City Circle - The city of Coralville has changed a lot over the years. From the arrival of the Coral Ridge Mall in 1998 to the creation of a 'downtown' area, Coralville is no longer "Stickville" as it was called in the 1950s or even just the "Strip" as I knew it when I arrived in the early 1990s. If anything epitomizes that change, it's the Coralville Center of the Performing Arts, which opened in 2011. This beautiful theatre is home to the City Circle Acting Company of Coralville. Formed in 1997, the company presented its first show, Nunsense in 1998 at the old University of Iowa Oakdale campus. They followed that rollicking musical comedy with two dramatic plays - The Lion in Winter and The Boys Next Door. From the beginning, their shows were well received and showed a high level of skill. Most of the founding members of the company had honed their talents across town at the Iowa City Community Theatre and knew how to create exciting and invigorating theatre. Over the years, they produced classics like Pippin to shocking shows like Bat Boy: The Musical.
City Circle has bounced around to many different locations - an old warehouse where the Iowa River Landing now lives, the Iowa Children's Museum, and the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City. Perhaps most memorably, they performed Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at the Coralville Aquatic Center's outdoor pool. But now they have a permanent home in the heart of downtown Coralville. Last month, they produced Noises Off, one of the funniest shows ever, to much acclaim. Next up is The Hobbit, which opens October 26.We had the opportunity to ask Carrie Houchins-Witt, City Circle's Artistic Core rep, a few questions about the current season.
Iowa Theatre Blog: You have quite an eclectic group of shows this year: musicals, a fantasy play, an uproariously funny comedy, original works and a Christmas show. How did you choose this season?
Carrie Houchins-Witt: We wanted to start off our second season in the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts with a bang, or in this case, a slam! Noises Off is a wonderfully fun and witty play that we have been wanting to do for ages. The show requires an enormous and very intricate set that we have never been able to accommodate in spaces we have previously used. We also had the very talented Wallace Chappell who was keen to direct the show. We thought it a winning combination to set off our second CCPA season. From there, it just fell into place: we did make an effort to keep things varied in style and genre, as it's a great way to appeal to the creativity of a wide variety of artists.
I think it’s safe to say most people know the story of the Hobbit. What adaptation are you using?
The Hobbit is a classic tale that has endured for generations, with each new group of readers finding new ways to connect to the story. While this adaptation, written in the 1960s by Patricia Gray, was intended for children, audiences of all ages will thrill to the adventures experienced by these well-known characters. In particular, we anticipate that parents who loved the book in their own youth will be glad of the chance to share that joy with their children, and devoted fans will have fun exploring yet another interpretation. Of course no one, not even a newcomer to the story, is immune to the charm of Bilbo, the reluctant hero. We chose Gray's adaptation because it is a version that J.R.R. Tolkien approved, and his reasons are evident in the way that it retains the novel's sense of wonder and excitement.
Two years in a row for Christmas Carol. Is this going to be a City Circle tradition? Or is there just always going to be a “Christmas” slot in your season?
A Christmas Carol is a Christmas classic, and many theaters across the country revisit it yearly. Our dream is that the show will continue to grow and mature in our hands. A lot of options are open to us as we continue to perform in the CCPA space. We hope for this to continue as a community tradition for years to come.
The title of your next show, Urinetown, could turn some people off. Why do we want to see a show about, well, pee?
While the show does have a potentially controversial title, it is a fantastic, modern musical that we think many audiences will enjoy. It is patently self-aware; in fact, one of the first lines in this hilarious satire is "Nothing can kill a show like...bad subject matter, or a bad title, even. That can kill a show pretty good." This Tony Award-winner satirizes capitalism, social irresponsibility, and even the Broadway musical genre itself. We have confidence that the director, Jesse Jensen, will bring together an amazing pool of local talent to bring this piece to life.
After that you’ll be presenting a new play festival. Did you get a lot of submissions? What sort of shows can we expect for that night?
City Circle puts together a New Play Festival every other year, and this year will not disappoint! We have received over 300 submissions, and are currently in the process of reading them and selecting which ones will be produced in February. We are focusing on previously unproduced shorter plays that have some sort of Iowa connection.
You end the season with a classic musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This is a play City Circle has presented before back in the 2000-01 season. What made you bring it back?
A Funny Thing… is, indeed, a classic show. This is another case where director interest helped spur our choice. We had the very committed Patrick DuLaney eager to put up this show, so we jumped at the chance to revive it. It is always a blast. Full of laughs and wonderful music, this farce is sure to be an audience-pleaser!
What else do you want to tell us about City Circle or this particular season?
City Circle strives to live up to the community's expectation of excellent production values while providing an excellent production experience to the artists with whom we collaborate. Additionally, we seek to educate our patrons and our artists in different ways by holding workshops, book clubs, and classes, something which really has taken off for us this year. We are committed to bringing a variety of experiences to all audiences, ages, and walks of life.
(Photos by ICPixx.)