Theatre Cedar Rapids, founded nearly 100 years ago, welcomes more than 60,000 visitors a year for self-produced shows with auditioners from all over the Corridor. “We’ve just kind of grown and grown into one of the top five or six community-based theaters in the country, in terms of budget, scale, capabilities that we can do […]
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Theatre Cedar Rapids, founded nearly 100 years ago, welcomes more than 60,000 visitors a year for self-produced shows with auditioners from all over the Corridor.
“We’ve just kind of grown and grown into one of the top five or six community-based theaters in the country, in terms of budget, scale, capabilities that we can do with our costumes and sets, and our talent pool is just tremendous,” said Hannah Brewer, TCR development director.
“I don’t want to say we’re the pinnacle of theater in the area, but we sure are close and we take great pride in that,” she added.
TCR has been named the CBJ’s Coolest Place to Work in the medium-sized business category in 2022. Ms. Brewer says that’s due to TCR being “unlike any other theater there is.”
From 2018 toward the end of 2019, TCR ran full-scale productions of shows like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Newsies,” “Matilda the Musical” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” before pivoting to all-virtual shows like “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “St. Nicholas” and “Out of Bounds.”
Now the in-person theater experience is back in full force, with TCR planning 11 shows during the upcoming season from August 2022 to July 2023. The key, says Ms. Brewer, is each member of the staff who make these shows possible.
“It’s so cliche, but the whole adage, ‘No small part, only small actors,’ is true in theater,” she explained. “Our finance person is just as important as our artistic director. They all make the wheels turn. I think we’re now in a place in this organization where we really appreciate that and understand that we respect one another’s strengths and abilities. It’s a very symbiotic kind of organization.”
That mindset has allowed TCR to grow in recent years, with the number of full-time staff now at 16 and a couple dozen part-time employees and contractors helping as needed.
Every day different
A typical workweek is inherently different working at a theater like TCR compared to a classic office. Where some people like the comfort and stability of a 9-5 office job with clear job responsibilities, Ms. Brewer appreciates how every day at work is a brand new experience.
“It’s definitely not like you just come in and you’re doing the same thing every day, even in departments where you’d think that would be the case,” she said. “It feels kind of magical.”
On weeks when there is a show, employees can sometimes be expected to work upwards of 60 hours, but there is not a strict schedule where employees must clock in and be present, so that employees can “take time as they need it,” she said.
While hours can be long at times, she says it’s rewarding to inspire performers and audience members through the arts.
“The pandemic was really great to help us remember that our job is important and that we provide a service to the community, making sure [the audience] has a source of entertainment.”
Because the shows are self-produced — using local actors and talent found in Eastern Iowa — that sense of community is bonded even tighter. While other theaters around the country may attract actors from everywhere, TCR gets to showcase local talent – from the actors to the scenic and lighting designers.
“It’s tough to be an artist in the state of Iowa,” Ms. Brewer said. “We’re no New York City or Los Angeles. We are really able to take a lot of pride in being able to give work opportunities to our local artists and keep them here in our area because we all benefit from their talent and skill when we can display it onstage. A lot of other theater companies’ founders have gotten their start here.”
“We’re just delighted because we’ve been around so long when we’ve had the time to really gain accountability and respectability in our field,” she continued.
Accessible to all
During the pandemic, TCR made its educational offerings for kids accessible through a ‘pay-what-you-can’ model to help families who may be struggling more than others.
“It just didn’t feel right of us to ask people in a such a difficult time, when they maybe needed just a little bit of an escape,” she said. “We liked it so much, and felt that it opened up the door for so many more people, that we decided to continue with it.”
Ms. Brewer says these decisions have had a big impact on who has been able to enroll, and that the classes now reach a larger, more diverse set of backgrounds. This pay-what-you-can model is made possible by several key funders, such as Collins Aerospace and the Giacoletto Foundation in Marion, as well as families who are able to support the theater through donations.
“It’s one small way we keep breaking down barriers so that everyone knows theater is for them,” she said. “In its history, theater in general has sort of been a classist thing, and we don’t want that. It’s about bringing everyone together, no matter your background, your income level, no matter your anything.”
“But we’re lucky we get to do something that brings a lot of joy to the community,” she continued. “Just knowing you are making an impact, even if it’s just for an evening, it makes a difference. You just never know what you’re going to come across in the theater – what worlds we’re going to be transported to.”
Among other tangible benefits, TCR employees also enjoy unlimited PTO and a get a week off during Christmas heading into the new year.