“I got some good parts in the first few plays,” the future star wrote his uncle. “I hope my good luck will continue.”
But the legendary comic wasn’t on Broadway when he made that wish, or even off Broadway; rather, performing in a converted barn in rural Greene County. In 1967, John Belushi had just graduated from a high school outside of Chicago when he went to spend the summer at Bloomfield’s Shawnee Theatre.
Landing a few good roles that summer in the Shawnee’s productions of Anne of a Thousand Days, Ten Little Indians and The Tender Trap, Belushi graduated to the Second City comedy troupe and, ultimately, the cast of Saturday Night Live.
In the meantime, the theater that had launched Belushi, along with fellow TV stars Ken Kercheval and Marie Masters continued producing mysteries, musicals and dramas.
Chicago theater professor H. Adrian Rehner and his brother, artist and set designer Robert Pataconi-Rehner had hatched the plan for the Shawnee Theatre when they bought a summer home in Bloomfield, formerly part of Shawnee Indian lands.
The town of 2500 got behind the idea with material support—a barn was donated– along with lumber and carpenters’ labor–and locals attended fund-raising dinners.
On July 6, 1960, the curtain went up on the theater’s inaugural production, My Three Angels.
Within twenty years, the theater outgrew the original barn, and moved to a dedicated building south of town on State Road 231. A Lilly Foundation grant of $271,000 in 1998 refurbished the theater, providing funds for capital improvement projects.
Although the theatre is not an Equity house, actors from all over the US travel to Bloomfield each summer to perform in one of the season’s six productions.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009, the Shawnee Theatre is the longest-running professional summer theater in Indiana.