Riverside Theatre’s new location promises bright future

After officially opening its new space last week, Riverside Theatre’s future looks promising — as do the arts in downtown Iowa City.


Parker Jones, Arts Editor

Riverside Theatre has officially moved into the heart of downtown Iowa City.

The new space, located at 105 College St. in the Ped Mall’s Crescent Building, occupies three floors. Riverside plans to make use of all three levels once renovations are finalized.

The theater’s interior is a modernized take on the century-old building’s structure, with exposed brick walls and original flooring from the 1950s, balanced out by updated amenities and design.

After entering on the first floor, the unexpectedly spacious interior greets audiences with original staircases that lead up to the second and third floors, which feature backstage areas and the lobby and theater respectively.

Aaron Stonerook, actor and development director of Riverside, said the biggest difference between the new location and Riverside’s previous home of 30 years on Gilbert Street, is the flexibility that a larger location allows for.

“I think, from an artistic standpoint, that’s what really stands out to me — is having the ability to really shift around what we want to do in terms of staging, lighting, sound, everything — just having that space,” Stonerook said.

The new space features an entire floor for production members, with a green room for performers fitted with a kitchenette and laundry machines, as well as a backstage area and tech booth for crew.

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Adam Knight, producing artistic director of Riverside, emphasized that the new location is also tailored to be accessible, inclusive, and comfortable for audiences and staff. He noted that the third-floor lobby is a place where audiences will be able to congregate before and after shows, purchase concessions, and even where Riverside can host smaller events or discussions.

“The size of the lobby is super important to how this space works — it’s this space for folks to come early and stay late,” Knight said.  “We wanted a place that would inspire discussion; we want the effects of the show to kind of linger long after the lights come back on. So the lobby is a key part of that.”

Knight said the lobby and extra space allow the theater to build community more than the company was able to in its previous location.

“We can have kind of more opportunities for artists, more opportunities for new play development, and really kind of create this cohesive patron experience,” Knight said. “When people come in, the experience doesn’t start when the lights go down, the experience starts from the moment they enter this interesting building.”

The theater held its inaugural performance in the new location on Jan. 27, exactly 40 years after its first ever-performance in 1982. Although a few details of the new space are not finalized, such as some of the furnishings, Knight said that Riverside is audience-ready, and the theater has a full performance roster for its current season.

Knight said the theater ultimately chose to relocate to the Ped Mall because it is an epicenter of arts and culture in Iowa City, and that Riverside’s new space will allow it to further contribute to the arts movement in addition to furthering its mission.

“This is becoming a bonafide arts district in the ‘greatest small city for the arts,’ and what was missing was a place for serious-minded performance,” Knight said. “We thought that Riverside Theatre would be the missing piece to make that kind of a critical mass happen.”