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Star Prairie's Chapel Theatre open to the arts

The venue itself is the original church chapel built in 1948. Until recently, the space was being used mostly for storage with one classroom. It had mostly been forgotten. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
According to Jerry Ledo and Pastor Dan Pennington, the goal is to provide high quality space at a price artists with and without means can afford. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
The chapel itself has a small raised stage in front, stained glass windows, empty walls painted a cream white, recently refinished hardwood floor, and is estimated to seat up to 120 people. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

Fans familiar with the Star Prairie Jam founded by Jerry Ledo and friends and operated out of This Old Store since 2007 have an exciting new venue to look forward to.

Just across the river and up County M about two blocks stands The Chapel Theatre at Bethany Lutheran Church.

"The idea is this, nowhere around here is there really an arts center, a place where an artist or group of artists working in any genre of the arts, can come to exhibit, perform, rehearse and create. The Chapel Theatre is that place. I'm hoping to pull out of the woodwork all of the closet composers, writers of plays and other performers, who have their ideas written but don't have the wherewithal to bring them to life," explained Ledo.

Pastor Dan Pennington sees the union as a match made in heaven, so to speak.

"In a way, this is a more complete extension of what Jerry started at the Star Prairie Jam, which is strictly music for the most part. Now in addition to the musical talent, you can pull in almost any talent that needs a presentational venue. We have one and we're happy to share it," said Pennington.

The venue itself is the original church chapel built in 1948. Until recently, the space was being used mostly for storage with one classroom. It had mostly been forgotten.

A year ago, Ledo wrote and produced an original play, casting musicians and fans from the Jam, which debuted in the chapel. "Box of Chocolates" rocked the chapel and the community and demonstrated the potential of the space. The church took it from there, taking down walls, clearing items out of storage and eventually refinishing the wood floor.

"Margie Koehler. She and I spent months emptying that place before a few of us could get in there to tear down those old cubicle walls. Margie was the driving force for cleaning it up because she hates clutter and God bless her for it," said Pennington.

Ledo and his wife "Ruthie" Happe, decided it was time to sell the store in the heart of Star Prairie. Multi-tasking between running the store, maintaining the menu and producing the jam just got to be too much. The goal is to free up from the day-to-day running of the store to concentrate on the art by continuing with the Jam and adding The Chapel Theatre.

"We are transitioning toward our retirement. All of my musicians are also my friends, maybe even more so than musicians. They have become family at the store knowing that that space is for them," Ledo continued. "I had wanted to evolve the Jam. One of the reasons for the play was to give people an idea of what we could do at the church. The Theatre is a larger venue with more seating capacity and it is very adaptable. The Jam has always been very interactive with the audience. A lot of our musicians perform in bar bands. This will give them a different kind of venue in which to perform."

"I started talking to Jerry letting him know what was going on over at our place. We started talking about possibilities, about collaborating and that maybe we could do some things over here. I said I would love to have that chapel used for kids who need a recital space, for people who want to do a play, anybody who wants to do a presentation or small concert. We had our Christmas Tea in there last year," added Pennington.

When the Jam will actually move into The Chapel Theatre is up in the air at the moment.

"It's somewhat contingent on to whom our building sells. If the person who purchases the building is not interested in the music end of it, then I will bring the music up here right away," said Ledo.

Ledo wants artists out there, writers, composers, poets, photographers, painters, sculptors, designers, performance artists, musicians, actors, to know The Chapel Theatre is available today.

"It could be utilized tomorrow for anything. We want to be as inviting as possible, but it is a church, so it is also a matter of good taste. We're not here to offend anyone. I just ask that people get a hold of me so we can get them on the schedule. We'll see what we can do as a group to make it successful," said Ledo.

The chapel itself has a small raised stage in front, stained glass windows, empty walls painted a cream white, recently refinished hardwood floor, and is estimated to seat up to 120 people. Ledo said the only immediate addition will be to add more specific lighting. A projector system has also been kicked around for future events. Pricing to use the space is being described as "event dependent."

According to Ledo and Pennington, the goal is to provide high quality space at a price artists with and without means can afford. Artists will be asked to consider making a freewill donation. Fees from concessions and rental of additional church equipment will go to the church. Use of additional church spaces including the kitchen will be addressed under the church's facilities use policy. The Chapel Theatre has a no liquor policy carried over from the Jam. The chapel is not air conditioned but is comfortable and has a basement available as well as ample parking. A number of items are in the process of being worked out including security and commissions on the sale of artwork. The sale of tickets for specific events is also a possibility.

"I'm pretty sure the congregation is willing to let the infrastructure develop, but organically as it's needed. We have no problem helping things happen," said Pennington.

At least initially Ledo would like to see the space used more formally for scheduled performances, exhibits, recitals, etc.

"It's sometimes hard to define what we're looking for because we don't want to start with a bunch of restrictive rules. Hopefully the informality will promote experimentation. If you have an idea, just ask," said Ledo.

All inquiries about using the space should be directed to Jerry Ledo at 715-248-4800 or jamband@frontier.com.

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