Riverside members share hopes for new theater before occupancy becomes official

As Riverside Theatre awaits its official opening, those involved with the new location in the Pedestrian Mall share plans for the theater’s future and what they’re most excited for.


Bing Lovan

The outside of Revival, which will be Riverside Theatre’s new location.

Jenna Post, Arts Editor

From digital sets to library performances to Shakespeare in the Park, those behind Riverside Theatre have proven that the world is their stage. And in January 2022, their staging options will only be limited by imagination as rehearsals in a new fully flexible black box theater begin. 

In January, Riverside Theatre announced it would move from its Gilbert Street location of 30 years to the Crescent Block Building on the Pedestrian Mall as part of the Tailwind Group’s $56 million redevelopment plan. 

To complete the goals set by the project, Riverside needs $1.8 million. The Tailwind Group provided $900,000 in funds, and Riverside has raised 85 percent of the remaining half through donations.

Although the fundraising goal hasn’t been met, Mayor Bruce Teague hosted a ceremonial hand-off of the theater on Oct. 29, which renewed excitement among those involved with the project. 

During the ceremony, Teague referred to the Ped Mall as “Iowa City’s living room” to demonstrate that the area is the common space where community members come to socialize and find entertainment. 

Riverside Producing Artistic Director Adam Knight said the Ped Mall is the perfect fit for Riverside because of the arts scene already present there.

“Riverside was sometimes a little siloed off from the cultural heartbeat of downtown that Englert and FilmScene and other organizations have really made that a de facto arts district in the Ped Mall,” he said. “We see Riverside coming in as that kind of final piece to really make that area come alive.”

Knight said Riverside will integrate itself with downtown nightlife by offering additional late-night programming, which will be made possible by allocating funding to hire a full-time house manager.

He hopes late-night programming and proximity to the University of Iowa’s dorms will result in more student involvement with Riverside, Knight added.

“We want to be a place where students are excited about theater the same way that we’re excited about theater,” he said. “Adding those additional late-night and alternative programming will create more touchpoints for that.”

The new location allows for alternative programming both onstage and off. Knight said the seating in the theater is moveable, which allows for several different styles of staging.

“This is an opportunity to tailor the space to fit the play,” Knight said. “I’m excited about the idea that every time the audience comes into the space, it will be a fresh experience.”

The theater is also larger than the Gilbert Street location, allowing for both a larger audience and cast size. However, the theater itself isn’t the only performance space in the building.

University of Iowa Theatre Arts professor Megan Gogerty, an honorary chair on the project, said she’s most excited for the new location’s lobby, which includes a grand piano, floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed brick, and hardwood floors. 

Gogerty said Riverside plans to have smaller performances in the lobby for a more intimate experience than traditional onstage performances.

“It is a gathering place, and it allows Riverside to offer something to this community that we don’t really have a lot of, which is a beautiful opportunity to have this casual cabaret-style space,” she said. “It allows us to engage with the community in a way that I’ve been hungry to do for years.”

Gogerty said a performance space of this caliber is exactly what Riverside deserves after decades of hard work and innovation — especially since some of that work was pulled off during the height of COVID-19.

“Riverside Theatre not only has survived the pandemic – we are in a position to thrive, which is a miracle,” Gogerty said. “And it’s a miracle not from the heavens, but from the leadership and hard work of our artistic director and our board and our community support.”

Gogerty said she was humbled by the community’s generous donations, but she was also somewhat unsurprised because she knows that the people of Iowa City deeply value the arts.

She said she expects to see the arts grow exponentially in Iowa City over the next five to ten years, and Riverside will play a role in that.

“It’s such a dream come true,” Gogerty said. “We’re gonna have to get busy to come up with a new dream, because this dream is becoming a reality thanks to the hard work and dedication of our supporters.”

Miriam Gilbert, an honorary chair who has been involved with Riverside Theatre for over 40 years, agrees that the community believes in Riverside’s future.

“All of this suggests a kind of confidence at a time when things have looked very, very bleak for the performing arts,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think the pandemic is over yet, but we’re really going to need theater, and we’ll be wearing our masks in the new Riverside Theatre.”