In a normal year, cast and crew for the Iowa Summer Repertory Theatre wouldn’t have thought twice about the weather. But they were about to stage a free preview performance for a flood-weary community, and the thunder and lightning outside momentarily gave them pause.
“It was a little ominous,” says Eric Forsythe, professor and head of directing for the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts and artistic director for Summer Rep, the annual festival showcasing work by a featured playwright.
The June 25 show—“Wonder of the World” by David Lindsay-Abaire—went on, of course, offering company and audience alike a break from a stressful few weeks.
Summer Rep runs through July at Iowa City West High School, where the program relocated once floodwaters started creeping toward the UI Theatre Building. Performances include additional Lindsay-Abaire plays, including “Rabbit Hole,” “Fuddy Mears,” and a staged reading of “Kimberly Akimbo.”
The last major campus flood, in 1993, caused mid-season Summer Rep cancellations. This year, the program grasped the chance to find a new location, but not without some soul searching.
“We were at odds about whether we should continue,” says Dave McGraw, a theatre department lecturer and production manager. “We knew it would be hard to go to rehearsal knowing everything that was happening outside.”
After some quick arrangements, Summer Rep made an overnight move to West High. “Many of us come from touring backgrounds,” McGraw says. “It was a huge group effort, but it hearkened back to the days when you’d put everything on a truck and away you’d go, not sure where you’d wind up next.”
It hasn’t all been easy. Some cast and crew rushed out to sandbag in the morning, then came to rehearsal. Many knew folks who were forced from their homes. Though guardedly optimistic, none are sure what they’ll find once they return to the evacuated Theatre Building.
All are determined to put on a show, however. “There’s nothing worse for an artist than not being able to work,” Forsythe says. “To be able to continue was just remarkable.” Proceeding with the season also provides Forsythe and colleagues a unique opportunity to support their community—they’re offering free tickets to anyone displaced by the flood.
Forsythe notes that this year’s choice of plays couldn’t be more appropriate. Funny, touching, and always surprising, Lindsay-Abaire’s work explores crisis and resilience.
“These are plays about coping with extraordinary circumstances,” he says. “That’s what everyone is doing right now, in these plays and in our own lives.”
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