116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Follies board of directors had to think with their heads, not their hearts, in deciding to end the popular song-and-dance extravaganza after 38 productions.
When the curtain fell on the final show March 31, 2019, it never went back up due to COVID-19 and rising production costs for the volunteer-driven production.
Ending the run “was so hard, and I feel bad, because pragmatically, we knew we had to,” said board president Tina March of Cedar Rapids, who performed in 22 or 23 Follies, often in a featured solo role. “As you look at the variants of COVID, everything kept pointing to this having to end.”
The decision was “excruciating, especially for the folks who have been in it for so long and have such direct connection to the founders,” said board secretary Sara Hofer of Cedar Rapids, adding that she met “forever friends” there.
“It’s a family that grows from year to year … that’s what makes it so heartbreaking,” she said.
Beginning in 1980, it was an annual effort that took more than 100 volunteers onstage and many more behind the scenes who typically spent their winters rehearsing, sewing and creating the scenery needed to create an original show from a new script every year. After the 2008 flood, productions scaled back from two weekends to one and moved to Cedar Falls, then went on hiatus in 2011 and 2012 before returning to the renovated Paramount Theatre in 2013 in Cedar Rapids.
“There’s this sense of wanting to maintain that legacy of the vision that was established decades ago, especially with the recent of the loss of many of those founders, it just seemed as though with all of the things going on, we needed to make the decision,” Hofer said. “Especially since it’s a volunteer organization, we’ve talked at great length about fact that we need to throw our support behind organizations that are making their livelihoods in the arts. Therefore, while it was a hard decision, it was the right decision.”
She said talks began after the 2019 show, when longtime director and music director Damon Cole announced his retirement. But the decision was neither quick nor easy.
“It was made, unmade, made again, and then it was unmade,” Hofer said. “We kept trying to pursue as many avenues as we could with potential partnerships. But with COVID, every arts organization was being stretched to the limit, and we just couldn’t find a way to build those partnerships in a long, lasting way.”
“It was hard for us to feel like we could ask (sponsors and donors) for money for a one-weekend show when these brick-and-mortar buildings are suffering,” March said. “We just didn’t feel right about that as artists in the community. We had to think selflessly that that’s who needs to have our support right now.”
March said the wake-up call she needed was losing the separate spaces where costumes and scenery had been stored free of charge from longtime supporters Steve Emerson and the Dummermuth family.
“Both have been extremely generous,” March said. But when each owner had a chance to rent their spaces, Follies organizers decided to parcel out their inventory.
Two years ago, scenery items were offered to groups that could repurpose the pieces whole or in parts. And now all the glitter and glamour of ballgowns, tuxes, children’s specialty costumes, hats, props, shoes and fabric are ready to find new homes among the area’s schools, theaters and dance companies.
Interested parties can sign up for times to select items Feb. 25 to 27 at the Hach Building, 401 First St. SE, near the Paramount in downtown Cedar Rapids. Cost is by freewill donation, to be channeled into three ongoing Follies scholarships for students who intend to study some facet of theater. Details are outlined at facebook.com/groups/corridorcommunitytheater
March gets choked up talking about closing this chapter of her life.
“I can cry every day about it,” she said, “but then you think about how cherished those shows were and forever will be. … In my mind, I could be biased, I don’t think there’s anything like it — the multigenerational aspect to it, that family aspect, that volunteer aspect. …
“For me as a board member — and I think we all felt that way — we had to get past the emotional pull and really had to look at this rationally. But it will always in our hearts.”
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