Out the Box: Small Steps
Online—Friday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m., Free (registration required)
Mirrorbox Presents: Cycle Play
Opening Feb. 17, TCR Grandon Studio, $20
With 32 plays presented in 2020 and 19 staged in 2021, Mirrorbox Theatre may be one of the area’s most prolific theaters — and all of those plays were virtual. Audience members joined the show via Zoom from the safety and comfort of their own homes. This year is no less exciting for Mirrorbox because not only will they be continuing their Out the Box series of virtual performances once a month, they are staging two plays at Theatre Cedar Rapids in the Grandon Theatre, and they have acquired a brick and mortar location in Cedar Rapids’ Time Check neighborhood, where they plan to stage plays starting this fall.
First things first. When the pandemic shut down performing arts spaces, directors and actors were challenged to find ways to keep their profession going in uncertain times. Cavan Hallman, Mirrorbox’s founder and artistic director, partnered with playwrights from around the country to stage their unique plays via Zoom despite the pandemic. Many playwrights joined the virtual performances in talkbacks after their play to “engage with the work in a spirit of curiosity.”
Hallman noted that this new way of presenting plays allowed Mirrorbox “to massively expand the number of attendees.” It also “removed a barrier for those who cannot physically attend for one reason or another,” he said. Mirrorbox surveyed audience members and learned that local people were watching in addition to people in six different countries. The biggest draw for all audience members to these shows was relevant topics.
“The scripts are speaking to contemporary issues,” Hallman said. And so Mirrorbox finds itself exactly where it wants to be: creating community and fulfilling its mission to “[illuminate] new thinking through new writing that is relevant to our modern lives.”
This year promises even further growth, with the acquisition of their first dedicated physical space. The capital project began with a goal of $200,000 for a general remodel and $35,000 to create a theater in the building. The landlords added $66,000 in cash to match $66,000 in additional support; Mirrorbox then was left with a $103,000 fundraising target.
“Thanks to major gifts from the Aegon TransAmerica Foundation, Cedar Grove Signature Fund, Linn County Board of Supervisors, TrueNorth Companies, Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust and David Maier & Matt McGrane, we have raised over $118,000 since beginning our campaign. This includes both capital contributions and unrestricted gifts to our annual campaign,” Hallman said.
As costs are finalized, Mirrorbox is committed to making sure the building will serve theater-goers well into the future. Fundraising efforts will continue as the company prepares to open to the public.
Hallman noted that the landlords and community have been wonderful to work with and they are all “committed to create a real destination” in the neighborhood.
Mirrorbox’s new space is in the Chirp’s Building on the corner of K Ave NW and Ellis Boulevard. Constructed in 1946, it has since housed several auto body repair shops as well as pet grooming and plumbing businesses. Now, as a theater, it will have a bar area, box office, a private, fenced-in patio, dressing rooms, storage area, office and a flexible black box space for up to 99 seats.
“One of the things that is most exciting to us as an organization is that having a permanent home gives us an opportunity to really root our contributions in our city and our specific neighborhood,” Hallman noted.
One result of the Out the Box series is that Mirrorbox has made connections with playwrights far and wide. In addition to the neighborhood connections they’ll be building as they move into their new space, “We are excited about the opportunity to forge relationships with emerging and established playwrights,” Hallman said. There will be opportunities for community volunteering as Mirrorbox moves toward opening.
As the permanent space takes shape, you can still catch a virtual Mirrorbox production in the Out the Box series monthly, with Briandaniel Oglesby’s Small Steps this Friday, Feb. 11. Also, Cycle Play by Megan Tabaque runs Feb. 17-27 at Theater Cedar Rapids’ Grandon Studio theater. Theatergoers can anticipate a second Mirrorbox production at TCR sometime in May.