Dengler Domain: Opera houses, theaters

One of my favorite pastimes is exploring old buildings. The good news is Iowa is full of old buildings from farmsteads to small towns to the big city. Old is all around and old is not bad. Some of the best old buildings to look at, especially in small towns, are opera houses and theaters. These venues used to hold the main attractions from town and coming through town. Lights lit up the stage and cinema lit up the screen. These buildings were built with a sense of beauty to help going to an event realize it was important.

Local, regional, and national acts performed at these venues. People came out to see them because they could not watch television or play with their smartphone at home. It may be hit or miss whether the act is good, but it beats sitting at home twiddling your thumbs. With the advent of television and other entertainment mediums, opera houses and theaters were pushed out of favor.

In rural Iowa, some opera houses and theaters have deteriorated or been repurposed for another use. The acts, stages, and lights were turned out to never be turned on again. Fortunately, some communities hung onto their opera houses and theaters, and through persistence and stubbornness kept them afloat. Most of the ones which are still around show films or are used as an event space, but the live acts have not made the comeback to these venues.

Maybe it was the pandemic causing a reevaluation of life or age, I found out Iowa still possesses a lot of these cool opera houses and theaters. Since I perform stand up and I know other great Iowa comedians, I figured there is no better goal than keeping comedy local in Iowa and performing across these Iowa opera houses and theaters.

After the last stressful couple of years, it was time to perform, time for the lights to turn back on, and time for some laughs. I am at the beginning of my journey performing at a couple of venues already this year, and while the list is long, I want to touch every corner of the Hawkeye State. This is a yearslong project, but it is worth the try. These venues were built for entertainment and live entertainment is the best form of entertainment. Everyone exists in the same place and time for only a small moment on the cosmic scale, but this experience will only be felt during this moment and never again. Unfortunately, the value of live entertainment is less so due to the amount of entertainment one can access at home. Whether it is a comedy show, musical act, theatrical play, or whatever form of live entertainment – go check it out.

Live entertainment keeps communities connected by coming together across the country. For Iowa, providing this entertainment in opera houses and theaters throughout Iowa will help connect Iowans again. These buildings were built to be the jewel of rural Iowa towns, and they deserve to be preserved for generations to come and to honor the stages with a variety of entertainment.