Best of the CRANDIC Spotlight: Theatre Cedar Rapids

Murder is a family affair in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ at Theatre Cedar Rapids. — Studio Reserved

Theatre Cedar Rapids was voted Best Community Music or Theater Group in Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC competition.

Theatre Cedar Rapids traces its history back nearly 100 years, to a small group of players in 1925 producing sporadic shows in Grant Wood’s studio apartment at 5 Turner Alley. Out of that was born the Community Players in 1929, a group that performed until World War II. After the war, the company was reformed and reimagined as the Footlighters, who then became the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre, rebranded as Theatre Cedar Rapids in 1981.

Three years ago this month, beloved area director Angie Toomsen was named as TCR’s newest artistic director, part of a sea change at the theater that began earlier that year when Katie Hallman was named executive director. The pair make TCR one of a too-small collection of theaters led by women. Toomsen has directed a number of fan-favorite productions for the theater, including 2019’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 2018’s Diary of Anne Frank. She answered a few questions for Little Village via email.

Anna Slife and Matthew James in Conor McPherson’s ‘St. Nicholas.’ TCR at Brucemore. — Farrar Design/TCR

What has been your favorite artistic experience of the pandemic?

It’s probably no surprise that my favorite artistic experience during the pandemic was the live one! We produced outdoor theater in October with our friends at Brucemore Historic Site. The piece was the Irish vampire tale St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson. The cast was small (one actor, one dancer/performer) and the audience was distanced and with safety protocols enforced. Which might not sound like a relaxed evening, but it really was. We won’t plan to hold any in-person events again until we can gather outdoors again, or until there is a vaccine. So this experience was one we savored.

Amy Friedl Stoner returns to Theatre Cedar Rapids for a virtual performance on Oct. 23 and 24, 2020. — photo taken by Benjamin Farrar; provided by Amy Friedl Stoner

How have you found ways to create opportunities for TCR out of the challenges this year threw down?

Our small team adopted the mantra “Roar On” (with a majestic lion mascot) to help motivate ourselves to keep going and keep delivering on our mission with full heart and intention. Though we would prefer to be live and in person, virtual theater brings with it a breezy freedom to experiment with programming we might never have considered before.

The concerts we’ve produced have been a fun discovery and I would expect to see more events like that in the post-pandemic world. We’ve also found a way to involve a large number of volunteers for a very short commitment with our virtual play festivals. Our executive director, Katie Hallman, has been hosting a coffee talk each week and we’ve had crazy famous (theater famous) guests join. We want to be a beacon of love for theater. We love theater in New York, we love regional theater, we love academic theater, we love new works, we love community theater — so we’re following that intention and remaining nimble and curious.

Ferin Bergen and Sam Shannon in ‘Matilda.’ — courtesy of Theatre Cedar Rapids

What are you most looking forward to about TCR’s upcoming At Home for the Holidays show?

The little kid in me is most looking forward to Dave the Mouse! He’s so cute, and Joe Link does a fabulous job bringing him to life. We are all a little bit childlike during the holidays so I suspect kids from 3 to 103 will love him too.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.