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A look inside the renovated Englert Theatre, part of Iowa City's Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign


The Englert Theatre reopened to the public Wednesday with self-guided tours to show the renovations made inside the downtown Iowa City landmark.

The reopening comes after the theater’s closure in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All renovations were made possible by the Strengthen Grow Evolve campaign, a fund-raiser in partnership with FilmScene that kicked off in April 2019.

The result, according to the campaign’s commemorative book, is $5.48 million in cash and $1.68 million in in-kind donations from 2,025 donors.

In an email to the Press-Citizen, Katie Roche, development director at the Englert, explained the impact of the capital raised.

“This campaign was built on the vision of building the greatest small city for the arts. That started by investing in the infrastructure of the Englert and of FilmScene on the Pedmall, growing by building FilmScene at the Chauncey — which creates more programming opportunities — and evolving by investing in improving access and engagement with the arts for all people in our community,” Roche wrote.

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What's new: Stage wall, roof, air quality system, an Englert Lounge and more

The Englert saw structural restoration, including the theater stage’s back brick wall, which is more than 100 years old and damaged by fire in 1926. Now the back wall has new bricks put into place throughout, carefully designed to match the aged, pre-existing brick for a seamless appearance.

The Englert's roof membrane, which is used to create watertight coverage to protect against leaks, was replaced.

Meanwhile, guests at the Englert can enjoy a new HVAC system for air quality and movement, especially relevant considering COVID-19.  

On the second floor, the Douglas and Linda Paul Gallery, now being referred to as the Englert Lounge, was “extensively renovated,” according to Roche.

The walls that once defined rooms in the Englert’s apartment have been removed, allowing “a larger, more flexible space that will be able to accommodate more people, small performances or readings, and special events,” Roche said.

Inside the lounge, the new floors mimic the appearance of the original.

Also in the lounge are the large glass windows that overlook the marquee, which were refurbished to their original state, said John Schickedanz, interim executive director and marketing director. Though some of the glass was replaced, the renovation retained as much of the glass as possible.

The most visible sign of the preservation is the marquee, which was reinstalled to the Englert’s front in December 2020 after it was disassembled, refurbished and topped with a fresh coat of its signature shade of red and blue paint.

Other updates to the Englert include employees operating out of the will-call booth, the ticket booth that stands in the center of the theater’s lobby. It hasn’t been used for its intended purpose for several years, according to Schickedanz.

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What's next: Sound system will be modernized as live music takes center stage

But renovations at the Englert aren’t complete yet.

The next undertaking includes updating the sound system to "modern, state-of-the-art specifications," according to the commemorative book. The cost of that project is estimated at around $400,000, Schickedanz said.

The current sound system, according to Schickedanz, was put together under the assumption that the Englert would hold plays and other such theatrical performances and operate less as a music venue.

While music performances aren’t the only live events the Englert offers, they certainly make up a majority of programming now.

“It sounds great in there when you're attending a performance, but it could be better,” Schickedanz said.

Schickedanz said that a lot of the equipment related to lighting and the sound system were bought secondhand or passed down over time.

As a result, there’s been plenty of wear and tear over the years, and as sound technology has improved, the Englert is looking to offer the best experience possible for those who step through the doors.

More: FilmScene welcome audiences back to the big screen and says goodbye to longtime staff member

While the sound system upgrade won’t be a project that will be immediately taken on due to the large price tag, Schickedanz said, it may be done piecemeal over the years.

Now the theater is prepped for the public, hosting acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke on Friday evening.

“This will be the first live performance on the stage since we’ve closed, so it'll be pretty exciting,” Schickedanz said.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.