The Englert celebrates marquee restored to original glory

After eight months of interior and exterior restorations funded by the Strengthen, Grow, Evolve campaign, The Englert Theater hosted its first lighting event since 1958 for the new and improved historical marquee.


Jeff Sigmund

The official lighting of the new marquee and sign on Friday, Dec.18, 2020. (Jeff Sigmund/Daily Iowan)

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

Despite a tumultuous and chaotic year, The Englert displayed a message of hope for the future with the unveiling and lighting of their marquee restored to its 1958 glamour. 

For the first time since 1958, when Iowa City got its first glimpse of the marquee, the iconic sign was sent to Ohio for restoration in May. It made a triumphant return on the night of Dec. 14, and the lighting event took place on Friday.

The Facebook Live event began with a pre-recorded tour of the indoor restorations from Jessica Egli, Englert’s Events Director. 

She explained that stage wall damage from the 1926 fire was renovated, as well as the exterior bricks, and windows. 

In contrast to the historical building, University of Iowa BFA student Emily Trepnell then performed a modern dance titled In My Life. Hopeful music swelled in the background.

Electricians guide the crane operator as the new Englert sign is moved into place on Dec.15, 2020. (Jeff Sigmund/Daily Iowan)

Egli finished the tour of the renovations by showing the newly set up second floor, a spacious area equipped with a bar for private concerts and events. A performance of a poem titled “An Ode to the Stage” by local spoken word artist Caleb Rainey in the new space concluded the pre-recorded part of the event.

Marketing Director John Schickedanz noted that while they had wanted the lighting event to be in person, they knew that wasn’t a safe option given the pandemic. 

The Englert staff chose Facebook Live as a medium that brought the community back into the theater virtually. A socially distanced audience stood outside in the chilly weather for the marquee lighting. 

“The campaign that made the marquee rehabilitation possible was really a success because of the support of the community. We really feel that the marquee, while it lives on our building, really belongs to the community in a big way,” Schickedanz said. 

Prior to the lighting of the marquee was an outdoor performance by musician Elizabeth Moen.

Moen took to the Englert’s outdoor stage setup to perform during the lighting. The artist first played at the theater as an opener for a friend’s band but has headlined at the Englert a few times since.  

RELATED: Englert Theater undergoes restoration while maintaining its historic character

She played the song, “Eating Chips” from her new EP Creature of Habit. The song details missing loved ones and no longer taking them for granted.

“I enjoy playing every single venue in Iowa City, they’re all special to me. Playing at The Englert shows the growth of hard work and playing a lot of shows for a few years now,” Moen said. “Getting to see people show up and getting to play for people who are really listening, that’s not to be taken for granted.”

The lighting was preceded by speeches from The Englert’s Executive Director Andre Perry and FilmScene’s Interim Executive Director and co-founder Andrew Sherburne. Both speeches depicted a message of hope for the future, and the importance of the arts, despite the difficulties that came with this year. 

When the restored marquee illuminated downtown Iowa City once again, the chasing white lights under the “Englert” namesake sparkled like a symbol that resonated with Perry’s speech, where he said that the future holds hope for the theater.

The marquee’s restoration was part of the project that began on May 28, which also included fixing the stage wall and renovating the second-floor space. The project had been funded by the Strengthen, Grow, Evolve Capital Campaign for both The Englert and FilmScene.  

“We started the Capital Campaign a year and a half ago, and the idea was daunting,” Schickedanz said. “Now to realize that we’re at the end of the road and have achieved these goals of rehabilitating the marquee, restoring the building, and making modernization improvements is really humbling.”

The Strengthen, Grow, Evolve Capital Campaign raised $5.2 million thus far. They’ve adjusted their goal to $5.5 million by year’s end from their original goal of $6.5 million, Englert Development Director Katie Roche explained. She also explained that the support was important in a year where the theater saw a reduced revenue of about $1 million. 

When the marquee first came down on June 16, Roche’s phone rang incessantly with people on the other end concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the theater to close. 

She explained to the community members that the removal was a planned investment and a sign that the Capital Campaign was moving forward. 

“The marquee is the biggest symbol of the theater, and it was really falling apart. So, to have it completely restored with every bulb working, it’s just a sign of hope,” Roche said.