When professor Don Shanower arrived at North Central College in 1955, theatrical performances were relegated to a second-floor room in Smith Hall, part of the Old Main building.
These days, with the opening of Madden Theatre in the new Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center, theater students and teachers are living the luxe life.
The 150-seat performance space complements the college's other performance venues, including Pfeiffer Hall and the newly opened Meiley-Swallow Hall.
"It's a black box," Shanower said of the Madden. "That means the audience sits three-quarters around, in a square."
Shanower, 86, is coming out of retirement for a one-time directorial turn at Madden's inaugural production, "The Diary of Anne Frank," which opens tonight, Oct. 16, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 19.
"This is the first time in 22 years that I'm directing a play at North Central College," Shanower said. "I was invited to come back and do it. I was flattered to think somebody as old as me would be useful."
North Central junior Antonia Jankowski, who plays the title role, said she is thrilled to work with Shanower, whose reputation is well-respected at the college.
"I felt so honored to audition for the show," she said. "He pushed for theater at this school. He is just this little spitfire. He's like this old, wise man who is just brilliant. Back in the day, he had to fight for space."
Shanower was a speech and theater professor at North Central from 1955 through 1986. He remembers how, early on, Pfeiffer Hall was reserved for music students; theatrical productions were barred from the hall on Benton Avenue.
He said he's glad to return to the world of theater for this show, a 90-minute program that will be presented without intermission.
"The play deals with the holocaust," Shanower said. "This is the story of a family being sequestered in a building in Amsterdam who are subsequently found by the Germans."
The story is based on the real-life diary of a young girl forced to hide from the Nazis during World War II.
Jankowski, a musical theater major, said she saw a production of the show when she was just 8 years old. She said she was amazed by Anne Frank's insight and maturity.
"She's just so brilliant for her age," she said. "I never wanted to play a part more in my life."
Shanower said years ago he directed a production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" for Summer Place Theatre in Naperville.
He said a return to theater and the college after more than two decades is both challenging and rewarding.
"You don't know anybody. You have to rely greatly on those who have invited you," he said. "I have a real splendid group of actors. I have so much help from the students that are part of the whole scheme. It sort of makes my life a little bit easier."
If you go
What: "The Diary of Anne Frank" presented by North Central College
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and 18, 9 p.m. Oct. 17 and 2 p.m. Oct. 19
Where: Madden Theatre at Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors
Info: (630) 637-7469 or northcentralcollege.edu