UI Theater Department to celebrate 100 years of innovation

As one of the oldest theater programs in the U.S, the UI Theater Department has a reputation for producing new and notable works. As the department nears its 100th anniversary, faculty and alums work on a documentary to celebrate the department’s history.


Rylee Wilson, News Reporter


One of the nation’s oldest theater departments has produced new and innovative work for almost 100 years — in Iowa City.

As the University of Iowa Theater Department prepares for its 100th anniversary in 2020, the department is crowdfunding a documentary commemorating a century of history, titled Shouting from the Prairie.

The documentary will be directed by Kevin Kelley, who won an Emmy for his work on Mural, a UI-produced documentary about Jackson Pollock’s painting of the same name. Kelley volunteered to direct and produce the film.

To cover the rest of the costs of the documentary, the department will try to raise $10,000 on Goldrush, the UI’s online crowdfunding platform.

UI Professor of acting John Cameron, who leads the fundraising, said the opportunity for Kelley to direct the documentary was too good to pass up.

“You have an Emmy Award winning director who wants to put together a documentary for you, you need to do something about that — so we decided to pursue this,” he said.

They are planning on submitting the documentary to Iowa Public TV stations and to film festivals.

Cameron said the documentary will feature several notable UI alumni working as playwrights, TV writers, and actors — the department’s focus has always been on creating new works.

“We are known nationally as a center for new work. We turn out more new plays and more new writers than any other program in the U.S,” he said. “There is a laser focus to this program, and that makes us unique.”

The department (with a slightly different name) was created in 1920 by Professor E.C. Mabie, who pushed for the construction of a theater building. Cameron said that at the time (the facility opened in 1935), the UI Theater Building was considered the most advanced theater west of the Mississippi.

“E.C. Mabie was really important because he really helped to find the emphasis or the personality of this department,” Cameron said. “He felt it was important that a theater department create new work — develop this nation’s culture and the culture of the world. And so ever since E.C. Mabie, that has been the emphasis at the UI.”

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The fundraising campaign has raised around half of the $10,000 goal so far. Cameron said the department has been taking time every day to reach out to alums personally.

Theresa Jubert, senior digital fundraising strategist at the UI Center for Advancement, said most donations to crowdfunding campaigns are the result of emails sent directly to people.

“What drives crowdfunding are personal connections and contacts,” she said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Each campaign needs a team of individuals who are willing to solicit their personal networks for donations.”

Joubert said most student campaigns on the Goldrush platform bring in around $3,000, although it is not uncommon for faculty-led campaigns to raise $5,000 to $10,000.

Rebecca Tritten, the administrator for the UI Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and a theater alum, has assisted Cameron in the fundraising and planning efforts for the 100th anniversary.

“Most of the outreach has been connecting with alums, encouraging them not only to give but to hear more about this exciting opportunity that we have to celebrate our 100 years and try to document a lot of the history of the department,” she said.

The UI department has made a national impact, Tritten said, and the new documentary can showcase its accomplishments to a wider audience.

“I hope that people see that even though Iowa City might be a smaller town in comparison to the bigger cities across the country and the universities established there, the Department of Theater Arts actually has a huge impact on the progression of theater across the country and the way that they train students,” she said. “I want people to be able to see that.”


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the documentary will be shown on Iowa Public TV stations. While the department is planning on submitting the documentary, there is no confirmation that it will be shown. The Daily Iowan regrets this error. 

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