Welcome to the Englert
Kent Smith has welcomed more than a quarter of a million patrons through the theater's doors
Kent Smith’s gloved hands remain clasped at his waist as he waits patiently beneath the flashing bulbs of The Englert Theatre’s marquee.
When the multitudes of theatregoers descend upon him, he calmly, deftly, springs into action. More shepherd than doorman, he directs traffic, flitting between the five front doors.
A lady in red darts inside and remarks as she passes, “You must live here.”
“Yes, I do live here, up on the third floor with Mr. Englert,” replies Smith, not skipping a beat.
Smith has heard that one before, and many other similar comments during his 5,000 hours of volunteer service at The Englert.
How the doorman was born
It all started in 2005 when Kent and his wife Diane Smith began volunteering as ushers. And more than 1,000 shows later, he is still here.
“I love the people and the environment, it is always changing. It is so much different than my real job,” he said. “In my real job I sit in an office with no windows and computer screens around me all day."
When Smith first arrived he had no aspirations of being the doorman, however one day early in his tenure, the theatre was hosting a performance that drew an elderly crowd.
“Someone just needed to get the door for them,” Smith said, who has since been given the title of head usher. “And then all the old ladies really started getting a chuckle out of having some nice gentleman open the door for them.”
But in 2011, with The Englert’s centennial celebration fast approaching, the theatre staff began hatching a plan to provide Smith with a token of their appreciation.
The very purple coat
After playing doorman for some time, Smith expressed interest in procuring a replica of a vintage Englert doorman’s coat and wanted to look at pictures of the coat he had heard was housed at the Johnson County Historical Society.
“We had to do a little bit of a sneaky thing and say we don’t know where the pictures of the coat were,” said Sarah Shonrock, the patron services manager for The Englert.
Shonrock and others did this because they were in the process of having an exact replica of the plum colored coat sewn — a process that took 32 hours to complete — by Bonnie Jenkins, the former costume shop supervisor for the University of Iowa’s theatre department.
In order to keep Smith in the dark, Jenkins had to take measurements off of Smith’s other garments stored at The Englert.
They also needed an accurate head measurement for the hat that was to accompany the coat, and so everyone on staff had their heads measured and they fed Smith a fictitious story that everybody would be receiving a celebratory hat.
On October 11, as a part of the kickoff to the centennial celebration, Smith was brought out on stage to be honored and was presented with the matching coat and hat.
“I was just thrilled, it made me want to cry, and it made him feel really appreciated,” said Diane Smith, who has volunteered more than 1,000 hours at The Englert. “I just had to laugh about how [the staff] hid it from him, they didn’t even tell me that until after.
Why Kent volunteers
Smith could spend his time volunteering anywhere, but he chooses The Englert.
He doesn’t do it for perks or awards, although he was recently honored by the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance with the Larry Eckholt Award, an award for community members who provide service to the arts.
The reason he does it is simple: He has fun.
“When you find something you like, you put 120 percent into it, and you keep going and going and going until you get burnt out on it,” he said. “So far we are seven years into it and we are not burnt out yet.”
And if that day ever comes, Shonrock said she is not sure what the theatre would do without their doorman.
“If he ever retires from doorman, we are going to get a statue out front that is doorman for us,” she said. “I hope he is here a long time, even if he decides he cannot commit that much, we still hope he comes some, he is definitely part of The Englert family.”
But that day, at least according to Smith, seems a long way off.
For The Englert just wouldn’t be the same without the man clad in purple, standing out front, cheerfully remarking as he opens one of the tall wooden doors…“Good evening, welcome to The Englert.”