Rockford Stories and Tips

Starlight Theatre

Cast of "Cats" on the stage of Starlight Theatre Photo,

Anyone would be mesmerized at this stunning architectural building at Rock Valley College. It features a retractable roof and has more than 1,000 seats. You can watch this college’s musicals under the stars in the summer months here. This Theatre is the longest-running summer theatre program in the Rockford, IL area. An average of 35,000 people come to the Rock Valley College campus to view the shows each June and July.

This theatre has its humble beginnings. Back in the fall of 1966 a group of Rock Valley College students desired to bring their community to an area by the Spring Brook and Mulford Roads. They thought they could influence the public on appreciating the scenery of their college’s farm setting. With assistance from the Dean of Community Services, they did this by performing a musical next to a beautiful farm pound. They performed the musical called "Finian’s Rainbow." This production was about how racial barriers can be overcome through hard work and a little bit of magic. What ended up happening was that the Opening Night of "Finian’s Rainbow" was a bigger success than anyone thought it would be! This wonderful production was watched by the community. They came in droves with lawn chairs to see this show! Now, after the past thirty-nine summers, Starlight has given audiences 112 productions. The performers, volunteers and crew have shared their love for the arts in front of 846,000 audience members. Consequently, it is them that make Starlight Theatre what its premise is today---”to provide a creative outlet for both students and the community. It is a place where people work together to provide a positive, affordable, and accessible cultural activity showcasing the beautiful setting and amazing talent that the community possesses.”

Thanks to a group of citizens back in the middle 70’s that decided that the permanent structure was needed to house Starlight Theatre, a stage, orchestra pit and a rough graded seating area were erected. These were built by private donations only.

Sjostrom & Sons, Inc. built the facility as a donation in memory of Bengt Sjostrom (Rockford builder and civic leader) . Consequently, the theatre that houses Starlight is called Bengt Sjostrom Theatre.

Although I absolutely marveled at the Starlight Theatre’s architecture (a 200-foot, star-shaped, articulated retractable roof), the inside of it is pretty remarkable too. The college made many renovations for the Bengt Sjostrom Theatre. They are the following: easier accessibility; increased seating capacity to 1,100 (before it was 599); on-site rest room facilities; on-site box office for both ticket purchase and pickup; on-site concession stands; state-of-the-art theatrical technology; construction of 150-foot proscenium stage house which included improvements like: a fully functional fly system, larger stage platform, a completely protected stage, and a stage house that provides an acoustical barrier from other area events. But I have to admit, the most stunning renovation was the construction of the 200-foot, star-shaped, opening roof in June 2003.

What I really like about this theatre is that for the majority of its history, the performers at Starlight have been volunteers. However, many times professional performers come to Starlight and donate their services. They do this because they want to have a chance to play a certain role or to sing a particular composer’s music. Along with these individuals, are the talented amateur dancers, singers and actors which all then work with professional directors and choreographers. Together all these wonderful people end up producing top-rate musical productions.

I also like how the Starlight can keep the cost ticket prices down. The theatre only expects ticket revenue to cover only 75% of the cost of producing the season. Through program advertising and the donations of patrons, the remaining 25% is made up. Along with this, a music teacher and cultural sponsor named Leola Arnold left her estate to the College. And this estate supports cultural activities which include the musicals here.

I highly recommend you coming to Starlight Theatre. Not only is the construction of the theatre stunning, but it provides live theatre which is always great family fun.

The Starlight Theatre is located at 3301 N. Mulford Rd., Rockford, IL, 61114. You can purchase tickets by calling (815) 921-2160 or you can purchase them by going to the following website:

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