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COVER STORY, DUPAGE COUNTY | Celebrating the Arts


Taking in a good play, musical, concert or comedy show is an experience that could elicit any number of emotions. Live performances touch parts of your soul and make you smile, cry, laugh and maybe even cheer. We caught up with a few of our residents that are a part of creating and presenting our local performing arts productions to explore what they do.


GLEN ELLYN – The entertainment business has been Diana Martinez’s life for over 25 years. The current Director of the McAninch Performing Arts Center at College of DuPage and lifetime Glen Ellyn resident started when she was in 3rd grade when she landed a part in The Velveteen Rabbit and had the bug ever since.

Throughout high school, Diana worked as the Stage Manager for the professional summer theatre program called the Before Broadway Players. After receiving her degree in Theatre Management from the University of Illinois, she came back to direct the program along with directing over 40 musicals in 13 years for Pheasant Run Resort and eventually becoming their Director of Entertainment and Marketing. Diana was then offered a position at Paramount Theater in Aurora where she helped re-imagine programs, added a new lobby, Gallery and production space and activated a capital campaign. In 2009, she joined Second City, later became President and opened UP! Comedy Club, a new theatre for Second City.

Five years ago, the MAC was looking for someone to help them with their re-opening after being closed for remodeling. She jumped at the chance to work with the community she knew and loved – and the 10-minute drive to work was a bonus! What has helped her be so successful? “Directors need to appreciate two things to be successful – artists and audiences,” she explains. “Find the best artists to support, nurture and promote, then you find the audiences that appreciate and enjoy them.”



WHEATON – Wheaton resident, James Terrill-Liesz (63) aspired to be in the performing arts at a very early age. He would stage productions with all the kids in the neighborhood where he would write stories the kids could perform, and of course, he was always the director. He continued his theatrical involvement throughout high school and college. James majored in education and minored in Theatre Arts at North Central College, and later went on to get his Masters Degree in Theatre Arts from Northern Illinois University.

For thirty-four years, he was an English teacher and Drama Director in several local schools while still staying involved in community productions. He is now retired, but still going strong in the theater. Over the years, he has worked with many local theaters, but when he joined Wheaton Drama in 1981, he knew he had found someplace special. “The members of Wheaton Drama have become more than just people who get together to put on plays and musicals,” explains James. “Little did I know they would turn out to be my second family.”

James has been an actor in several of Wheaton Drama’s productions and previously served as Board President, but he is most notably known as a director. One of his favorite experiences was directing “Follies” in 1994 as the inaugural production of their Playhouse 111. “There was a huge cocktail party, the mayor cutting the official ribbon, and a standing ovation that night for the production. Playhouse 111 was born,” says James. “I will remember opening night for as long as I live.”


Johnny Rabe

NAPERVILLE– Johnny Rabe had a busy May. On May 12, The Chicago Academy for the Arts senior celebrated at the school’s prom. The next day, the Naperville resident flew to New York City for a three-day recording session for the album that will publicize the musical The Ways We Travel.

A professional actor since age 10, Rabe was accepted to Northwestern, Stanford, USC, and Virginia. He will attend Stanford University this fall.“Being an actor as a profession is such a diverse job,” Rabe said. “It’s not just one thing. I’m interested in acting, directing, writing, producing. I just find it’s intoxicating. It’s the most fulfilling thing I could ever do – being able to tell other people’s stories and share a connection with the audience, who most of the time are complete strangers.

“There’s such an empathy and human connection that is so rare, especially in this age of social media, and especially in a safe place.”Rabe has performed on Broadway, at four shows at the Lincolnshire Marriott Theatre – including his professional debut as a 10-year-old – and at several other area venues. Rabe’s mother, Lilah, said her son has always loved musical theater, and his favorite activity from the time he could walk was to dress up as a cowboy, pirate, knight, ninja, or Luke Skywalker.

“My husband and I have STEM backgrounds, but we wanted our two sons to have exposure to the arts as well, so I started taking Johnny and his older brother to theater performances when Johnny was about 2 years old,” Lilah Rabe said. “By the time he was 4, he was discussing after each performance which role he would like to play, and by 6, how he would have directed the show differently.

”Rabe has been at The Academy since the start of his sophomore year. He transferred in part because of bullying issues he faced at his previous high school.“My freshman year, I was very, very small and my voice hadn’t changed yet,” Rabe said. “I was a smaller teenager who just loved theater. The people who were nice to me with a small minority. I was pushed in the hallways, called names. It was very frustrating.

”Rabe said that immediately changed as soon as he began at The Academy. He commutes an hour each way from Naperville – taking the 706 train Downtown and then an Academy school bus to the school – but said the long-distance journey has been well worth it.

“There has not been a single unpleasant thing since I’ve been here,” Rabe said. “There has been no name calling, and it’s such a positive place to learn and grow and get better at what you want to do.”Andy Robinson, Musical Theatre Department Chair at The Academy, said Rabe has thrived at the school because he “loves the art form passionately.”

“And he uses that love for it to muster the discipline and work ethic to master the more complex performance skills,” Robinson said. “He also is a real intellectual, whose knowledge about other academic disciplines enhances his about theatre.”Rabe is thrilled to see where his career will take him after graduating from The Academy. He said the school has prepared him immensely as he’s transitioned from a child actor into a budding adult star.

“I feel prepared for anything that could come my way,” he said. “I’m ready for what the world has to throw at me.” -Photo & Story Submitted



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