Opening set after long renovation of Iowa City Theater | Iowa and the Midwest

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Stepping inside the James Theater will take you by leaps and bounds — first through the wow factor of the Art Deco-inspired lobby, then strolling into the performance space, where the entire floor is “sprung” is. ”

“[The floor]can be a little unsettling if you don’t know it because it gives a little bit,” said Leslie Nolte, 45, of Iowa City, the theater’s artistic director. “But it’s so much better on the knees and ankles of (dancers).”

An important factor for the founder and artistic director of the Nolte Academy, the dance studio she founded in Coralville in 2000.

She and husband Mark Nolte, 47, have remodeled the former home of the Riverside Theater at 213 N. Gilbert St. in the Northside neighborhood of Iowa City. When asked about her role at the company, Mark Nolte quipped, “She’s the talent, I’m the workforce.”

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that the couple leases the building from the Gilpin family, who previously leased the space to the Riverside Theater from 1990 to 2020. This troupe, which has been offering virtual programming during the pandemic, has moved into a newly renovated home in the downtown Pedestrian Mall.

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The theater’s remodel is complete, and after a series of smooth rollouts, the James Theater is ready for its close-up, beginning with June @ The James.

It starts with a jazz evening with the Curtis Taylor Quartet on June 11; followed by the MEKTOUB band’s album release “Elizabeth” on June 16; the Iowa premiere of “Basic Training,” the award-winning one-person play by Davenport native Kahlil Ashanti, on June 17-19; and A Punk Rock Show benefiting the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) on June 24 featuring several bands including Dave Zollo and The Body Electric and Mark Nolte’s band City Park.

A champagne open house, complete with a ribbon average, is in the works for July, on a day when people are headed to a farmers’ market or similar event. Leslie Nolte envisions keeping the theater’s doors open so the celebration can “leak out into the streets,” with the music changing about every hour.

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The idea is to “jump straight into the Northside and let people come in and out and see what we are,” she said.

The theater is named in honor of her father, James Bartnick, of Arlington Heights, Illinois. A huge supporter of all his daughter’s efforts, he will be stopping by this summer to see the new facility.

The Noltes envision the James Theater as a collaborative performance space versatile enough to accommodate dance, music and theater productions, as well as recitals, parties, seminars, receptions, workshops and art installations.

The flexibility of the theater includes 121 permanent blue velvet seats on retractable booster seats that fold away like gymnasium bleachers to create a large studio workshop space.

Theater curtains can further define the performance space into different stage depths and even create a proscenium to frame the stage. And if a moderator wants to bring the audience closer to the action, more chairs can be placed on the floor. Capacity is limited to 240 for a dance party or other standing room only event.

The lobby creates a dynamic first impression, with black and white geometric wallpaper on the accent walls and dark gray paint on the gallery walls. Amber light fixtures cast a warm glow, and an ornate curved bar with subtle teal accents immediately draws attention. Leslie Nolte credits the look to Lisa Fender and Sarah Graf of evolution staging & design in Coralville.

Down the hall, a whimsical giant raccoon face covers the entrances to the new men’s and women’s restrooms. It mirrors the raccoon that Iowa City muralist Ryan Bentzinger painted in front of the theater in October.

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“The raccoon is known as the original masked player who feeds into all sorts of theatrical stuff,” said Leslie Nolte. “…And then it was super cool to bring exterior art and interior art into the space with Ryan just to give us something really unique that nobody else has.” We have raccoon eyes on our bathroom doors. In this respect we are unique.”

Art displayed on the opposite wall of the lobby will greet visitors through July 31st. Alicia Brown’s “Jazz Suite x 5 and other works” goes well with the June 11 jazz concert.

Leslie Nolte is particularly pleased that Brown’s work is inaugurating the gallery, as Brown was her ballet professor and mentor at the University of Iowa.

“Having Alicia’s art be the first on our gallery wall completes the circle of awesomeness,” said Leslie Nolte.

The James now has two full-time employees – Zoe Fruchter, operations manager, and Julia Corbett, technical manager. The Noltes are in the process of hiring a program director and eight part-time employees. Soon they must replace Fruchter, who is moving to Brooklyn, NY to be closer to family.

“It was the most incredible project I’ve had the privilege of being a part of,” said Fruchter, a graduate of Grinnell College. “I feel so fortunate to have seen how much this has grown and to be able to work here.”

While tackling such a huge project during the pandemic bought the Noltes time to work things out, supply chain issues pushed back deadlines and opening dates. Increasing costs and construction delays doubled the initial budget from $250,000 to $550,000 and ended up shooting it even higher, to a number the couple declined to disclose.

One of the biggest tasks was to break out the existing stage to create a level playing field for multiple uses. This process, which involved a crane, was slow.

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“It was really like watching paint dry,” said Leslie Nolte. “And then there was a hole that we looked down into the depths of the earth. And then it was a floor. I mean it was incredible.”

When contractors refused to tackle the sprung floor layer, the project became a family affair.

“The night before Thanksgiving, we put all seven blocks of foam here on the underside of four by eight sheets of plywood,” said Mark Nolte, who installed these floors before. “That’s the kind of family traditions we have.”

The project wasn’t a one-day job and Pat Gilpin, whose family owns the building, brought some tools and a few friends to work on the ground for three days, Mark Nolte added.

The final big piece of the puzzle is installing the MC Ginsberg designed outdoor signage and flipping the switch.

“If that’s lit and you can see it all the way to Gilbert Street,” Mark Nolte said. “That will be cool.”

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