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Raven Wolf Productions supports live listening experiences in rural Iowa
Artists from across the United States and beyond have been invited to Williamsburg for a concert setting difficult to replicate
WILLIAMSBURG — To enter the performing arts industry, you have to know the performing arts. After spending years in theater, music and dance, Nathan and Susan Kula have deep ties to the various arts communities in Iowa.
So, when Nathan Kula lost his job after the derecho wreaked havoc across Eastern Iowa, he was able to focus more time and energy on starting a performing arts production company. Susan Kula also learned to balance starting a new business while maintaining her job as a veterinarian.
Together, they established Raven Wolf Productions in rural Williamsburg.
“We just were able to make ends meet, and we still make ends meet,” Nathan Kula said.
Raven Wolf Productions came as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nathan and Susan Kula are in a band together, and have several friends who are in bands.
So they wanted to find a way to support the livelihoods of artists while balancing safety during an unprecedented time.
“It started a little bit as a joke,” Susan Kula said. “We were like, ‘When are we ever gonna get to play out again?’ ”
If you go
What: Raven Wolf Productions
Where: 2283 240th St., Williamsburg
Upcoming concerts: The Remains, 6 to 9 p.m. May 12; Dogs on Skis, 3 to 7 p.m. May 13; Blame Not the Bard, 7 to 8: 30 p.m. May 19; Awful Purdies, 7 to 9 p.m. May 20
Cost: Various from by donation to $10 to $25; for ticket links, click on the band you want to see at ravenwolf.productions/events/
Seating: Bring bag chairs for outdoor shows; indoor barn stage has benches
Their company started with a stage in the Kulas’ backyard. The following year, Raven Wolf Productions expanded, building an indoor stage inside of a barn on their property.
Raven Wolf Productions focuses on curating a space for local bands to play, although as the company has progressed, so have the acts. This year, bands and performers from across the world are visiting Iowa to perform in Williamsburg.
Susan Kula said the rural location allows for a unique music experience that few other venues offer.
“It's the whole atmosphere, where people can just get out and get away and just look up at the stars and listen to the music and have a great time,” Susan Kula said.
Coming from performing arts backgrounds, the Kulas were adamant about returning additional profits to the visiting artists. From basic “Midwest hospitality” to getting the performers requested beverages and drinks, Nathan and Susan Kula said they do everything in their ability to ensure the performers are comfortable in their space.
Nathan Kula also said the attendees create a welcoming atmosphere for the performers. Multiple bands have debuted new material through Raven Wolf Productions, and the Kulas attribute that comfort to the audience’s energy.
“They like to come and start stuff at our place, knowing that they're going to have a very friendly crowd, and that the expectation is just to relax and have fun,” Nathan Kula said.
Nicole Philbrick and her band, Blame Not the Bard, have performed out at the Kulas’ farm several times, and Philbrick attests to the unique nature of Raven Wolf Productions.
Before their professional relationship, Philbrick said she had known Nathan and Susan Kula for several years. Having met through an Irish dance class, Philbrick said there was an immediate connection.
“Anytime, I think, that you have adults crazy enough to try something like ‘Oh, let's do Irish dance together,’ friendships form pretty quickly,” Philbrick said.
She has attended shows through Raven Wolf Productions as a performer and an audience member, and she said the farm setting created an atmosphere unlike any she had experienced before.
With horses wandering the farm throughout the various sets, Philbrick said it’s a difficult setting to replicate.
“The space was just gorgeous. It's breathtaking,” she said. “To be out there, and just the whole experience of it, is second to none.”
Philbrick also said Nathan and Susan Kula are constantly asking for feedback as to how to maximize the experience as a performer and attendee. She said the couple’s dedication to comfort and the happiness of others shows in the resulting product.
While Philbrick said she has played through many other performing companies, the Kulas offer something that’s hard to find both in and outside of rural Iowa.
“There's just something magical about that whole experience,” Philbrick said. “There are so many amazing venues that we play, but I think that there's nothing quite like Raven Wolf.”