The Iowa Theater Renovation: Interview With The Fons Girls, Part I

The Iowa Theater, Winterset, IA town square, 1951. Photo: [Checking on it!]
The Iowa Theater, Winterset, IA town square, 1951. Photo: [TBD]

For those with a need for the backstory, it’s right here. For those who know my family is rebuilding the old movie house in my hometown, here’s the first of a two-part interview with the two Fons women in charge. Boy, are they great. There’s Marianne Fons, a.k.a., “Mom,” and my younger and far more talented sister, Rebecca. Enjoy!

PAPERGIRL: So, Mom and Rebecca. How’s the theater buildout going? What’s happening with construction?

REBECCA: It’s kinda like, what isn’t happening? I used to look at this project as a single, long road: Do this, then do this. A to B to C. But now I realize it’s more like a bunch of roads parallel to each other. The foyer is being worked on while the wiring is being figured out. The fundraising is happening while the money is being spent. It’s a huge, living project.

MOM: Contractor Steve Reed and his workers are currently focused on the renovation of the marquee and the adorable ticket foyer. Last week I personally unscrewed hundreds of brass screws to release the old wiring and light bulb sockets from the marquee panels. By the way, “marquee” is my new favorite word.

PG: It’s a good word — and that’s a lot of screws.

M: Despite having been in place out in the weather since 1928, each screw came out with just a few twists of the screwdriver. I listened to that band Alabama Shakes while doing this work. Our electrician will rewire the marquee with 100s of beautiful LED lights.

PG: I love it that you’re getting your hands dirty.

R: When we were doing the clean out early on, Mom and I did a lot of the labor because we wanted just that — and it was work that made sense. If we could lift it and take it to the dump, we did.

PG: This is what I’ve marveled about all along: How are you two even doing this?! You both have a zillion skills and experience in big projects, but neither of you has ever built a movie theater.

R: So much has been a lot of guess, test, and revise — but we really, really know how to throw out trash and clean, so we started there.

PG: When I was in Iowa, we talked over the paint colors of the lobby/vestibule.

M: The foyer ceiling will be a metallic antique gold — very Hollywood — with crimson walls to match the vintage Art Deco one-person ticket booth and coordinate with the terrazzo floor.

PG: Fancy.

M: Rebecca has selected the two small chandeliers that will illuminate the spaces to the right and left of the ticket booth.

R: I never thought I’d be able to pick out chandeliers. It was very fun, and we landed on the right one pretty quickly. I think Mom and I both have a similar aesthetic.

PG: You dress in the same colors!

R: She gives me stuff she doesn’t want anymore and vice versa. It’s been great that we haven’t struggled to land on paint, carpet, etc. We are also both very aware we are just two people, so we’ve tried to get outside opinions from friends, other family, and other theater friends we have made on everything from what kind of candy we should sell — Raisinets for sure! — to what color the ceiling should be in the ticket lobby: gold.

PG: How about all the beautiful wood? What’s going on there?

M: All the original oak trim and the oak doors will be refurbished.

R: It is going to be cozy, elegant, and sturdy.

PG: I cannot wait to go into that place and see a movie.

M: “Refurbished” is one of our favorite words, too.

PG: Rebecca, you amaze me with your talent for managing this huge project.

R: Thank you, sis; that means a lot to me. I have extensive event planning and management experience, but I still feel like I’m about 16 years old most of the time, so the faith the family has had in me and Ma to do this — the support and the faith — has been invaluable.

PG:What has been the most fun for you so far in the process?

R: The most fun thing, honestly, is working with Mom. And coming home to Iowa. When I was a teenager I just wanted to get out of Iowa. I was very self-conscious, I guess, and I feel bad about it because now I look forward to coming home. I love having long talks with Mom about the future, brainstorming about exciting programming ideas, and eating tacos with Mom and Mark.

PG: I totally get it. I loved coming home for TV.

R: I worked at the Chicago International Film Festival for almost ten years, and though that job was often very exciting, it was ultimately a desk job. Being able to be on my feet, interact with new people, and collaborate with Mom, who is truly one of my business/career idols, has been really, really fun.

PG: What’s the hardest part?

R: The most challenging thing is when I’m not there — when I’m back in Chicago. I’m a little OCD and I like to be super involved, so it has been hard being away. I’m essentially a third in Iowa and two-thirds in Chicago, but that will flip starting in 2017.

PG: How has the community of Winterset and beyond responded to The Iowa Theater renovation and renaissance?

M: Winterset and Madison County citizens couldn’t be more excited or supportive. Soon, they will have the opportunity to show their support in a very tangible way. We have applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status and expect our designation any day. Once that day comes, we can begin accepting donations. The project has so far cost over $350,000. We’re hoping the community will step up and match this amount and there’s no contribution too small or too large! We really, really want to finish the job and open as planned this spring.

R: People. Are. So. Psyched. And it is SO great because, of course people would be happy that any awesome new “thing” is coming to town because it would provide jobs and business, but this is a MOVIE THEATER. Our movie theater! And everyone loves movies! Date night, family night, getting out of the house, warm buttery popcorn, cold soda. It’s America and it’s our childhoods. I loved that movie theater when I was a kid, so when I put myself in the place of myself back then and imagine it being closed and then reopening… I would be counting down the days.

M: Rebecca, what a great idea! When we get closer to opening we should figure out some kind of visual way we actually CAN count down the days to opening!

PG: I love how many ALL CAPS are happening right now.

R: YES! Truly, the support of the community — both in thumbs ups and high fives and Facebook likes keep us going. The thing is, we have something special with The Iowa. The town of Winterset is lovely; there are beautiful hanging baskets of petunias hung all around the square in the spring and summer that the MAYOR and his wife water every night from the back of a truck; there are quality, well-managed, new businesses like the Covered Bridge Winery and longtimers like the Ben Franklin store; there is the incredibly curated John Wayne Birthplace Museum, which expanded in 2015; and there are things like The Iowa Quilt Museum — nice work, Mom! — that have been shaping Winterset into, or back into, a gem.

PG: Set to open in May, right? The Iowa?

M: Yes, May.

R: Gaaaah! Yes. MAAAAAAY. So much to do.

[Second half tomorrow!]

9 Responses

  1. Melissa Cooper
    | Reply

    I would like to send a small donation toward this wonderful renovation. To whom can this be sent?

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Melissa! I’m gonna get that info ASAP! It has to do with the non-profit status coming in any day! I’ll post it as soon as we know. Until then, Rebecca, any help?? 😀

  2. Sandra Weimer
    | Reply

    That is so cool!

  3. Ryan R. Young
    | Reply

    Are you going to reopen with “Steel Helmet”?
    Samuel Fuller at his best!

  4. Tracy
    | Reply

    Love Alabama Shakes and now I think I want to visit Winterset, go see a quilt museum and a movie! Thanks PG, for the interview, looking forward to Part 2!

  5. Kathy
    | Reply

    Count down to opening on the New Marquee…like New Year’s Eve in TImes Square

  6. […] the second half of the interview — and it gets extra good today. Catch up right here if you missed yesterday’s post. See ya at the […]

  7. A
    | Reply

    Did you e-mail the questions and then your mom and sister filled them in?

    I’m just wondering because I feel that a person seeking a writing degree should know that “alot: is 2 words… (Heck the comment box fixed that error for me.)

    I come to read the writing of an adult who professes to love writing and words, so I feel the critique is reasonable.
    (Now you may feel free to flame me for insulting your favorite “sewlebrity.” Again realize this was a critique of the spelling error not an insult to any of the thee people involved.)

  8. […] you next in Iowa, Mom, for the opening of the theater. Remind me to do an interview update with you and Rebecca this week or next […]

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