The Orpheum ‘playbill’ is still being written
Since the Orpheum was built in 1948 by the Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) Company, a major movie studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age, it has been a cornerstone of downtown Marshalltown. While several entities have owned the historical theater, in reality the theater truly belongs to the community.
The history of ownership is a story of stewardship. The modern-day community story of the Orpheum started in 2002 when a local nonprofit organization, The Orpheum Centre, purchased the Orpheum with the intent of returning it to its former glory.
Three years later, The Orpheum Centre partnered with Iowa Valley Community College District to renovate the Orpheum as a multi-use community facility. The journey included several major grants, a successful bond issue, and thousands of individual, corporate, and foundation dollars – culminating in the theater reopening in 2010 as the IVCCD Orpheum Theater. The reopening marked a new “act” in the Orpheum’s playbill.
Since 2010, Iowa Valley has served as a steward of the theater through a tornado, derecho and a pandemic. But throughout these challenges, Iowa Valley, often in partnership with the Friends of the Orpheum board, has offered a spot for countless fine art events, movie screenings and community gatherings. It remained a fixture in the ever-changing landscape of downtown Marshalltown.
During this time, Iowa Valley also launched the Entertainment Design and Technology program, housed at the theater. The program brought students to the theatre, giving them real-world experience with set design and production. The program eventually closed due to low enrollment, ending a critical funding stream for theatre operations. Since that time, Iowa Valley has attempted to address operational costs, but with no formal educational program (and the accompanying revenue), the ongoing costs presented challenges.
When the Orpheum closed to the public in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we did not anticipate how much the scenery would shift over the coming months. In early July 2020, a community leader asked Iowa Valley to consider working with Marshall County and the Judicial District 2 to ensure trials could continue to be held locally during the ongoing courthouse renovation. Replicating many theatre productions, this created an interesting plot twist, and an unlikely partnership was born. The Orpheum was quickly transformed to accommodate multiple courtrooms and judicial space. The court system continues to operate in the Orpheum today and will likely remain there into the spring. It has been a wonderful community partnership and an important chapter of the Orpheum’s history.
Now, we are preparing to turn a new page and start the chapter of Marshalltown Community Schools as stewards (and owners) of the Orpheum. They will carry on the rich tradition of the Orpheum as a community treasure. Their stewardship will also allow for educational programs to return to the theatre, adding new vibrancy to the space.
When we announced the planned transfer of ownership for summer 2022, a few common questions arose:
How was the purchase price of $1 determined?
When Iowa Valley decided to explore transferring ownership to another community entity, our focus was on ensuring:
· The theater remains a community asset open to the public
· The long-term viability and maintenance of the Orpheum
· Past investments would be honored by future uses
It was determined early on that if a non-commercial partner was identified that met the criteria above, the transfer of ownership would be for a nominal fee that would allow MCSD to ensure the future viability of the space. And the transfer of ownership eliminates the operating expenses for Iowa Valley while engaging a new generation of learners in the space: a true win-win-win.
Were stakeholders engaged in the process?
Key stakeholders and community leaders were engaged to gather feedback and ideas over the past year. These discussions were critical to the process, several prospective owners were engaged and opportunities were explored. In the end, the Marshalltown Community School District was clearly the best fit. In a twist of fate, the transfer of ownership to MCSD may cause Marshalltown Community College classes to return to the space as an extension of the great work the high school does to encourage dual enrollment for high school students.
I am personally excited to watch the Orpheum story continue to evolve well into the future.
Kristie Fisher is the Chancellor for the
Iowa Valley Community College District