Fans who enjoy Riverside Theatre’s summer season will be watching from different seats this year as the Iowa City theatre has made the “difficult decision” to take a hiatus from using their outdoor Festival Stage in Lower City Park.
Artistic Director Jody Hovland says they came to this decision after they had to evacuate the park due to flooding during three of the last six seasons of Riverside Theatre in the Park.
“Of course any disruption in programming results in a significant financial loss,” Hovland said. “ And we’ve taken that hit three times—in ’08, ’13 and ’14.”
Riverside had enough lead time in 2013 to move their productions of Hamlet and School for Scandal to West High Auditorium for the duration of the festival. According to Production Manager Ron Clark, 40 percent of their projected audience did not attend the festival that year.
The 2014 festival began in Lower City Park, but the theatre had to evacuate the space after the July 2 performance of Othello. The result was that Othello ended its run early, while the black-box-friendly The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] continued at Riverside’s Gilbert Street stage.
This summer, Riverside will produce two plays at the Gilbert Street stage from June 19 through July 12. They will have four performances of A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters, a popular 1988 play about a man and woman who maintain a connection for 50 years through written correspondence.
The second play will be an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac by Belgian playwright Jo Roets. This French romance about a man with a large nose who helps another man charm his love interest was produced by Brucemore in Cedar Rapids during 2013.
“The play is a longtime favorite of mine, but the epic size of the original makes it impossible for us to produce,” explained Hovland. Roets’ adaptation uses a much smaller cast and fewer set requirements.
“The adaptation is tailored for a versatile acting ensemble and imaginative, theatrical staging — making it a great fit for what we do best on Gilbert Street,” Hovland said.
Riverside is not abandoning all hope for outdoor theatre. They are looking into doing at least one outdoor performance of Cyrano, and are in discussions with the city about the future of the Festival Stage. They will also be hosting two poetry events for youth audiences.
“We continue to be passionate about the possibilities for outdoor programming in the future,” Hovland said.