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Backstage with Ron Onesti: The Arcada and time with Kevin Costner

It’s been 86 years since the Arcada Theatre opened to Vaudeville audiences in St. Charles. The biggest names of the day graced its stage – George Burns and Gracie Allen, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, The Little Rascals and so many more. For the next 80 years, its ride would be a rocky one. From talking pictures to community theater, back to film blockbusters and local events, then to its semi-retirement with $4 brew-n-views.

I have been in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years producing concerts, festivals and corporate events around the country. I had always dreamed of a place to call my own ... a place to showcase the many entertainers with whom I have established a friendship with over the years. When the Arcada became available eight years ago, I pounced on it, and things would never be the same in downtown St. Charles.

Since then, the theater has hosted legendary names in entertainment, produced several television specials and created some of the most memorable events in St. Charles’ history. With almost 30 years in the business, you can only imagine the countless stories and behind-the-scenes encounters I have had. The stories are just so cool, I would like to share some of them with you.

One of my favorite experiences actually happened just recently. Hollywood superstar Kevin Costner performed his country, roots-rock show by us. (I couldn’t believe it either! I have been trying to get him for years, and the persistence paid off, especially winning it over those downtown Chicago venues).

It turns out he started out in a band, kept in touch with his old bandmates and kept the music going. He even told me that if he had to choose one or the other, he would take music over movies.

He was awesome! And probably the coolest thing about his show was that he interwove his movie career within the fabric of the evening. He would start out by saying, “I wrote this one on the set of ‘The Bodyguard.’” Then he would talk about “Dances With Wolves” and play a song that he wrote while shooting that film.

It really gave the audience a neat perspective on his life and his music.

He was filming the whole day for a music video of one of his songs. During his rehearsal, he abruptly stopped singing and told the video cameras to focus backstage. My 7-year-old daughter, Giuliana, was dancing with his 26-year-old daughter, Lily, whose incredible voice was part of the show. It was such a cute and wholesome moment, the director in him made him capture it on film. “Maybe I should get Giuliana an agent,” I was thinking!

He spent two days with us, walking the town (freaking people out), having breakfast at Colonial and just blending in. He was down to earth, humbly hiding beneath a baseball cap. He was very complimentary about the theater, admiring its architecture and applauding us for saving it. “In a roundabout way, I have you to thank for this, Kevin,” I said. I told him that I played semi-professional baseball and visiting the Field of Dreams, the baseball diamond featured in his film of the same name, was on my bucket list. So, my brother Rich and I ventured off to Iowa toting our baseball mitts to “throw it around” on that famed diamond. This was at the time we were to make a decision about acquiring the theater eight years ago. It needed so much renovation, was not doing well as a business, and was over an hour away from my house. My wife and I were also with child – I had to be out of my mind!

While playing catch amongst the cornstalks, the, “If you build it, they will come,” line from the film kept resounding in my head. Finally it really hit me. I ground the ball into the sacred dirt of the field and gave it to my brother as a souvenir and said, “We gotta do this theater thing.” I called the previous owner from there and a few short months later, we were calling St. Charles home.

Telling the story actually brought a couple of tears to my eyes, and Kevin was also visibly emotional about it. He put his arm around me and called Lily over, “Ron, I want you to tell my daughter that story. What you just told me is the main reason I do what I do.”

We had an amazing, sold-out performance that night. He was leaving right after the show, so we said our goodbyes quickly. After everybody was cleared out of the theater, the guitars packed up and the tour buses gone, I went down into the dressing rooms, thinking about the incredible experience we all had that day. I think what meant most to me was how impressed he was with our historic theater. It seemed as if he really cared about it.

On the table in his dressing room was a “Field Of Dreams” poster! I wondered if he had signed it and forgot to give it to somebody. It WAS signed. Those few tears from earlier returned. It read, “Ron, you built it, and they came. Congratulations, Kevin.”
How cool is that?

Let me know if there is a celebrity question you would like answered. I can be reached at Celebs are my thing!

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