Englert makes the best of the pandemic, presenting and fostering engagement with the arts digitally

Mission Creek Festival Presents: Kevin Morby plays 'Harlem River'

Thursday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. --; $15/show, $60/series

People walk past the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City during Witching Hour 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Throughout its 108-year history, the Englert Theatre in Iowa City has always changed with the times. From its origins as a vaudeville theater, to a movie theater and now a revered space for performing arts, the Englert has grown into its role as a cornerstone in Iowa City’s art scene. Through its regular programming as well as its festivals like Witching Hour (co-presented by Little Village) and Mission Creek Festival, the Englert has brought marquee names from all over the world to our community, including composer Philip Glass, folk luminary Rhiannon Giddens and Russian revolutionaries Pussy Riot.

The Englert stage has also become home for local musicians such as Greg Brown, William Elliott Whitmore, Iris DeMent and Elizabeth Moen. In recent years, the Englert has also expanded its programming to other stages across the CRANDIC, presenting shows at The Mill, Gabe’s, Paramount Theatre and more.

William Elliott Whitmore takes the stage at the Englert Theatre. Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an entirely new set of challenges to the cultural institution. Without the revenue and engagement of in-person events, the Englert has had to shift its focus online. Englert Marketing Director John Schickedanz was kind enough to answer some questions via email detailing the effects of the pandemic on the theater and the Englert’s path forward.

What do you consider the Englert’s role in the community to be?

For most of the Englert’s history, the value of the organization has been tied to the venue itself — space where art is shared with patrons. While this is still an important role of the organization, we’re increasingly focused on presenting our value as a fully realized arts organization. That is evident in our arts education programming through Englert Wavelength, our efforts to increase access to the arts through programs like Lift (Local Inspirations Free Tickets) and our deliberate programming through our festivals that advance conversation that gives marginalized populations a platform and allow patrons a new perspective on life.

In what ways has the pandemic impacted operations at the Englert and that relationship with the community?

In our shift to transform our organizational value away from the building, we made a conscious decision to form strong partnerships with other venues where we can produce events across our community. Before the pandemic, we were working with Big Grove Brewery, Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, The Mill, Gabe’s and the Yacht Club through regular programming and our festivals. When we shut our doors on March 17, that also forced us to cancel events that we had planned across the community.

In terms of our relationship with the residents of our community, we have been blown away by the support that we’ve received — both financially and for the work we continue to produce. The arts industry is obviously going through a difficult time — as are many other industries — and it’s this support that pushes us to keep moving forward.

How have you adapted your plans for the future of the Englert? Is there anything you can tease for us about what’s to come?

When the pandemic hit, we worked extremely quickly to pivot our entire operation. Prior to our closure, most of our staff were focused on the production and marketing of live events which were no longer possible. In short order, we began producing educational video series like Acting Out! Prep School, captured performances like Mission Creek Underground and expanded into completely new media like our podcast, Best Show Ever. Many of the skills necessary to make these productions a success had to be learned in real-time, and that really speaks to the fortitude and passion of our staff.

We’re currently starting the process to plan for 2021, and there are even more exciting changes coming. We’ll see the return of ticketed events through a new streaming platform and interactive educational series.

Our entire slate of shows has been wiped from our calendar, which means that we have no revenue coming in. We had been considering an increase in virtual content before the pandemic began, but our closure necessitated that change to be accelerated. You’ll see a lot more virtual content than ever before as we move all of our efforts online.

How can people help and support the Englert?

Our current efforts are supported primarily by our sponsors and the Friends of the Englert. To donate to the Friends Program, visit Businesses that are interested in sponsoring can contact for more information.