Community

New stage for Old Creamery Theatre at Kirkwood

Professional troupe partnering with community college

Vantage Point Architectural Services

This exterior view shows how the new Old Creamery Theatre facility on the Kirkwood Community College will look at dusk. The building, projected to cost about $5 million, is slated to open in 2021 for the professional theater troupe’s 50th anniversary.
Vantage Point Architectural Services This exterior view shows how the new Old Creamery Theatre facility on the Kirkwood Community College will look at dusk. The building, projected to cost about $5 million, is slated to open in 2021 for the professional theater troupe’s 50th anniversary.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the name suggests, the Old Creamery Theatre Company has a history of turning unlikely places into performance spaces. That’s about to change.

The professional troupe that began life in 1971 in a former dairy co-op in Garrison and moved to the former Amana Colonies Welcome Center in 1988 aims to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021 in a new state-of-the-art theater on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids.

The plan has been the works for two years, said Peter Teahen of Cedar Rapids, president of the theater’s board of trustees. The college has donated land for the 348-seat theater on the north side of the main campus.

“If you can find the windmill, you will find our site,” Teahen said.

The next step is for the theater to raise about $5 million through grants and donations.

“The Old Creamery has had a wonderful relationship with the Amana Colonies, but the building we’re in was never built for a theater,” Teahen said, adding that it sits on land owned by the Amana Society, which sold the structure to the Old Creamery for $1.

The current building lacks the overhead fly space needed for raising and lowering scenery, and the theater troupe had to add a handicapped-accessible restroom, put on a new roof and update the heating and cooling systems, as well as the sound system.

The new facility will have a fly system, increased wing space on either side of the stage, technical equipment upgrades, about 50 more seats, a larger lobby, a covered drop-off point that can accommodate two tour buses end-to-end, increased handicapped accessibility and seating and a 100-space parking lot.

Vantage Point Architectural Services of Cedar Rapids has created the floor plans and exterior elevations, designed to fit into Kirkwood’s required building aesthetic, Teahen noted.

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Kirkwood’s automotive technology shop lies adjacent to the site. That program will be relocated, freeing up the shell to house the Old Creamery’s scenery construction, costuming and storage space under one permanent roof — another first for the troupe. A black-box studio within the theater building for smaller shows also is on the list, depending on initial fundraising success.

To prepare for that, the Old Creamery staff and boards have made a concerted effort to get the theater on solid financial footing, and the theater retired all its debt within the last couple of months.

“The theater has never been debt-free in almost 50 years,” Teahen said.

Driving the move is the desire to site the theater in between its primary patron bases of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

“We had looked at a couple pieces of property down in North Liberty, but said we’re not ready yet. We needed to get the theater in a better financial state,” Teahen said. “As you go to fundraise, you want to make sure everything’s perfect.

“The board of trustees and the staff have just done a tremendous job. Our ticket sales are increasing, we’ve controlled cost, we’ve expanded shows from not only stage performances, but we’ve got road shows, plus other activities going on that have generated good income for us,” he said.

“We pay 100 percent of our expenses out of ticket sales — there’s not too many theaters out there that can say ticket sales pay all your expenses.”

Jennifer Bradley, Kirkwood’s dean of arts and humanities, was on the Old Creamery board during the initial site exploration, and suggested looking into a partnership with the college.

President Mick Starcevich was open to that idea, formally approved this week by Kirkwood’s board of directors.

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“This partnership will be a significant benefit to Kirkwood Community College,” Starcevich said in a statement. While student productions still will be staged at Ballantyne Auditorium, Starcevich added, “the presence of Old Creamery Theatre on our campus will provide students the opportunity to study with masters of the craft, explore and work all aspects of theater operations, and perform on stage with Equity actors.”

The move also will open up new dining, shopping and lodging possibilities for the Old Creamery’s tour bus patrons, some of whom come from as far as Montana. Teahen expects the new facilities and amenities to attract even more tours that can expand their offerings with shopping stops in Coralville and touring stops at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids.

“Amana has really positive strengths for its architecture, its history and shops that will always draw people there ... so I think they will reserve their niche,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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