Witching Hour to celebrate art through a screen

The Englert is putting on Witching Hour in a virtual format for the first time this weekend through live-streamed performances.


Emily Wangen

The Englert theatre is seen on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. The Englert holds a variety of concerts and events.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

As October draws to a close and Iowa City prepares for a unique Halloween experience, the Englert Theatre’s staff is gearing up for its annual fall arts festival, Witching Hour.

The Englert announced in August that Witching Hour would be online because of COVID-19. All of the performances were pre-produced, according to Englert Executive Director Andre Perry.

The lineup features a wide variety of speakers, authors, and artists, including writer Danez Smith, artist Beatrice Thomas, musician duo Heavy Color, politician Stacey Walker, writer Tameka Cage Conley, musician Black Belt Eagle Scout, and writer Dawson Davenport.

Despite the different format, Perry explained that all of the elements that make Witching Hour what it is will be in effect.

Englert Marketing Director John Schickedanz said the staff that constructed the festival hope that attendees, whether they are University of Iowa students or Iowa City residents, will walk away feeling like they want to be more creative.

“We thought in doing this that we’d be able to create a better experience and a more realized statement,” Perry said. “We also wanted to have better control over the quality in terms of audio and visual stream quality.”

A few acts were recorded in a socially distanced fashion around campus, like the Main Library and the Iowa City Public Library. Other performances from out of state were recorded on Zoom.

For the first time ever, Witching Hour tickets will be sold on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, the lowest amount being a dollar.

The Englert Theater is seen closed early during the quarantine on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020. Iowa City is under a mass quarantine due to the Coronavirus and is taking precautionary measures to minimize risk of spreading the disease. (Tate Hildyard)

RELATED: FilmScene and The Englert join the #DoNotAbandonUs campaign

“We wanted to make sure it was accessible to everyone. The higher level helps this program move forward, but for some people, now’s not the right time to be spending too much money,” Perry said.

In years past, the festival has gathered Iowa City residents together at Prairie Lights, the Englert, and many other locations that celebrate art. This year, attendees can visit the festival from their couches at home. However, for Schickedanz, this “totally new ballgame” will still bring the community together.

“It’s definitely our hope that people attending feel like they’re getting the same experience,” Schickedanz said. “It is kind of cool because the audience will be able to experience conversations with the artists in a way they usually wouldn’t if they were at Prairie Lights, fifteen rows back.”

For the first time ever, as well, Witching Hour accepted submissions from their community. The Englert staff has wanted to incorporate this aspect into the festival for a while, but given the unique circumstances, they got the chance to this year, said Schickedanz.

Although the format is unique, the theme of the festival remains the same. Part of Englert’s main goal is to always have diverse programming, Englert Programming Assistant Savannah Lane explained, and Witching Hour is no different.

“Witching Hour has never shied away from having difficult conversations or presenting things that might make people upset, or inspire them to think deeper about important issues,” Lane said.

In the past, the festival has offered presentations on climate change and politics. This year, it will continue its theme of discussing the current state of the world, which Lane said makes her really proud to be a part of the team creating the festival.

“I think people will see that the content hits on some timely issues, things that affect different parts of our community in ways that make us broaden our perspective, and push us out of our comfort zone,” Schickedanz said. “There are conversations truly affecting all parts of our community and we feel they’re important to be had.”