1925: The “Little Theatre” Movement
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.
1929: The Community Players
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.
[Photo of Community Players production of Outward Bound, 1930]
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.
Catsy Cooper recalls:
In the early days when CRCT was trying to cast a show. a casting announcement would appear in the Gazette. Occasionally not enough people would show to BU aU the parts. So, we’d sit around at our meetings, and try to think of someone we knew that looked like the character we were trying to fill I remember when we were casting for Journey’s End and needed someone to play the role of Captain Stanhope. One of the women suggested a man because of his voice and great build: she didn’t know his name, but did know that he was the FaDer Brosh man. Somebody else thought of his name, he was contacted and he became one of our best actors.
In those early days during the Depression, the theatre was struggling for money to keep going. They used to Witte letters to Samuel French, Inc, pleading with them to give CRCT special consideration on royalties. Plays often had to be repeated several times to bring in more audience members. And believe it or not, Samuel French did give CRCT a break … times must have been hard for everyone.
When Max Hahn first tried out for theatre at CRCT at someone elseS request he wasn’t too thrilled, but after reading for a part he was so excited at the prospect of being in a show that he became determined to land the lead role. Later, he was expectant when he saw his name posted as one of the performers and happily accepted the part of one of three news reporters. In the play, however, he spoke but three words as he interviewed Don DeFore in a prison cell: “Are you Forester?”
Don DeFore came down to audition one time, and said he wanted to play the ”heavy” in the show CRCT was doing. Hazel Brown and Mary Lackersteen took one look at this young rosy-faced boy and asked him if he could dance. He said he thought he could so he ended up playing the hoofer on Broadway.
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.
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.
Written by Hazel Brown and Mary Lackersteen in 1955, Looking back at the Theatre’s early years:
As we look back on the organization of the Community Players thirty years ago. we remember it as more than an incident; it had all the elements of an explosion.
Sporadic theater had happened in a small way for several years. Best remembered are the times short plays were produced in Grant Wood’s studio to a capacity audience of thirty-odd people. They enjoyed coffee and cookies afterwards and asked each other the question, rhetorically, “WHY don’t we have a theater?”
The match that touched off the explosion was a young woman, Catherine Hunt, returned home from dramatic school. She sought out Dave Turner and asked him a pointed question. “Are there any people in Cedar Rapids interested in organizing a little theater?” And to Dave’s affirmative answer. “If you will call them to a meeting, I will take over from there.”
Dave’s calling brought about thirty men and women to 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.
The interested people sat in chairs, on crates and on the floor. Catherine outlined her idea in general and the Community Players exploded into being then and there. Before the evening was over plans had been made for choosing a Board of Directors, a play and practically its cast. Where to give it and how to finance it were matters turned over to committees formed on the spot. In a matter of days. the project was in full bud and well on its way.
The first play. Dover Road. starred Marie Fennell and Tom Sinclair. It was given in the old third-floor Killian Tea Room and played to a full house. When the last curtain fell, the first play of the first season was history.
After Catherine’s term as director. we took the job for five years. The vacant second floor of that first meeting hall became the natural rehearsal room and workshop of the players. Any available stage was their place of production. They managed with private homes. church basements, the McKinley Auditorium (when they had grown up a bit). and finally the little theater at the Y.M.C.A., which the players helped remodel.
The enthusiasm which caused the first founding explosion sustained the players for many years. The committee work became very popular. The play reading committee met weekly until their work was done, and they all had such fun they were the envy of all. The costume committee swore they had their noses in every closet in town. Henrietta Sheehy and her properties committee issued passes as permission to ride the trucks bringing parts from many homes to the theater, and returned same.
Marvin Cone and Grant Wood painted scenery on the vacant second floor. As the evening wore on, people would gather to watch. Once, while the boys were painting a library set of books, friends helped by suggesting good humored but slightly insulting, titles for the books. The people lampooned soon had wind of it and so did the town. Crowds surged backstage after each performance of that show to read those titles. The social community organized tryouts to the point where these events drew one hundred and more people. Doughnuts and coffee and the usual endless conversation were served afterwards.
The after-show parties were spontaneous on the part of the committees, casts and crews who eventually had to open them to the admiring public. These grew to be big ”talent show” affairs with original and very casual scripts. A local citizen who was once offered the honor of Board membership remarked slyly, “I’d rather be on a committee.” Board meetings were held regularly and always after each show. The affairs of the theater and committee reports were discussed at length with the directors. Two thoroughgoing men, Lael Abbott and Eugene Pinney, served on the budget committee and made the meetings serious and businesslike. There were the usual feuds and fightin’. war and peace, shouts and hisses- all leveled off by a story from Fran Prescott. or an “act” from Billy Stamats, and refreshments, to final harmony.
From the first the Community ·Players knew the sort of project they wished to foster in the community. They wished their plays to both entertain and educate. They insisted on the best possible production. As a result (and as the history books so faithfully kept by Ollie Larson Kellog will show} there were productions that were truly excellent, many that were good. and a small share that were “noble stinkers.” No one was ever satisfied. The theater workshop which promoted classics for upcoming actors was well developed by Albert Mcdeery. Lysistrata will never be forgotten.
The players participated in the play festivals in Iowa City. They once won second prize with an original play by Marguerite Newland.
Playwriting was encouraged by several statewide and middle-west playwriting contests. The winning play of each contest was produced. Winding Road by Donald Breed of Freeport, Illinois, featured Budd Lattner. Helen Hines wrote several prize-winning one act plays. Many famous actors and writers served as judges in these contests.
Enthusiasm bred work to meet the many problems and challenges of the theater business. Good work recreated good spirit And out of it all, “the most fun anyone ever had,” a remark indigenous to people who work in theater.
There were high moments Cedar Rapids will never forget: Ben Greet, the famous Shakespearian actor complimenting John Carey on his visit to a rehearsal of Journey’s End his heartening encouragement and praise- Don DeFore in Broadway- Leo Cooper and the star cast in The Last Mile- Mrs. Carey (rehearsing all day long on the busy second floor) in Craig’s Wife- Catsy Cooper wailing, “Henry, Henry, Henreeee” in Outward Bound All these and many more to be remembered on and on, as theater people are apt to do! The war interrupted the Community Players. Fortunately, the theater can skip. but it never stops.
Another generation now carries on the theater tradition in Cedar Rapids. The names are different the plays are different, and different procedures are used. But it engenders within itself the same problems, the same creative work and above all, the same fun that always goes with good shows and good work in the theater.
1948: The Footlighters
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.
As recounted by Kathryn McKay in 1955:
Well, we do remember when the Footlighters were born in 1948 as a sort of hopeful reincarnation of the Community Players- a group which produced wonderful theater before they disbanded in 1940. The foundling Footlighters were young. many inexperienced in theater, but convinced of two ideas: one. that Cedar Rapids people should have access to good live theater: and two, that a community-wide organization should provide an outlet for the creative talents of anybody interested in theater production.
It was October of 1948 that the Footlighters made their public debut with Years Ago presented in the Coe Little Theater and directed by Mrs. Hugh LaMont and Mrs. Clayton Ellis. Like over-anxious parents at a school program, we suffered through opening night, mouthing lines along with the actors, forcing laughs and displaying a desperate enthusiasm which we hoped would be contagious. There were birth pangs, but we survived them. In January, we produced Guest in the House directed by Mrs. Richard Morgan. It was a tremendous success. With new self confidence we next launched a party-production of The Drunkard a show that was, at least, long on quantity. We closed our first season with Night Must FaD. directed by Burt French. And we had seven hundred dollars in the bank!
The fifteen-man Board of Directors was headed that first arduous year by Horace Hedges, Jr. and Mrs. Ralph Gearhart, Jr. Robert Taylor took the gavel for the 1949-50 season. The Board 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-wide participation in the working organization At the- same time the Footlighters produced, under Burt French’s direction, an impressive six productions at the Y.M.C.A. The “Y” was a generous host and friend to the Footlighters as was Coe College, who later made room for us. We capped the 1949-50 season with that unforgettable Roaring Twenties party and revue at Armar. The profits formed the nest egg of a building fund. and a party with an original and hilarious show became an annual Footlighters event.
H. Bob Fawcett headed the Footlighters for the 1950-51 season and John (Mike) McElhaney succeeded Burt French as director. Somehow Mike squeezed five ambitious and effective productions on the Y.M.C.A. Little Theater stage. The WOmen, however, was produced at Coe … there is a limit to ingenuity and the cast had thirty-two adult-size females.
In 1951. the Footlighters engaged director Don Tescher. The theater made tremendous progress under Den’s direction and the vigorous leadership of Mrs. Donald Smith, president 1951-52: Craig Huston, 1952-54: Forbes Olberg, 1954-55. and Horace Hedges. Jr. Looking back, one is impressed by their diversity as well as the polish of their production. The quality ofFootlighter shows has improved with each season and, with it. audience and membership have steadily grown. Some 500 persons saw Years Ago in 1948: 2.500 people attended Mister Roberts. The organization has moved ahead to this exciting opening in its own theater. Many shows could now be successfully produced that were impossible under the previous limitations. Ambitious plans for future expansion are already on paper. But the Footlighters’ success is due to more than good direction and sound leadership. Community theater is the sum total of the efforts of many people doing many jobs. We can’t tell all their stories nor begin to give credit where credit is due. But the history of one small group, the set construction volunteers. is a good illustration of the kind of loyalty, ingenuity, and determination that helped this infant organization survive and thrive.
These hardy. cobweb-covered heroes with chapped hands and frostbitten noses have built fine, imaginative sets in unheated garages, in the murky depths of a half-excavated basement, and in a barn loft. The loft was, by our standards. luxurious -high ceilinged and heated- but unfortunately the bam was sold and torn down nine months after we had equipped it. Later. construction crews saw most of its labors destroyed by flood and vandalism in the Big Springs’ school basement. Salvaging what they could, the nomadic set builders moved to a former run laundry. One night the top of a tall flat hit the pet -cock of a barrel in the rafters above. The contents of the barrel cascaded down. deluging everyone and everything in a great scum of half frozen liquid soap.
After the laundry, the “scene shop” moved to an empty grocery store complete with pot-bellied stove. but no water. Only Don Tescher’s venerable panel truck and his willingness to be driver and day laborer. as well as director, made this constant moving possible.
Finally, a Good Samaritan, Lou Burkhalter. Jr .. opened the doors of the Shrine Temple stage and took in the homeless and weary wanderers. You can imagine from this sad saga how much a scene shop in our own theater means to the set construction crews. All the other production crews have faced similar obstacles and surmounted them as successfully with comparable help from the community. And. now with all the operations under one roof. those problems are past history. This new theater building* marks the end of Chapter I in the Footlighters’ story. The other chapters will have to wait. and the end of the book is nowhere in sight. For as long as a community thrives. community theater thrives, too.
Note: “This new theater building” actually refers to the old Strand Theatre.
1955: The Cedar Rapids Community Theatre
Grand Opening of the Community Theatre’s first permanent home, the Strand Theatre.
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.
Since the opening of the Strand Theatre back in 1955. the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre has come a long way. That opening night, as Nadine Subotnik wrote in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, was done in “true premiere style. A searchlight pierced the sky, floodlights shone on the theatre front and a huge birthday cake sat atop the marquee. Jack Ware. who has been onstage in past Footlighter productions, conducted sidewalk interviews. It was a gala first night.”
The season ticket price for the 1955-56 season was the princely sum of six dollars, which entitled you to five admissions to one play or to five separate productions. Not only did that season feature the opening of a new theatre, it also boasted the musical Crisis at Quiet Springs, an original work by Richard Pinney. It was the first musical ever presented by the Community Theatre and the cast included Bob Fawcett James E. Coquillette, Patricia Craemer, Peg Baird, Hulbert Rice, and Laurie Pirnie. Also, in 1956, there were some rumors around town that the play The Moon is Blue by F. Hugh Herbert was immoral. Pamela Gearhart remembers that the show was a sellout as “people thought they were going to see smut.”
In 1958 the production of Guys and Dolls featured performers Ann Hoover, Bill Jac~ Rodgers, Tom Meis, and Lita Daniels, and got Cedar Rapids businesses involved in producing the show. Such companies as King’s Crown Plaster Company. Nesper Sign, Monroe Screen Process Company, and Cryovac Company, all contributed labor and materials to the seventeen-scene production. Even the phone company got into the act by installing a telephone on a set which called for a phone booth scene.
For the 1960-61 season the season tickets prices ballooned to seven dollars apiece and Max Hahn celebrated 27 years on the CRCT stage. His first show was in 1933 with Don DeFore, who later went on to fame in New York and Hollywood. In a Gazette article about the occasion, Max is quoted as saying, “”m not certain about how much longer I will try out for roles. I always say this is the last one, but I’m always there for the next audition.”
After a three-year absence, director Don Tescher returned to the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre for the 1962-63 season. The opening show of that season was Rashomon, playing in the newly-redecorated theatre building. CRCT had recently installed “continental seating” as part of the renovation program and guaranteed “ideal vision” for every seat in the house.
During the summer of 1963 the musical Carnival was performed in a tent set up at Lindale Plaza, which seated 1,000 people. In order to promote the show there was a circus parade to the parks in town led by a calliope. There were six scheduled performances but more had to be added to accommodate the crowds. Just before the last three shows a big thunderstorm at 2 a.m. flattened the tent. Volunteers worked through the night to clean up and move the show to Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium for the last performances.
The second show of the 1963-64 season, which opened on October 17, 1963, was Auntie Mame. The cast of characters included David Carey as young Patrick Dennis, Cynthia Zievers as Auntie Marne, David Bolt as Claude Upson, Mary Duncombe as Doris Upson, Pamela Gearhart as Gloria Upson, Marylou Harrington as Agnes Gooch, and Virginia Allen as Vera Charles. In a review in the Cedar Rapids Gazette Jerry Elsea commented, “Community Theatre’s Auntie Mame is a hit.”
In 1964 four years of personal negotiation on the part of Don Tescher culminated in CRCT being granted the nonprofessional rights to produce the hit musical My Fair Lady. Performed that summer at the Coe College auditorium, the show required local painting contractor Francis Brinkman to paint 7500 square feet of set.
With the production of South Pactflcin 1965, CRCT marked no fewer than four anniversaries in the theatre’s history. South Paciflcwas the 150th production in CRCT’s history: it was performed in the 40th year since Cardboard Moon (Cedar Rapids’ first attempt at community theatre); the 1965-66 season was the lOth since CRCT had moved to its own home at the Strand: and, finally, South Pacific was highlighted by the 40th role in the Community Theatre career of Max Hahn.
One of the most interesting efforts of the sixties came in 1966 and 1967, when CRCT took touring companies of Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown 8 Body and Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology on the road. Both plays were designed with simple sets and small casts to facilitate travel. the first -ever touring shows for CRCT. John Brown’s Body featured three principal actors- Craig Tenney, Don Hastings, and Mary Duncombe-each of whom played several roles; a singing-speaking chorus of six; and the taped voices of the Jefferson High School choir. The production visited Ames and Cherokee and reopened the Opera House in Elkader. Spoon River Anthology had a cast of four: Richard Hubacek, Melissa Hubbard. Don Hastings, and Mary Duncombe. In addition to visiting several spots around Iowa (including Clinton’s Showboat, The Rhododendron), the cast and crew were invited to perform at an Edgar Lee Masters festival in the “Spoon River” country of Illinois. There the audience included members of Masters’ family and descendants of the people he had written about in Spoon River Anthology.
For the 1968-69 CRCT season, season tickets now cost $10.30 and the theatre added air conditioning and “comfortable seats,”
In 1972 Michael Jon Conner succeeded Francis Brinkman as technical director at CRCT and was instrumental in the success of the Community Theatre’s first entry into the Iowa Community Theatre Association’s 1973 festival. The production of Windows featured Bob Burrus and Anna Brown as a husband and wife, and Bill Lagle, Sue Ramsey, and Rick Titus as three youngsters who terrorized them.
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 1975 Don Tescher left CRCT and Joseph Sax was hired as the new artistic director. Doug Anderson also came aboard that year, as the new technical director/designer. For the 1975* 76 season a special Bicentennial Readers Theatre presentation had been scheduled, in addition to the regular five productions that year. The show was American Primitive by William Gibson. Season ticket prices that year were set at $17.76 (get it?).
The 1975 production of GodspeUfeatured Bruce Springsteen, Mary Kay Schuller, Jeffery McNulty, Susan McDonald, Nick Roberts, and others. Richard Hoffman served as musical director and Kathleen McNamara was the choreographer. A Gazette review of their show noted, “Cramped and creaky though it may be, the old theatre on Third Street S.E. provides a choice setting for CRCT’s latest production, the folk musical GodspeD.”
Director Mick Denniston was hired in 1977, the same year of the first CRCT -St. Luke’s Hospital Auxiliary joint venture, The Sound of Music. Performed at the Paramount Theatre, Sound of Music marked the beginning of a “renaissance” for CRCT. Season ticket sales have increased dramatically in the past five years, and more volunteers than ever are giving their time to the theatre.
In 1978, a CETA grant gave birth to an innovative theatre troupe at CRCT, the Post Script Ensemble. With members such as Richard Barker, J. David Carey, Nina Weidemann, and Tim Boyle, the P.S. Ensemble brought theatre into Cedar Rapids schools, health care facilities, and correctional institutions through workshops and improvisations. Their repertoire included memorable productions like Timing: or, I Don t Think We Are In Kansas Anymore and You Can’t Sweep Up a Rubber Band
The summer of 1979 brought summer theatre to Community Theatre stage again, this time in a joint venture with Coe College. CRCT produced Anns and the Man, The Good Doctor, and The Roar of the Greasepaint the Smell of the Crowd
The extraordinary growth of the theatre made expansion of the CRCT professional staff inevitable. When Mick Denniston left in 1981, his position was split into two: David Bolt. a long-time CRCT volunteer, and Richard Barker were hired as Managing Director and Artistic Director, respectively.
1981: Theatre Cedar Rapids
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.
The 1982-83 season continued to contribute highlights to the Community Theatre’s history. The production of Tribute (fall, 1982) marked Pamela Gearhart’s 40th appearance on the CRCT stage. as well as David Bolt’s 50th show in Cedar Rapids. In January, 1983, improvisational theatre came to the Community Theatre mainstage in the form of The Sixth Season: A Time to Recover.
With a new theatre facility, a growing Studio Theatre program. ever-expanding opportunities for children’s theatre, and new ventures into adult acting classes and summer theatre, it seems that CRCT is headed for a busy and challenging future.
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 evolved to become one of the larger community theatres in the country.
The Iowa Theater Building
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.
Sally Eggleston recalls TCR’s move to the Iowa Theater Building:
From the time ofbuilding sets in basements, storing them in garages and borrowing props and furnishings from every home in town, the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre has progressed into a bigger and better home than ever before. Appropriately the Grand Opening of its second permanent home is on the 50th Anniversary of the theatre.
The Iowa Theatre, on First Avenue and Third Street in downtown Cedar Rapids, was organized by Calvin Bard, a traveling circus man who came to town with the intention of making Cedar Rapids his home. It was constructed by the O.F. Paulson Company and celebrated its opening on June 6, 1928. Until bought by David Linge for the Community Theatre, it has been in the Paulson family throughout its existence.
The first show on that June evening in 1928 featured George Cervenka and his magic violin, and a large billing of song and dance acts. All the live acts through the years were featured in conjunction with a movie, the first of which featured Buster Keaton. A beautiful organ was installed. which is still there today. Don Pedro played the organ during the performances and even after vaudeville no longer made its appearance. there was the audience singing to the bouncing ball on the screen.
Not only were all the Warner Brothers’ fihns and other first-run features shown at the Iowa during its early history, but many live shows featuring such names as Ethel Barrymore, Katharine Cornell, and of course, Katharine Hepburn in the Philadelphia Story.
It was a beautiful building for its day. Not as flamboyant as the Paramount, but very well done and featuring twenty-five thousand dollars worth of antique furniture. There was also a “crying room” where mothers could take their fussing babies during the show.
One of the most memorable features of the early Iowa was the big CORN sign which could be seen all up and down First Avenue with its myriads of blinking electric light bulbs. When it ‘Was removed its eventual fate was unknown.
The summer of ’83 saw a flurry of activity at the old Iowa as it was being renovated in tme for its debut of Cedar Rapids Community Theatre’s 50th season. featuring the play Auntie Mame on September 30. The seating capacity had to be reduced to 500 in order to maintain the intimacy of the theatre, yet it doubles the seats available at the old theatre building. The floor was sloped to provide better viewing. with 250 seats on main floor and 250 seats on the newly renovated loge area. With the extra space allowed by this reduction, it was possible to include a much-needed rehearsal area. a space large enough to accommodate rehearsal of a musical, if necessary. There is also a small studio theatre to increase the building’s versatility for live theatre. Offices, set construction areas, and storage space is welcomed by the staff and hard-working volunteers of the Community Theatre.
All has been done to maintain the character of a well-kept building through not only renovation, but restoration of an historical building. A home which will now create more history as it bursts into the glory of a new future … Live theatre. part of the heart and soul of the arts and the culture of a community.
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.