116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
UPDATE: Because of illness the opening has been postponed to Nov. 10.
Mirrorbox Theatre is in the final stretch with a fistful of firsts.
First time welcoming audiences to its new home at 1200 Ellis Blvd. NW, in Cedar Rapids’ historic Time Check neighborhood.
First play staged in its new home, running Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 3 to 20.
Iowa premiere of “Drive” by Deborah Yarchun of Los Angeles, who holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and is Mirrorbox Theatre’s first Great American Visiting Artist.
First time “Drive” has been staged anywhere.
And “Drive” is set in Iowa — in a fictional small town near the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Truckstop,“ along Interstate 80 at Walcott. The show checks all the boxes in the Mirrorbox mission of presenting Iowa premieres of plays that reflect contemporary culture and spark conversations.
What: “Drive,” by Deborah Yarchun, Mirrorbox Theatre’s first Great America Visiting Artist
Where: Mirrorbox Theatre’s new home, 1200 Ellis Blvd. NW, Cedar Rapids
When: POSTPONED to Nov. 10 to 20; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; Nov. 12 designated as BIPOC Community Night
Tickets: $20 at mirrorboxtheatre.com/drive/
Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, nearly all the truckers in town have lost their jobs to self-driving vehicles. All except Gloria, a young Black female. So in addition to dealing with an uncertain future, issues of race and gender also are “present in the text,” said Cavan Hallman, 43, of Cedar Rapids, artistic director of the professional troupe he founded in 2018.
Hallman took the script out for a test drive Jan. 7, during Out the Box, the pandemic online play reading series he created, which presented more than 50 readings from March 2020 to the winter of 2022.
"One of the things that I thought was so successful about the reading of ‘Drive,’ is that it really created great conversations in the post-show chat area. So that was a contributing factor,” he said, in deciding to take the script from page to stage.
“Also, one of the things that’s so exciting to me about opening this building and having a permanent home for Mirrorbox is that we get to be rooted in a place, and that we get to be rooted in this neighborhood. The fact that this play is so rooted in its specific place, and in rooted in Iowa — that was really exciting to me.”
The reading also proved the show’s concept was resonating with Iowans who “saw themselves in this play and recognized people in their community,” he said.
The play also dovetails nicely with the history of the near-northwest Time Check neighborhood, across from Quaker Oats and bordered by the Cedar River.
“Time Check was a home for the working class people of Cedar Rapids who were working on the railroads at the turn of the 20th century,” Hallman noted. “This play is about labor, and it’s about Iowans dealing with an uncertain labor situation. … The depth of that uncertainty really starts to pull the strings of their community’s fabric in a very real way over the course of a week. …
“It just felt like there were so many parallels, so many points of relevancy, that it was just the perfect play for us to start with.”
The theater’s new home is designed for furthering conversations in the lobby, which features seating at the bar and on benches, and when weather allows, in the adjacent outdoor patio.
Reflection is an important part of the staging and viewing process.
“Art can be a place where you can safely work out problems that might have higher stakes in real life,” Hallman said.
“I hope when people see how these characters are fighting their way through these struggles — which are not all about unemployment — it changes the entire scope and activities of these people’s lives, including their relationships as spouses, their relationships as parents and children; and there is one teenage character in the play, as well.”
Hallman said it offers audiences and actors the chance to see, “This is how these people handled adversity. This is how these people found a way to move forward. What would that look like for me?”
The cast also had the privilege of working with playwright Yarchun during several days of rehearsal, tweaking the script and seeing how her play worked “on its feet,” Hallman said. As the theater’s first Great America Visiting Artist, she will return for the final dress rehearsals and opening night, offering more chances for conversation.
New DEI initiative
In a new move for Mirrorbox Theatre, the Nov. 12 performance is designated as BIPOC Community Night. The show’s web page notes: “This performance is dedicated to inviting Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color (BIPOC) to experience this piece together. We ask that if you do not identify as BIPOC, you look for a different performance to attend and allow this to remain a space for the shared experience of BIPOC communities. These performances are also open to multiracial family members and partners, including those who are white.”
And of course, he added, people of color are welcome at any performance of any production. This particular designation grew out of discussions with Mirrorbox board members and collaborators.
“Our board vice president, who’s also in the play and has performed with us many times, Tierra Plowden, has expressed that she wished she got exposed to theater earlier, and that it was not always apparent that there was a place for people who look like her, in the theater community,” Hallman said.
“ … It really means a lot to me that we’re going to do a show where we are dedicating the performance and the space to Black community, people of color and the Indigenous community,” Plowden said in a video posted to Mirrorbox Theatre’s Facebook page.
“For me, that’s a big deal. I’ve never really seen a night like that with any other theater,” she said. “We really just want you to come out, look at our new space, hopefully maybe even be inspired to audition for some shows. It just means a lot — it definitely does.”
Mirrorbox is following the example of Jeremy O. Harris, the writer of Broadway’s “Slave Play,” who shortly before the pandemic set in, launched Broadway Black Out Night.
“They created an affinity space exclusively for people of color,” Hallman noted, “so that not only were people of color seeing themselves on stage, but they were seeing themselves as a community, in the audience.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, it’s really important for us to let people know that they are welcome here.
“One of the things that’s really exciting for me, and that is worth noting, is that we’re welcoming people who may have felt excluded from this kind of space in the past. But people of color are the global majority, so it’s important to have a night that recognizes that, and makes specific space for people who have felt excluded, but absolutely deserve an intentional space that makes room for them.”
Mirrorbox Theatre also is participating in staged readings of “the wish: A manual for a last-ditch effort to save abortion in the United States through theatre.” As noted on the Mirrorbox website, the theater is collaborating with local hosts to offer readings in non-traditional spaces, like homes or even bars. Everyone in attendance is invited to join a pair of performers in small group readings of the text.
“We’ve had three performances so far — two in Iowa City and one in Cedar Rapids,” Hallman said. “The performers are ready to go. We’re excited to keep finding people who are interested in hosting it, and we will also occasionally be doing a performance in the theater, as well.
“A lot of what I what I consider to be our successes are being built on the relationships that we’re creating with artists, both locally and nationally,” he said. “I was so honored when the lead writer of ‘the wish,’ who is Justice Hehir, reached out to us and felt that this would be something that would be interesting to us, and it was something that she wanted us to do.”
Mirrorbox presented Hehir’s script, “Night Creatures,” as an Out the Box reading on April 24, 2020.
“It felt like an honor to be invited into this conversation” with “the wish,” he said, since the intention is for presenters to edit, remix and add to the script to make it work for them.
“The point of this piece is to create those conversations and to be digging into the community,” Hallman said. Information on the piece and hosting opportunities are included on the show’s web page, mirrorboxtheatre.com/the-wish/
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