Amana’s Old Creamery Theatre closes permanently after 50 years

After over a year of financial losses because of COVID-19-related closures, Amana’s Old Creamery Theatre has permanently closed its doors.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The Old Creamery Theater is seen on Feb. 9, 2022, in Amana, IA. The theater closed on Feb. 4 due to financial struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

After over 50 years of performances, the historic Old Creamery Theatre has permanently closed.

The theater, which gets its name from the former Co-Op Dairy building it occupied in Garrison, was originally started in 1971. It moved to its Amana Colonies location in 2006.

In a release published on the Old Creamery website, the theater’s Board of Directors stated that the theater is closing due to a lack of funds. The nonprofit theater closed temporarily in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and partially reopened in late 2021 with a few roadshow productions.

Although the roadshows were considered a success, the statement reads, it was “too little, too late.”

Peter R. Teahen, the former president of the Old Creamery Theatre’s Board of Directors, said that the theater had humble beginnings as “just a bunch of hippies getting together,” and had come a long way since.

“It was a group of people that just got together to do shows, and they created a big reputation from it,” Teahen said.

Teahen, who has been on the board of directors for 12 years, said that Old Creamery’s defining characteristic as a theater was its reputation as an “Equity Actors’ Theatre.” The theater often hired actors who were part of the Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union that represents those who work in live theatrical performances.

“We had several equity actors that were full-time at the theater, but when we put on a show production, then we brought in actors from New York and Chicago or LA — people who were on Broadway or TV or in the movies that would come in just for the show,” Teahen said. “That’s what made us unique, and that really was the moment.”

Old Creamery had an extremely limited staff when it closed. In 2020, the theater terminated its entire staff of 11 employees, with the exception of General Manager Pat Wagner, who had worked at Old Creamery since 1997.

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Although the terminations were notably disputed, Teahen said the staff had to be let go after the theater ran out of funding from the Paycheck Protection Program — a federal loan established to help businesses keep their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teahen said Old Creamery was hit by the pandemic the same as many other local theaters, but ultimately could not overcome its financial losses. He said that in the past, Old Creamery’s budget could be as large as $1 million for some productions and that 90 percent of their income resulted from ticket sales, the other 10 percent being from grants, advertisers, and donors.

“We ran out of money,” Teahen said. “I don’t think we’re the first theater. I don’t think we’ll be the last. I think in non-profits in general, you know, if we don’t sell a ticket to a performance, we have no income.”

Ultimately, Teahen said that he hopes Old Creamery Theatre’s closure encourages community members to support their local arts organizations.

“Once these things start closing down, you’ll never get it back, open up again,” Teahen said. “We taught people to love theater, live theater. Hopefully, this serves as a way to encourage people, to teach a valuable lesson — if you don’t give from your heart financially to help these theaters or these performances stay open, you’re going to lose them.”