Like a lot of arts organizations, the Adler Theatre is thinking big. A bigger stage, a bigger lobby, bigger dressing rooms, bigger shows. All with money from the State of Iowa. That's the plan anyway.

Expansion of the Adler Theatre is part of the $75 million Vision Iowa proposal for Davenport, Bettendorf, and Scott County. The package includes virtually every major riverfront cultural project put on the table in recent years, including moving the Davenport Museum of Art, building a performing-arts center in Bettendorf, renovating John O'Donnell Stadium, adding an IMAX theatre to the Putnam museum.

Like all of those projects, getting funding from the $300 million Vision Iowa program is the preferred method of financing. (And that's as it should be. Who would turn down free money?) "Right now we're waiting on the Vision fund," said Mike Hartman, executive director of the Adler. But "we're going to go forward" no matter whether the Quad Cities gets the Vision Iowa money.

The theatre plans to expand its lobby, stage, and dressing rooms, a project that will cost between $2.5 million and $3 million. Hartman said he expects the project to be completed in 2003.

"The main focus for this would be Broadway" shows, Hartman said.

In the past, he said, the Adler has lost out on bigger Broadway shows - such as Chicago, Cats, Rent, Beauty and the Beast, and Les Miserables - because it's stage is too small - less than 28 feet deep. The theatre also had to pass on a Harry Connick Jr. show because of stage size. After expansion, the stage will extend back about 43 feet.

"Once this project is done, we'll be able to accommodate just about any show that wants to come here," Hartman said.

The goal, Hartman said, is to attract big shows for week-long runs. There would probably still be only six shows in the Broadway series, but they'd stick around longer.

But should state government help foot the bill for a few weeks a year of entertainment?

"The dollar volume is enormous," Hartman said. "This project will pay for itself after the first year."

That's the kind of talk the state's looking for. While Vision Iowa money is set aside for cultural and tourist attractions, a big criterion is how much money they can attract to the state. We're not talking altruism here.

One big drawback, though, is that money attracted by an expanded Adler would come at the expense of the existing Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City. "Right now we don't look at them as a competitor. We are very different in our programming," Hartman said. With the expansion, though, "we would be in direct competition" for the bigger shows. (Hancher has Rent and Beauty and the Beast on its schedule this fall.)

But Hartman downplayed those concerns. "There's enough for both communities," he said.

Competition might also be a concern for another Adler undertaking: a film series tentatively scheduled to start in September.

That doesn't worry Bob King, a board member of the Open Cities Film Society. Actually, his organization is helping Adler secure its first film. "I don't think we or the commercial cinemas should worry about that," he said. "We're really happy that they're doing this." King's words echo what many in the arts community say: You can never have too much arts.

The Adler - then the RKO - was one of the first theatres in the area to show "talkies," but it hasn't screened a film since Cleopatra in 1973. For the film series, the theatre has acquired a massive screen and new projectors.

The dates and the movies aren't yet set, said Heather Kearns, the theatre's marketing director. Kearns said the theatre plans to open with Singin' in the Rain - a movie whose storyline ties into the theatre's history.

"That would be a perfect tie-in for us," said King, because Open Cities runs a lot of classics.

The Adler hopes to offer some classics and second-run movies and has set aside some money to subsidize the first season.

"Maybe eventually we'll be able to show our own film festival," Kearns said. "We have plan, aspirations. It's just a matter of getting off our feet."

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher