The University of Iowa’s reputation as a home for creative faculty and students is supported by the Department of Theatre Arts. By 1937, the “Iowa Idea” had made its way to Tom Williams, an aspiring playwright and transfer student a year short of a degree. He enrolled at the University, earning his B.A. in 1938, and soon thereafter picked up the moniker “Tennessee.” Since then, graduates have gone on to many distinctions in film, television, and theatre. Alumni include Mary Beth Hurt and Gene Wilder, who (as Jerry Silberman) graduated from the University in 1955.
The Theatre Building, part of the UI’s mid-Depression construc- tion boom, is a testament to intra-University collaboration. George Horner’s design benefited from the input of Arnold S. Gillette, who taught set design and construction at the University for more than forty years and championed a thirty-six-foot revolving stage within a stage, one of the first of its kind. This theatre, later named after E. C. Mabie (the guiding force in the department’s earliest days), is articulated on the river façade and fly loft by a series of vertical fins typical of the streamlined mode of the Moderne style. (Horner had already used them on the Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory just downstream.) A 1985 renovation added to the old building the David L. Thayer Theatre (named for another emeritus faculty member) and Theatre B. The Modernist addition, red brick with a cornice of limestone detailing, echoes the massing of the original Moderne-style structure, now shorn of all ornament. The white aggregate cladding of the new office wing also serves as a visual podium for the theater blocks rising above and sympathetically continues the extensive row of square-framed windows Abramovitz had designed for the nearby Voxman Music Building fourteen years earlier. A tinted-glass atrium on the building’s river side provides access to all three stages, and the terrace in front accommodates outdoor dining during summer repertory.
The building is accessible to persons with disabilities. All theatres are accessible and are equipped with hearing augmentation systems. For details call the Theatre Department at (319) 335-2700.