On Friday, Dec. 18, the historic Englert Theatre lit up the icy streets of downtown Iowa City as its newly restored marquee shone above in all its 1950s-vintage glory. With exposed ankles turning red and propane heaters blazing, only the clouds of frigid breath were missing underneath an array of masks, Santa Claus hats and the flush of hope.
The massive project had been in the works since March, funded in large part by the multi-million-dollar Strengthen • Grow • Evolve partnership with FilmScene, and the love and cheers below the marquee on Friday felt more like a beginning than the closing act as the new year draws near.
“The timing of revealing the marquee to the public was always dependent on the larger workings of the restoration project,” said Katie Roche, Englert’s development director. “But we couldn’t be happier that the timing feels like the light at the end of the 2020 tunnel.”
The lighting was viewed by most through the theater’s Facebook Live event. Those watching from home were treated to a virtual walk-through of the changes made to the inside of the theatre while the lights were out for the past 10 months. They were then met outside by Andre Perry and Andrew Sherburne, executive directors of the Englert Theatre and FilmScene, respectively.
Perry spoke of the “beautiful vision” that Englert is working toward during the very ceremony guiding the way, although, he noted in his speech, the arts will be “feeling the effects [of the pandemic] for a very long time.”
Local musician Elizabeth Moen was up next with two performances that carried a heavier impact for an audience — those who stood outside, socially-distanced — that, although shaking, held a heightened ear for her lyrics.
“I bet you took things for granted, I bet 1200 dollars I did, too. I’m gonna hold you a little longer the next time and every time I see you,” she sang from her newly-released EP.
This year has not been kind to a world reeling from the chaos and turmoil of a health crisis, where even the places we once turned to escape, such as the arts, are suffering immensely. But with couples leaning in toward one another, neighbors looking on from their windows, and students stopping mid-home-for-the-holidays-hustle, everything seemed to stand still. Joy was abundant, radiating.
Then it was time for the show to, well, shine on. With some slight confusion as to how they should count down, Perry and Sherburne counted up to 10, because sometimes numbers and art don’t mix. With a pause before “10,” the marquee finally exploded in warm yellow, neon pink and blue. The lights continuously flowed across the front, and the crowd erupted in cheers, whoops and whistles and rounds and rounds of applause.
“The marquee has always been a symbol of our downtown, of Iowa City and even our region,” Roche said. “But it has become a symbol of hope to welcome it back fully restored, lighting up our downtown during what has been dark and difficult days of the pandemic.”
Once the roar died down, many of us lingered in awe while others slowly drifted into warm store fronts. It was a moment frozen in time, a moment that Englert, and the community, can only build upon as we wait for a new, more artfully lit 2021.