The setting was 5 Turner Alley, studio apartment of regionalist artist Grant Wood. The year was 1925. A small group of theatre enthusiasts produced the fantasy Cardboard Moon for a capacity audience of thirty. They enjoyed cookies and coffee afterwards and asked each other rhetorically, “Why don’t we have a theatre?” and the “Little Theatre” movement was born in Cedar Rapids. For the next four years they undertook a sporadic number of small productions.
Then, in 1929 a young woman, Catherine Hunt, returned home from dramatic school. She sought out David Turner and asked him a pointed question. “Are there any people in Cedar Rapids interested in organizing a little theater?” David organized a meeting of about thirty men and women at the vacant second floor of the old Mansfield House at Third Avenue and Seventh Street. The building had been, in order, the Turner Mortuary, a home for an art school, and headquarters for the Hobby House, to whom the second floor belonged at the time. Catherine outlined her idea and the Community Players exploded into being.[hr_small]
The first play, Dover Road, starred Marie Fennell and Tom Sinclair. It was performed in the old third-floor Killian Tea Room and played to a full house. Four more shows were produced in the first season: The Queen’s Husband, Outward Bound, The Famous Mrs. Fair, and You and I.
The Community Players flourished for the next ten years. Rehearsals and meetings occurred in the second floor space where Grant Wood and Marvin Cone also built and painted scenery. Any available stage was their place of production. They managed with private homes, church basements, the McKinley School auditorium, and finally the little theater at the YMCA, which the players helped remodel.
The social committee was so successful at organizing tryouts that those events often drew one hundred or more people. Doughnuts and coffee and the usual endless conversation were served afterwards. The after-show parties were spontaneous, and eventually the committees, casts and crews had to open them to the admiring public.
From the first, the Community Players knew the sort of project they wished to foster in the community. They intended their plays to both entertain and educate, and they insisted on the best possible production. As a result, there were productions that were truly excellent, many that were good, and a small share that were “noble stinkers.”
Then, in 1940, the war interrupted the Community Players, and live theatre produced by the group was halted for the duration of WWII.[hr_small]
The Footlighters was born in October, 1948 as a sort of hopeful reincarnation of the Community Players. They made their public debut with Years Ago, presented in the Coe College Little Theater. The season continued with Guest in the House, The Drunkard (a show which was, at least, long on quantity), and Night Must Fall. Amazingly, the Footlighters completed their debut season with seven hundred dollars in the bank!
For the 1949-50 season, the theatre hired Burt French as full-time director, concentrated on its first season ticket drive to build a community-wide audience, and set up a volunteer system to insure community participation in the working organization. Six productions were staged at the YMCA. With the 1950-51 season, John McElhaney succeeded Burt French as director. Somehow, Mike squeezed five ambitious productions on the YMCA Little Theater stage. The Women, however, was produced at Coe College.
In 1951, the Footlighters engaged director Don Tescher. The theater made tremendous progress under Don’s direction and leadership. The quality of Footlighter shows improved with each season and, with it, audience and membership steadily increased. Some 500 people saw Years Ago in 1948. 2,500 people attended Mister Roberts in 1954.[hr_small]
In 1955, the 221 seat Old Strand Theatre, a 1912 vintage movie house originally named The Olympic, became the permanent home of The Footlighters, now renamed The Cedar Rapids Community Theatre (CRCT). Many shows could be successfully produced that were impossible under the previous limitations.
Over the next 20 years, CRCT flourished under Tescher’s direction. Major musicals became part of the seasons. Shows toured to smaller communities, and productions were entered in the Iowa Community Theatre Association festivals. In 1968, the addition of air conditioning to the building allowed for an expanded production calendar. Season ticket prices grew from $6 in 1955 to a whopping $17 in 1976.
In 1977, Mick Denniston was hired as executive director, joining Technical Director Doug Anderson. CRCT experienced explosive growth in both ticket sales and programming. An educational outreach program was launched, youth programming was increased, and the size of the staff was expanded.[hr_small]
In 1981, Richard Barker became Artistic Director and was at the helm when the theatre moved to its current location. Thanks to the generosity of the David and Audrey Linge family and a multi-million dollar capital campaign, the theatre makes its home in an elegant 500 seat theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Nearly 26,000 patrons attend TCR in the course of the September to July season. With a professional staff of 9, a volunteer base of more than 600, and a Youtheatre education program serving nearly 300 youth, TCR has evolved to become one of the larger community theatres in the country.[hr_small]
Located in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Iowa Theater Building is home to Theatre Cedar Rapids, which is among Iowa’s largest community theatres.
The theatre first opened its doors in 1928 as a vaudeville and movie house. The 1200 seat theatre was beautifully furnished with ornate antiques and offered one of the first “crying rooms” for mothers with fussy babies. A “Rhinestone Barton” theatre organ dominates the orchestra pit, and is the only one of its type still in operation today. Live acts were performed in front of the silent movie screen to the accompaniment of the organ. It was about a year later that the vaudeville acts took a backseat to the more popular moving pictures. For the next 50 years, the Iowa, with its hallmark two-story ear of corn on the corner facade, was one of Cedar Rapids’ largest and most popular movie houses.
Shortly after closing its doors as a movie theatre in 1980, the Iowa became the new home to the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre. Over 2.5 million was raised in two capital campaigns to readapt the facility to a 513 seat, handicapped accessible proscenium-stage theatre. Rehearsal space, dressing rooms, a new green room and administrative offices were added. Much of the original grandeur was retained, while adding state-of-the-art lighting, sound and stage rigging systems. Four years ago, the scene shop was moved to a spacious off-site location.
In addition to the mainstage season, the facility remains busy throughout the year with other events, ranging from youth camps to movies to classes to concerts.
Early in 2008, Theatre Cedar Rapids announced “The Next Act” capital campaign to refurbish the Iowa Theater Building. Following the disastrous midwestern Flood of 2008, which displaced TCR from its home, the organization renewed its commitment to the building and the campaign, and the Grand Reopening was held on February 26, 2010.
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