Hancher returns with a new season, renewed excitement

Hancher returns with a new season after overcoming budget cuts and temporary closure due to COVID-19.


Tate Hildyard

Hancher Auditorium is seen in Iowa City on Sunday, September 20th, 2020.

Jenna Post, Summer Arts Editor

Hancher is making an unrestricted return with a new lineup of performers after having its 2020-21 season cut short because of the pandemic.

The new season kicked off with a Fourth of July performance from the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said he was ecstatic to plan and attend the event.

“ABT is one of the finest ballet companies in the country, and we were the first place they contacted for their tour,” Swanson said. “I think that speaks to Hancher’s reputation and how Hancher impacts the University of Iowa and the arts on campus.”

Swanson said Hancher’s core value is “people first,” because he believes that the arts can and should create a more connected community. He said he felt that sense of connection during the ABT event in a way he hadn’t since before the pandemic hit the U.S.

“There was so much joy in the air that night, and it was on Independence Day. It felt like a sign that the community was healing,” he said.

Following the performance, Hancher’s new season lineup was made public. Swanson said he hopes that the season will further connect the Iowa City community and encourage discussion and self-reflection.

Swanson anticipates that Hancher Illuminated, Step Afrika!, and Broadway hit Waitress will generate conversation within the Iowa City arts community.

“The arts are a way for people to understand themselves better and understand others better too,” he said. “When you experience art together, there’s opportunity for discussion.”

Swanson said he has always considered Hancher a place for learning. UI junior Katherine Shamdin, who is pursuing a BFA in dance, said she got to use Hancher as a learning space during the school year while it remained closed to the public.

“Before [the pandemic], I think I took the power a space can have for granted,” Shamdin said. “I’ve always danced in a studio or onstage, so being removed from that space added such a challenging element to my classes.”

After campus closed during the spring 2020 semester, Shamdin went from receiving a dance education in person to pirouetting in her home at the direction of a Zoom instructor.

The following semester, Hancher opened its doors to the UI Department of Dance, so students had room to practice social distancing while dancing.

Shamdin said she was thrilled with the opportunity.

“I think having my classes in Hancher really gave me this drive and excitement to continue dancing,” she said. “It also made me feel really valued as an artist because sometimes it feels like, ‘How is this important? How can I make what I’m doing meaningful?’ and being in Hancher, where there’s such dedication to working towards getting back onstage, felt really special.”

Hancher house manager Paris Sissel said she is happy to see a return to normalcy. Sissel, who graduated in May, began working for Hancher as an usher her freshman year.

“Working for Hancher not only gives me the skills that I’ll need in my future career, but it also allowed me to make connections with industry professionals and set me on the right path,” Sissel said.

Swanson said the UI cut funding for Hancher while shutdown, forcing the auditorium to rely on funding from donors and small, private events.

While the financial future of Hancher remains uncertain, Swanson said Hancher will move forward with community needs at its forefront.

“It will certainly be a challenge, but Hancher’s here,” he said. “Hancher is committed to the work we do, and we’ll do our best, as we always have.”

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