in about three years, to give couples and their families a place to stay. Since the house has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a pool, Reel said it could provide a more homey feel than a hotel but has the appeal of a destination wedding.
Having grown up on her father’s Congerville angus farm, Reel said she’s not afraid of hard work — “and that’s what it’s taken to get us this far.”
Kelsey Watznauer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kwatznauer.