According to a Club history written in 1941 by Mrs. Harry Beardsley, a charter member, there was a Wheaton Drama Club for some years before World War I. Its approximately 100 members met monthly on the second floor at 121 North Main Street. The old club, unable to survive the war, suspended operation permanently in 1918.
Our next link with the past came on a hot July night in 1927, when some 20 members of the Women’s Department Club of Wheaton met to form a drama reading circle within the literature department. The new circle within this department fell heir to the library of the old Wheaton Drama Club and included some of its members. The drama reading circle functioned successfully for three years under the chairmanship of Mrs. Donald Proctor.
The ladies discovered that it is hard to read plays without men and young people to fill some roles. Male membership increased; the need to rent a hall was pressing, and a new financial structure became desirable. In 1930, the group decided to reorganize on a new basis. They withdrew from the Department Club, passed a set of by-laws, elected a president, J. Watt Reber, and in 1931 Wheaton Drama Club (WDC) was born.
Wheaton Drama Club history reflects the history of the country. In the early 30’s the ticket price for public productions fell to 40 cents. Club funds were tied up by the “Bank Holiday” ordered by the government in 1933. Public productions were suspended during 1935 – 36 “on account of the Depression”, but monthly readings went on. During World War II, the only public production presented was a highly successful benefit for the USO in 1943, “George Washington Slept Here”, by Kaufman and Hart.
Growth of the western suburbs was reflected in the growth of WDC membership, which reached 305 in 1951. The following season, a revised constitution limited membership to 275, with a waiting list.
In 1957, WDC began presenting Children’s Theatre, often in conjunction with PTA groups, clubs, and other area organizations. Our Road Show troupes, first organized on a regular basis in 1960 by Dick Noble, have been offering fine entertainment for organizations since then.
In 1965, WDC incorporated as a non-profit organization. By 1972, the board of directors increased its membership to ten elected offices, and seven years later to twelve. A break with tradition gave the Club its first woman president, Alice Burnham.
There has been a warm relationship between the Wheaton Public Library (WPL) and WDC since 1931, at which time all members of WPL were also members of WDC. The library housed the Club’s collection of playbooks until 1972. WDC adds to the WPL theatre book collection by presenting memorial books in the honor of WDC members lost through death.
In 1978, constitutional revision changed our name from Wheaton Drama Club to Wheaton Drama, Inc. (WDI). In 1979, WDI staged its first dinner theater production in cooperation with Wilton Manor Restaurant. At the end of the 1987-88 season, WDI was forced to leave Washington School building because it was once again needed as a school. Our storage quarters were moved to Brandon Woods development (formerly Maryknoll Seminary) at 1S101 Route 53, Glen Ellyn.
A Permanent Home
In the spring of 1993, an ideal location was discovered at 111 North Hale Street, formally Toad Hall Bookstore and Household Bank. On June 29, 1993 papers were officially signed, making 111 North Hale Wheaton Drama’ s home. The facility was renamed Playhouse 111 and the bylaws were amended to reflect new policies and procedures pertinent to the building.
The first production at Playhouse 111, Follies, premiered on September 16, 1994. In 2004, the building was enlarged to accommodate larger audiences and create more backstage space. The theatre reopened in the spring of 2005 with a production of Moon Over Buffalo.
The full history of WDI Public Productions includes over 200 shows.