Iowa City Community Theater Loses Performance Space After 50 Years

The Johnson County Agricultural Association will not renew its building lease with the Iowa City Community Theater, forcing the theater to find new performance space.

Gabby Drees

The Iowa City Community Theater is seen at the Johnson County Fairgrounds ‘Grange’ on October 23. The group will lose its space at the end of the year.

After more than 50 years of performing in one location, the Iowa City Community Theater will lose its performance space after its 68th season.

The show space, nicknamed “The Barn”, is located on the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Heather Johnson, administrative office manager for the Johnson County Agricultural Association, wrote in an emailed statement to The Iowan Daily that “The Barn” will be demolished to make way for a more modern and versatile performance space.

“The Johnson County Agricultural Association has some pretty big and exciting goals that we would like to achieve, and one of them is to tear down Building A (The Barn) and Montgomery Hall to make room for the grand opening of a new 14,440 square foot event. center,” she wrote.

The announcement mentioning the Iowa City Community Theater will lose the space was no surprise to the facility, Johnson said. The theater was notified of the change in 2020.

“The Iowa City Community Theater was verbally informed two years ago that Johnson County Fairgrounds would not be renewing its lease with us for the building it rents from us, so this is not news. information for him,” she wrote.

Nick Rudzianski, treasurer of the Iowa City Community Theater, said the theater knew the county intended to scrap “The Barn.” Community theater officials, however, were recently told that they were due out a year earlier than originally planned.

“We felt like based on the conversations we were going to have until May 2024,” Rudzianski said. “We have found out over the last two months that we have to move by May 2023.”

The Johnson County Agricultural Association has guaranteed the theater a home until the end of its current seasonwhich will end on May 7, 2023, with the musical Follies by James Goldman, a show about a theater closing.

The Iowa City Community Theater is the only completely volunteer-run theater company in Iowa City. The society relies heavily on donations of time and money as well as ticket sales to stay afloat, Rudzianski said.

“We get a lot of donations from people every year. You know, that’s a big part of what keeps us going,” he said. “We really appreciate those who gave of their time and effort.”

The company will need the continued support of the community as it strives to find a new space to perform.

Shay Lilienthal, the theater’s current production manager, The beggars Musical, in collaboration with Combined effortshas worked with the theater since 2017. Even during the pandemic, she said the Iowa City Community Theater is a community staple and the theater is worth fighting for.

“It has really been a constant and regular drama. Even during the pandemic, we were trying to create space for actors and audiences to not lose the magic of theater,” Lilienthal said. “It’s such a precious work of art for our city in our community. We have to keep it.

The loss of “The Barn” is not the end of the theater. No matter where the group lives in the coming years, they plan to continue putting on shows for the community, Rudzianski said.

“We have a lot of people coming to every show,” he said. “We’re probably going to be a little transitional, you know, moving from space to space, but we’re fully committed to having a full season for our 68 seasons.”

Lilienthal said “The Barn” has never been what makes theater special — the people are — so it doesn’t matter where the company ends up in the future.

“It’s not like your state-of-the-art theater, but when the people inside love you, care for you, and care about who you are, not just as an actor, but as a than human,” she said. “It could be a ramshackle shack, and you’d like that.”