CEDAR RAPIDS — Local theater director Brian Glick is gearing up for two opening nights the third week of November.
The first will take audiences sweeping down the plain with Revival Theatre Company’s production of “Oklahoma,” opening Nov. 21 in Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College.
The other will see city sidewalks dressed in holiday style, when the lights begin twinkling in downtown Cedar Rapids on Nov. 23.
“I feel like I’m working on a show,” Glick said of the decorations he and a couple of elves have been creating in a space beneath the city streets.
Lights, wreaths, ribbons and garland in green, red, silver, gold and white will bring a bit of bling to select trees, lampposts and skywalks. The footprint encompasses First and Third avenues and Fifth and First streets SE, then jumps the river to catch several blocks along First Street SW. Planters at major intersections also will sprout fresh evergreens.
He’s aiming for “a consistent design that people find to be warm and cozy” by using traditional colors and white lights.
He’s been working on the project two to three hours a day since August, tying pink ribbons on trees to be wrapped partway up with lights; seeing what decorations from holidays past could be used in the present; and keeping an eye on the future with a three-year plan, building on the initial vision of sugarplums dancing in his head.
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“It is a lot of hours, but I’m happy to do it,” said Glick, 33, who lives downtown and will be able to survey the winter wonderland from home.
After several years of critiquing what he would do differently with the downtown holiday decorations, he decided, “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.” So he emailed Cedar Rapids Downtown Executive Director Jesse Thoeming in August, saying, “Hey, I would love to take over designing your downtown for the holidays.”
As in his theatrical life as co-founder of Revival Theatre Company, timing is everything. Thoeming was just beginning to think about holiday decor, and invited Glick to present his ideas to him. Thoeming was looking for a more cohesive scope to this year’s downtown holiday design.
“That was the thing Brian really put front and center,” Thoeming said, adding that Glick’s background in theater and production would make him “a really great asset. The first time I met him, he came in with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.”
Glick got the job, for his asking fee of $5,000.
“We’ve been rock ’n’ rollin’ ever since,” he said.
Thoeming noted the total budget is $60,000, which comes from the Downtown Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). It covers Glick’s costs and labor contracted to a professional crew for setup and takedown. It’s an increase of around $35,000 over last year’s budget.
“It was a sizable increase to make more of a ‘wow’ factor for the district this year,” Thoeming said.
Glick’s first order of business was to take stock of the existing decorations.
“The thing I’m learning is the city has all these secret little underground storage areas, like this one,” he said, standing amid 6-foot wreaths, garlands and bows in a hallway beneath a parking ramp. “And so I went, looked and assessed and went, ‘OK, we need to clean house here.’” Some items have been marked for reuse and some for resale.
He said it feels like he’s starting from square one, as he seeks to create a unified look not only between the streets, but with downtown businesses that are onboard with decorating their properties in line with his designs. And yet, he’s pleased to be able to repurpose things like big bows and large wreaths that just needed a little sprucing up to once again shine.
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That really helps with the bottom line, since he had some sticker shock when searching online for items from commercial suppliers.
“For sturdy, good wreaths, it’s about $5,000 for two,” he said. So he was “pleasantly surprised” to find 17 wreaths in the city’s storage cache. “It was like the heavens opened,” he said of the find. He’s also made several trips to a local craft store to load his sleigh full of large, weather-resistant ornaments for the wreaths.
And now he knows why commercially prepared wreaths cost so much.
“It takes three hours to do three wreaths,” he said. They have to first strip the wreaths of previous lights, add new ones, then drill holes in the ornaments and zip-tie them to the wreaths, “because you don’t want them flying onto someone’s car,” he said. “You want to make sure they’re sturdy and will hold.”
He’s also transitioning the white lights to energy-saving LED bulbs along the avenues for a warmer glow, then using existing cooler white lights on the streets, to save money this year. LED lights are more expensive, but last longer and will save money in the long run, so he hopes to add more of those over the next two years.
One design departure is using blue lights on trees around the Tree of Five Seasons sculpture, in a nod to the nearby river. (Greene Square is a separate project with its own design and later lighting ceremony.)
While Glick won’t be involved in the actual hanging of the decorations, like any good director, he expects to still be checking things out, to make sure he’s “communicated things accurately.”
“I’m just nervous to see how it all turns out,” he said. “I hope it’s like what I envisioned here. You can’t do everything the way you want to the first year, because of time and money. I’m just hoping that it ends up being what people might be expecting.”
Then he’ll turn his attention to decking the halls of the Paramount Theatre for the holidays, as well as opening a major musical theater production and directing a Christmas fundraising show, both for Revival Theatre. When that’s a wrap, he’ll head to Chicago with friends to see, appropriately, “The Light in the Piazza,” while his own visions will be lighting the piazzas back home.
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