PETERSBURG — The theater in the park at New Salem State Historic Site in Lincoln returns to its outdoor stage in Kelso Hollow beginning Friday with a musical that carries an appropriate message about resilience.

“A Little Princess” will be TIP’s first production since the pandemic quarantined the state more than two years ago.

“When this (pandemic) started, we had tried to find a way to get 200 people (in the theatre), into their groups and modules, but that wouldn’t have brought in enough revenue to pay our bills,” said said Kari Catton, Executive Director of TIP.

As the state shut down and the theater itself went dark, the TIP leadership remained active throughout, Catton said, noting that the “met every other month or every month.” , working on reopening plans – “Option 1 or Option 2, depending on what the governor said.”

They applied for and received grants which, together with donations, helped carry out TIP.

They pushed TIP’s 2020 season to 2021 and then to 2022.

In addition to live theater, Theater in the Park audiences can now enjoy the official state theater of Illinois, after Bill 4986 became Public Law 102-0789 and granted the designation to TIP, touching a bit of history in the process.

According to Kari Catton, executive director of TIP, The Great American People’s Show, a repertory company that performed in New Salem for about 20 years, was once the state theater. But it disbanded in the mid-1990s, when the theater site at the New Salem State Historic Site in Lincoln was undergoing renovations. When it reopened a few years later, it was as Theater in the Park, which later became a non-profit organization.

-Angela Bauer

“Last fall we were like ‘this can’t go on anymore,'” Catton said of the pandemic. “We had a season together and did our due diligence in hope.

“A lot of other organizations are coming back as well, which is great to see.”

When TIP went dark, its management promised cast members already cast in the 2020 season that they could still get their roles next year, if they remained interested.

“People who auditioned for shows two and a half, three years ago, we kept their roles if they liked them,” Catton said. “It’s not fair to the actors, we thought, if we said we were just going to recast the whole show.”

They are also taking sanitary precautions, including continuing to disinfect rehearsal spaces after each rehearsal.

“We had to work with the directors to make sure they were comfortable with the show,” Catton said. “They had the choice of saying ‘everyone on our show needs to be vaccinated’ or not. … We also encouraged all of our directors to work with stunt doubles,” in case a cast member tested positive for COVID- 19 and should be quarantined.

“We’re trying to do everything we can and keep everyone healthy and safe,” she said. “This first show has children, so we want to make sure everyone stays healthy and safe for them too.”

Actors’ health and safety aside, Catton – and the performers are all watching to see how audiences turn out again for live theater.

“We’re working on getting the word out that, hey, we’re back,” Catton said. “But if people will actually come out, we’re not sure. There are people who are still reluctant to get involved in groups because of COVID.

Audiences visiting Friday’s opening will hear the story of a young girl who struggles to survive in a London boarding school while her father is at war. When her father is missing and presumed dead, the young girl goes from being treated very well to being treated like a servant at school.

“It’s about being thrown into a situation and having faith in your own personal integrity to see through that struggle and move through it in a positive way,” Catton said. “Keep going, don’t let negativity ruin you.”

Theater in the Park presents “A Little Princess,” directed by Cari Wilmert, at 8 p.m. June 10-12 and June 16-18 in Kelso Hollow at the New Salem State Historic Site in Lincoln. Tickets, available online at or by calling 217-632-5440, are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for children 12 and under.

A free pre-show will precede each performance from 7 p.m. to 7:40 p.m.

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