Create in Beloit
Enjoy the many artistic, theatrical, and musical productions of Beloit’s cultural arts community, or dive into the creativity yourself!
Music and More is a series of outdoor summer concerts held almost every Friday night, starting in June and wrapping up in early September. The free performances are held at the Harry C. Moore Pavilion at Riverside Park, and are organized by the Friends Of Riverfront, a group of volunteers who share a passion for promoting Beloit’s award-winning riverfront.
The Friday night concerts draw up to 1,200 fans each week. “People absolutely love the concerts,” says Jennifer Kodl, executive director of Friends Of Riverfront. “It’s a great way to unwind from a busy week and enjoy good music at the same time.” Concerts begin at 7 p.m.
Another way to let loose is by Dancin’ at Harry’s on Monday nights all summer long. Free dance lessons are held at 7 p.m., also at the Harry C. Moore Pavilion, followed by an open dance at 8 p.m. “We get all ages and all abilities,” says Kodl. “The dancing ranges from ballroom to line dancing to square dancing. “It’s a fantastic night with the breeze coming off the riverfront,” she says. “People come to dance and enjoy themselves. It’s a fun way to spend a summer night.”
There has been a rebirth of sorts with the Rock River Philharmonic, formerly known as the Beloit Janesville Orchestra.
Besides a name change, the first since 1971, the Rock River Philharmonic will add more concerts starting next year and more variety of musical styles. “We will have three distinct series – Classical, Family Pops and Explorer,” says Michael Krueger, executive director.” In addition, performances will be held at the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Eaton Chapel at Beloit College, the Eclipse Center in Beloit and possibly area high schools. Outreach programs will also be available at area libraries and schools.
“The most important word is relevance,” Krueger says. “If you look at orchestras around the world, we’re trying to figure out how to remain relevant to all citizens in the community.”
They’re also trying to reach families and young people. “We want to pull groups of likeminded people together that may have no awareness of what an orchestra does,” Krueger says. “Once they experience what we’re doing, and gain some appreciation of the talent on stage, hopefully they’ll become advocates of the orchestra.”
From children’s productions with Kids Fun and Drama, award winning Beloit Memorial High School plays, to Broadway-quality productions by Beloit Civic Theatre, theater is woven into the creative fabric of Beloit.
Now in its 81st season, the Beloit Civic Theatre produces three productions each season, including a musical, comedy and the occasional murder mystery. “It’s typically a lighter fare,” says Sass. “We don’t do heavy drama.” The performances are held in the intimate 200-seat Elizabeth Reinholz Theatre at the south end of Beloit Memorial High School. There are nine chances to see each performance, including matinee performances on Saturday afternoons and now the first Sunday of each production. Tickets are only $10. Performances are popular with crowds of all ages, which include more than 1,000 season ticket holders, many of whom come from as far as Rockford and Madison. “The backbone of any community theater is the people who have day jobs, but still love the arts,” Sass says. “We have actors, ushers and even people who volunteer to bake cookies for intermission.”
Sass is no stranger to local theater. He came to Beloit in 1968 and taught at Lincoln Junior High and then spent 26 years at Beloit Memorial High School, where he was the theatre teacher and the director/designer for 51 productions before retiring in 2002. He was inducted into the Rock County United Arts Alliance Hall of Fame in 2009. “We’re fortunate to have excellent theater in Beloit,” he says. “In addition to the Beloit Civic Theatre, there’s great work going on at Beloit College and at the high school level.”
The Beloit Fine Arts Incubator (BFAI) is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers. Its goal is to provide resources to help emerging artists, offer community education and cultural events, and expand on the “Arts Center” theme. BFAI has affordable studio space for rent and provides a supportive environment for the artist to practice, create, exhibit and sell their art.
Monthly gallery shows are kicked off with a “BFAI First Friday’s Gallery Opening” and feature the work of local and regional artists. These events are free and open to the public and include complimentary hors d’oeuvres and refreshments. BFAI partners with downtown restaurants to offer dinner specials to make it an evening of dining and art.
Built in 1912 the facility at 520 E Grand Avenue originated as the Bell Telephone Company. The two-story construction of Chicago firebrick has since housed restaurants, the Elks Club and an antique store. In 1999, the Beloit Economic Development Corporation purchased the building on behalf of the emerging organization.
John and Jody Wittnebel have always been avid supporters of the arts in Beloit. Their support is so great that the Wittnebels took a leap of faith and purchased a historical downtown building with the vision of reviving the icon, to give the arts in Beloit a place to thrive and be enjoyed by the entire community. Today, that building is the home of The Castle.
In 2012, the Wittnebels purchased the former First Presbyterian church building, located at 501 Prospect Street, which was built in 1906 and has achieved national landmark status. Since then, family and community friends have rolled up their sleeves to creatively transform the space into a beautiful performing arts center. The Castle began with an idea sparked by a similar project in Minnesota where a worn-down church was brought alive when it was also converted into an arts center. “We can do that here,” thought Jody. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” They consulted with Beloit College, the Beloit International Film Festival, and the City of Beloit who all gave the Wittnebels plenty of encouragement.
“Our goal was to save the church from demolition and offer both commercial and philanthropic events,” says Jody. “We want to help various community groups while providing Beloit with a cultural centerpiece that will draw visitors and patrons from the Stateline area and beyond.”
When the Wittnebels bought the building they immediately began the painstaking process of refurbishing The Castle. John and Jody have personally done most of the work. John is frequently seen on scaffolding, renovating the decrepit innards of this old building, while Jody is surrounded by little ones playing music or using the space for educational programs. The Wittnebel’s three sons have pitched in with painting walls and replacing flooring, among other things. The focus of this renovation has not been to restructure the building, but to enhance its true beauty and restore it to its original glory. The main room, the Sanctuary, still has the original, beautifully-curved oak pews and stained glass windows. “My husband loves history,” says Jody. “This was the perfect place for us.”
Running the Castle is a family affair. Jody owns a marketing agency called Hourglass Media, a photography and videography studio, and John is a pilot for American Airlines. Brittnay, their daughter, handles the marketing, and Johnny, their son, is a music teacher. In addition, the Wittnebels recruited Greg Gerard, a Grammy-nominated Beloit musician, and director of operations for the Beloit International Film Festival, to help manage programming at the facility.
The Castle’s programs are designed to attract visitors to Beloit and characterize Beloit as a unique and interesting place to stop when driving down I-90. The Castle is available to organizations that range from large non-profits, such as the Beloit International Film Festival and the Rock River Philharmonic, to local educators, such as Beloit College, Doodles, and Miss Andrea’s Dance Factory, as a creative space to learn, teach, and perform. The Castle also is available for special events such as weddings, corporate events, parties, and presentations.
The Castle is also home to The Youth Unite (TYU), a local non-profit organization that provides wellness education and guidance to the community. Brittnay, a Beloit College graduate, founded TYU in collaboration with Beloit College. Today, TYU hosts concerts and events for youth, produces DVDs to spread the message of anti-bullying, runs a 24-hour help-line website, and sends role models into the schools to present their Character Education Assembly to students who struggle with bullying. “Kids are excited about coming here,” says Jody. “We give them a safe, welcoming, and fun place to go.”