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A Palatine Past -- Willow Creek Theatre

A Palatine Past recalls growing up in Palatine in the 70s. My first job was at the Willow Creek Theatre.

Quietly, I peeked through the doors to surmise the size of the movie crowd. I smiled. I was gonna do it.

I walked back to the snack counter where where my dear friend Marcia stood merely standing there smacking her gum, doing no work whatsoever, staring at passing cars out the window.

It was 1980 and I was working part-time at the Willow Creek Theater, which presently is The Cotillion Banquets. I had been for two years. I also had a full-time job in the claims department of the Illinois Department of Transportation in Schaumburg and had become bored with the theater job.

“I’m gonna do it now,” I declared. This was the perfect time as our boss was off the premises.

Marcia burst out laughing at the very thought of it.

“Do it!! Oh God, you really are?” she asked as she continued laughing. No “you’re crazy, you better not;” no trying to talk me out of it; no warnings that we may get into trouble. Just the typical Marcia reaction to a cockamamie Sue antic: “Doooo it!!”

I was 17, Marcia 16, and she was a dear friend who loved to surrender to silliness with me.

Not wanting to miss a single moment of it, Marcia quietly positioned herself just inside the door into the theatre. It wasn’t a large crowd that night, but it wasn’t small by any means either. So there the crowd sat, engrossed in the movie (“The Final Countdown” featuring Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas), eyes fixed on the screen, some still lingering in their buckets of popcorn.

Suddenly, without a warning, a girl came out from a side door by the stage and proceeded to climb the stairs onto the stage.

It was I -- dressed in the silly, jumper dress theatre uniform. I calmly began to walk to the center of the stage. I’m flipping nuts is what I am, I thought as I eyeballed the entire crowd. The beaming light from the projector prevented me from actually seeing faces. I squinted a bit, knowing my silhouette was on the screen, interrupting the audience’s view.

 Without stopping, without skipping a beat in my stride, I raised both arms straight into the air and -- proceeded to do a cartwheel.

There I was, in all my glory, legs raised to the sky in a perfect circular motion as I rounded out the feat. As my feet met back with the stage floor, I continued walking in stride across the rest of the stage as if absolutely nothing just took place.

The audience sat in disbelief. Did they just see some chick do a cartwheel onstage in the middle of the movie?

They did.

When I reached the end of the stage I quickly ducked behind the curtain and ran backstage. I bolted out the back exit, up the hilly slope, around to the front doors, and back into the lobby where Marcia waited, laughing even harder than I was.

“Did you see how they were looking at each other?? Didja hear them laughing?!” she shouted. She was bent over at the counter; mouth wide open in laughter, eyes squinting already wet with tears. I myself could barely stand up straight as I felt my bladder was about to betray me from laughing so hard.

When the movie ended and the audience filed out to the lobby, they glanced over at me and smirked. Did they really know it was me?

The next evening I went into work and promptly was fired. After working at the theatre for nearly two years, I was being shown the door. Come to find out there were employees acting as sort of spies for the theatre owner seated in the audience the night before. The owner had two other theatres and he had sent a couple of undercover employees over to Willow Creek Theatre.

“He’s heard about all sorts of tomfoolery going on here,” my boss explained in that monotone voice of his, which only helped in amusing me more.

“I don’t work at the theatre any more,” I nonchalantly told my dad that evening. My mom was out of town. I looked up at him while smirking and answered his question as to why I was no longer employed at the theater.

For the next 25 years my dad would find this story of amusement one of his favorites to share with others. And if you pay real close attention, you’d almost swear you could detect a glimmer of pride in his eyes, as he’d relay the story.

“My daughter got fired from the movie theatre. She did a cartwheel on the stage.”

And by the way, on Sunday mornings the theatre allowed a local church group to hold their services there. When the church grew too large for the space, they moved. Where is that church today? In South Barrington – Willow Creek Church.

True story.

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