Riverside Theatre takes the virtual stage in its busiest season ever

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Riverside Theatre Artistic Director Adam Knight, Irena Sarić and Kate Markham cheers to their old building and a bright future next to the theater’s backstage light. — video still/Riverside Theatre

Even as nearly every other performing arts organization, of every type, has scaled back its programming in 2020, Riverside Theatre is ramping it up.

The 2020-21 season marks the 40th season for the revered Iowa City theater, and it has brought with it a good deal of change. After making the decision to leave their beloved home of 30 years on the North Side, Riverside is producing a slate of new performances digitally.

The new format has provided a spark of inspiration in otherwise dark times for performance arts, and has resulted in the theater presenting its busiest season yet. To gain greater insight into the upcoming season and changes facing Riverside Theater, Little Village conducted an email interview with Riverside’s Producing Artistic Director Adam Knight.

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

A great city deserves serious theatre. Theatre that sparks discourse, inspires and asks the big questions. That’s the role Riverside has played throughout its history and continues to play. Of course, local arts also amplify commerce for surrounding businesses and Riverside provides meaningful compensation for area theatre artists. We’re the only theatre in Iowa City affiliated with Actors’ Equity Association and one of the few professional companies in eastern Iowa.

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

Not going to lie: There’ve been tears. Theatre is all about group experience, being present in an intimate space, hearing the same story. Riverside was in the midst of a banner season with plays like The Agitators and Feast. And so to lose that ability to gather, especially during the painful national events of the last six months, has been heartbreaking. But it’s also reaffirmed for me that stories matter. The needs of our community haven’t gone away just because our ability to gather has.

The Riverside Theatre team, November 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

What interesting or creative changes have you made to the Riverside Theatre business model since the pandemic hit?

As the scope of the pandemic became clearer, Riverside made the decision to leave our home of 30 years and operate remotely for the season ahead. It was probably the toughest decision we’ve had to make — but if there was ever a year to try it, it’s this one. What we’ve planned for the fall is a series of four virtual plays: fully produced and told through this new medium. Basically, we’re putting cameras in the hands of amazing theater artists and seeing what happens! On top of that, we’re expanding Zoom play readings through our partnership with Mirrorbox Theatre and experimenting with site-specific programming. There’s no road map for this. We’re asking our audience to take a leap of faith with us into the unknown.

What is the plan for the future of Riverside Theatre for the duration of the pandemic and beyond?

What’s that saying? “We plan, God laughs.” At times, that’s how this year has felt. Many theaters have cancelled their entire seasons. But Riverside is remaining nimble, and our new membership model reflects that. We remain committed to bringing serious-minded theater to Iowa City in the year ahead — while we don’t know exactly what forms that will take, we do know that our 40th anniversary season will feature key Riverside artists, bold new plays, the return of our “Walking the Wire” series of new monologues and two Shakespeare classics in the park next summer — more programming than we’ve ever had in one season. And as for the future? Riverside is working on finding a new permanent home in downtown Iowa City to launch our 2021-22 season.

How can people help and support Riverside Theatre?

Become a member. Consider donating. Buy a ticket to one of our virtual productions. Theater is a uniquely ephemeral and present art form. Plays (even virtual ones) need an audience for the story to be told. Get involved at

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