Exclusive Interview: The Iowa Theater Three

L-R: Rebecca, Mark, Marianne. No longer on the couch but at Mi Pueblito, the local Mexican restaurant. Photo: Meee.
L-R: Rebecca, Mark, Marianne. We moved from the porch mentioned below to Mi Pueblito, the local Mexican restaurant. Photo courtesy PaperGirl Photo Editor. (That’s me!)


It’s Iowa in May. It’s 7:30 in the evening and it is gorgeous. I’m sitting out on the back deck of the house in Winterset. We moved here when I was in fourth grade and I left this home when I headed to college at seventeen. It’s a good house. 

My mother, my stepfather Mark, and my younger sister Rebecca and I have decided to have a glass of wine out here. I have decided that I ought to interview the people I have just dubbed The Iowa Theater Three. What follows is the conversation, edited for length because we had to leave to get some food for heaven’s sake. We got Mexican food at Mi Pueblito. (See above photo.) 

PAPERGIRL: Mark. The theater is officially open. How does this change your life?

MARK: Having the theater open will allow me — and everyone else in town, as far as I can figure — to stop having to go into Des Moines anytime we want to see a movie. I like the big screen. I like the movie experience. Having the theater back in town saves us an enormous amount of money and time and grief because we don’t have to drive into Des Moines to see one.

PG: And how about, like, domestically?

MARK: My home is a storage warehouse! I’m hoping we can get some of this stuff out of here, now! (Laughter.) You can’t imagine. Everything you can think of that you need for a movie theater, it’s all in the house: candy, cleaning supplies, cups, straws, napkins, office supplies. And it’s in the garage, too! An old rewinding machine, an new desk, still in the crate.

PG: You’re a good man, Mark. Mom, how has Mark been helpful in this process?

MARIANNE: There’s no better cheerleader than Mark Davis. He just rolls with it. And I have to say this: As a man who loves order, he has been very understanding of the — well, it’s not chaos. We’ve been doing all this in a very orderly way. But he’s been so good about the usurping of his space. Mark has been as supportive as a person can be. You know he sold his boat and donated all the money to the theater.

PG: Incredible. Mark, how much did you sell the boat for?

MARK: $3400.

MARIANNE: His name’s on the donor wall, now. And he drove two-and-a-half hours to Breda, Iowa —

REBECCA: To Snappy Popcorn —

MARIANNE: — to Snappy Popcorn to pick up five boxes of coconut oil for the popcorn machine. That trip saved us over $200 in shipping.

PG: Mark, you’re a good man. Now, the donor wall is something I wanted to ask about. It’s looking great. But I have a concern that now that the theater is open, people will stop donating. There’s still so much to do, but now that it’s an operating theater, I just wonder if people will understand that fundraising hasn’t ended — and people may not even understand that the Iowa is a non-profit. So Rebecca, can you just tell me a little more about where you guys are with donations and more about the choice to build the theater as a non-profit in the first place?

R: Sure. So, when Mom and I were first approaching all this, of course we had long conversations and did a lot of investigating into for-profit vs. nonprofit business plans. Mom’s background is in for-profit businesses; mine is in non-profits. When we did the pie-chart for a for-profit, it was basically ticket sales and popcorn. Which is risky, for one thing. But it wasn’t just that: It was that with the non-profit model, you get so much more involvement with the community. In applying for grants, sponsorships, and donations, or launching things like membership groups, the foundation of the organization becomes way more interesting.

PG: Right. Like, the grants you apply for become part of the story.

R: Yeah, like… Like we could apply for a grant from the state to preserve a piece of Iowa history with a renovation project. That kind of thing.

PG: So you’re always going to be grant writing and fundraising. It’s a living, breathing thing.

R: Fundraising is ongoing and always will be. Of the million dollars it has taken to do all this, we’ve got $200k in debt to pay off. There’s a lot to do — and we still have construction to finish.

PG: The office and the green room, right?

R: Right. And as you said, now that we’re open, some people will say, “Oh, well, they’re open, why should I give money?” And some people won’t give. Other people will give with their patronage, which is obviously important and valued! But some people may have been waiting to give until they saw the finished product.

PG: Ah. I didn’t even think of that.

R: Yeah, I mean, everyone who gave before the theater was open gave out of faith. Some people have been waiting to see if we could pull it off. For some, seeing is believing.

PG: Rebecca, that should be your new fundraising slogan: “The Iowa Theater: Seeing is believing.”

MARIANNE: I love that! By the way, Mary, in the two years we’ve been working on this, Rebecca and I made a number of field trips to other small, independently-owned theaters in Iowa. All these single-screen theaters are non-profits. We’re part of a trend. At the end of this fiscal year, and every fiscal year, the idea is to be in the black and the profit for the theater equals $0.

PG: And then you might even be able to invest in other non-profits.

R: Exactly. And one last thing from me on this: With non-profit status, we can do great fundraisers and offer tax deductions. Rather than this theater just stopping with the Fons family, it’s something bigger. The income goes to the space and the staff.* We have grants we have our eyes on for programming and historic improvements like a permanent display of the evolution of the building from the 1800s to now; a film club for the high school. Soon we want to offer pre-movie ads for local businesses and we want to get ready to rent the space for weddings and parties. And we want to do a yearly fundraising party! A special screening of Gone With the Wind, maybe. Oh, and we could live-stream the Superbowl.

PG: That’s amazing. I don’t even care about the Superbowl at all and I’m coming to that. I mean… The Superbowl in a movie theater?? Can I throw stuff?? Not at the screen. I just want to throw stuff. Like in the air. Not a football. Just things. And I want to shout.

MARIANNE: We’ll save you a seat. Look, by being a non-profit, our cultural mandate is clear: We want to provide a multi-use cinema and performance space for the community of Madison County and beyond.

PG: Mark, should we go get something to eat? Are you ready to head out?

MARK: Honeybun, I’ve been ready. Let’s get a move on.

PG: Okay, last question for Mom and Rebecca. I said the other night that the party was a smash. Truly a night to remember. Mom, what was your favorite moment of the evening?

MARIANNE: Standing at the mic with Rebecca.

R: I was going to say the same thing.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: They’re both tearing up.]

PAPERGIRL: Thanks, you guys. I think we can end there for now. Mark, let me just get my jacket and we can go. Are we gonna get the con queso?

MARK: You bet.

[end of interview]

*The Iowa Theater created eight new part-time jobs in Winterset: two managers and six staffers.