In one performance, the show will bring together murder, romance, dancing and cruising the circuit.
“Tales of Downtown” is built as both a play and documentary, and it will include original songs, too.
“There are many ways to show off the history of our community,” said Teresa Nguyen. “So why pick one way when it’s supposed to be entertaining?”
Four local groups have put together the pieces for “Tales of Downtown,” and those groups include the Rock County Historical Society, Janesville Access Television, Hedberg Public Library and the Janesville Performing Arts Center. The show will run Friday-Sunday, Sept. 14-16, at JPAC, 408 S. Main St.
Last year, the groups combined to put on “Tales of Old Marshall,” a play about the former Marshall Junior High School.
Nguyen is a history teller with the Rock County Historical Society. As co-writer and co-producer for “Tales of Downtown,” she can take stories from her work and bring them to life on stage, she said.
Nguyen called the historical walk through Janesville’s downtown through the decades a “fun documentary,” and an “entertaining walk through time.”
“It really shines a positive light on our community in spite of some of the difficult growing pains we’ve experienced,” she said.
In digging through the city’s history, Nguyen said she grew to appreciate the City Ice Company, which closed in 2013 after opening in the 1800s. The long-running business survived numerous transitions to the world around it.
The business started with a horse and buggy and by cutting ice from the river, she said.
“And, really, it’s an important part of the business community of downtown Janesville and Janesville as a whole,” Nguyen said. “We just don’t realize how much ice has been important through the decades.”
Michelle Dennis, head of access services for the Hedberg Public Library, is directing the play. Dennis, who said she has a “passion for theater,” wrote the script with Nguyen.
Researching for “Tales of Downtown” led Dennis to several interesting facts about the city that seemed to have been lost, she said. For instance, the man for whom Janesville is named—Henry Janes—didn’t have nearly the local impact Dennis had previously heard he had. He actually left town after three or four years, ending up in California.
The play will feature those who have been in Janesville for a much longer time.
Two newlyweds will play the young versions of Alan and Betty Dunwiddie, who Nguyen said have been married for 67 years. The Dunwiddies met at Merchants & Savings Bank and are deeply rooted in Janesville history, she said.
Although the play is a look at Janesville’s past, Nguyen said “Tales of Downtown” also has an eye on the present and future. Creating the show helped her understand the nostalgia about the city’s past and better understand those who are “enthusiastic” about bringing back the downtown area.
“It’s like everyone has this desire to make our community greater,” she said.
Nguyen said she is on the board of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. With an eye toward the city’s efforts to improve the downtown, a quotation on the group’s board meeting table caught her attention recently.
The quotation, which Nguyen said came from Maura Gast, reads: “Build a place people want to visit, and you’ll build a place where people want to live. Build a place where people want to live, and you’ll build a place where people want to work.”