Community

Working in stages: Behind-the-scenes efforts underway to move Old Creamery Theatre

Amana-based troupe's board seeks major gifts to help fund relocation to Kirkwood campus

This rendering shows how the new Old Creamery Theatre will look on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids. The building, projected to cost around $5 million, is slated to open in 2021 to celebrate the professional theater troupe’s 50th anniversary. (Vantage Point Architectural Services)
This rendering shows how the new Old Creamery Theatre will look on the Kirkwood Community College campus in Cedar Rapids. The building, projected to cost around $5 million, is slated to open in 2021 to celebrate the professional theater troupe’s 50th anniversary. (Vantage Point Architectural Services)
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BACKGROUND

In April 2018, the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana announced plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021 in a new state-of-the-art theater on the Kirkwood Community College campus in southwest Cedar Rapids.

The five-year plan had been in the works for two years already, said Peter Teahen of Cedar Rapids, president of Teahen Funeral Home and president of the theater’s board of trustees.

The college donated the site for the new 348-seat theater on the north side of the main campus.

Kirkwood’s automotive technology shop will move out of the adjacent building, freeing up space for Old Creamery’s scenery construction, costuming and storage space under one permanent roof — a first for the troupe.

A black-box studio within the theater building for smaller shows also is on the wish list.

The next step involves raising around $5 million through grants and donations to finance the project.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Among the first steps were the auditing of the nonprofit professional troupe’s books and enhancing its existing structure and programming, to build momentum for fundraising, Teahen said.

“We’re working now on improving on the sets and on the costumes and increasing sales through better promotions, so we have a sound theater to make the move with,” he said.

Committees have met with advisers to chart a path for improving existing productions.

“We have to make sure we don’t lose focus on maintaining the quality of what we have without being distracted with the new place,” Teahen said.

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A third year of auditing the troupe’s books recently has wrapped up, signaling the completion of another important step.

“That’s going to make us stronger when we apply for loans for the new theater,” Teahen said. “Everybody wants usually three years’ performances, so we had to go through that step, and (the books) came through in flying colors. Everything was positive for each of those years, so that was a necessity.”

TALKS UNDERWAY FOR MAJOR GIFTS

Theater representatives also have spoken with fundraising campaign consultants, and talks are underway for two major gifts for the fundraising campaign, one of which involves naming rights. Once those are secured, the big push toward fundraising can begin — hopefully in less than a year, Teahen said.

“We’ve really been active, and I’m pleased with our board and with our staff out there at the theater, and how we’ve methodically laid a plan,” Teahen said.

“This is going to be a solid plan, and we want to make sure that when the move happens, that it’s a successful move, and it’s something we can afford and allows a strong theater to move forward,” he said. “We all are to the point of we’re not going to build something we can’t afford and not do something that will do harm to the theater. (We’re) being very, very strategic with those types of decisions.

“So it may seem like we’re not doing anything, but there’s a lot going on in the background as we move forward in making those decisions.”

Teahen also is thrilled by Kirkwood’s participation. While Kirkwood students still will stage plays at Ballantyne Auditorium, they also will have the chance to work alongside Old Creamery’s professional crew onstage and behind the scenes, giving them more “real world” experience.

“I can’t say how much we appreciate the cooperation and assistance of Kirkwood and their administration,” Teahen said. “They donated the land, and we’ll be working with their theater department and sharing opportunities and talents back and forth.”

GOAL IS TO KEEP ‘Homey feeling’

Teahen also is hearing “a lot of excitement” from the public.

“A lot of people have been commenting how (the new site) will be easier to get to. There are people who are hesitant — especially in the winter or at night — about going out to Amana,” he said. “The majority of comments we’ve gotten have been very positive. We have a few people who say we hate to see you leave Amana, but we understand why. So we do get people who have expressed some concern, but most of them are excited.”

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And they’ve been concerned about maintaining the things they’ve enjoyed at the Amana facility, like the ample leg room and wide aisles between the seats, as well as the wide seats, so they don’t feel cramped. He sympathizes.

“I’m a big guy, and to me, it’s nice just to be able to feel comfortable and enjoy the show that way,” he said, so those amenities will be maintained in the new building.

“People say, ‘Make sure it’s the homey feeling.’ They like how close they are to the stage and how they can interact with the actors. Those are all things we’ve committed to as a staff and as a board — those are characteristics that we value very much and have clearly put into the new plan.”

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

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