Hancher Auditorium construction continues on Wednesday Oct. 8, 2014. The new UI building is set to open Fall 2016. (Daily Iowan/Courtney Hawkins)

Dreaming big in new Hancher


By Grace Pateras

From sitting in the Hancher Auditorium audience as a child to performing on its stage and launching a career touring across the country, one successful Iowan is excited about the opening of the new Hancher.

Susan Werner, who has a longtime Hancher connection as both a guest and performer, said the new facility will open up so many more doors than just a theater.

“[Hancher is] not only a setting for a show but a setting for dreams for kids who look up at the show and want to be part of it some day,” she said. “It’s something that the beauty and ambition that the new Hancher will fulfill those dreams. Kids will dream as big as that stage.”

The new Hancher is set to open next fall, replacing the building destroyed by the 2008 flood.

Benefits of the new venue include a central location for shows, an up-to-date multipurpose theater, and other amenities.

In October 2014, Hancher held a “Leave Your Mark” event to promote the new building. Werner spoke about her experiences with Hancher and sang a few songs. Thus, she was officially the first performer at the new Hancher location.

“After the public portion of the event, we took [Werner] inside the facility, and she played for the construction workers during lunch,” said Rob Cline, the Hancher director of marketing and communication. “It was wonderful to have a native Iowan who was familiar with the old facility help us celebrate the new facility.”

Werner, a Manchester native, grew up attending shows at the auditorium. Her high-school drama teacher took her to see musicals for field trips. Seeing professionals come to Iowa City to perform, she knew she wanted to be a performer.

“I remember sitting there [in the audience] thinking, ‘What is this?’ in utter amazement,” Werner said. “I mean, these things had sets, choreography, a pit, lighting. The size of the shows was amazing.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1986 with a degree in vocal performance, Werner pursued a career as a musician. Now, she tours across the country singing songs from her albums. Much of her music fits into the folk genre, but she has dabbled in jazz, gospel, pop, and even cabaret. Hayseed, her 12th album, was released in 2013. Many of the album’s songs are about farming, a skill she learned from growing up on a farm.

Currently, the artist is writing a play as well.

Many successful careers such as the one Werner has in the arts industry can be contributed to a simple theater auditorium, such as Hancher.

Hancher Programing Director Jacob Yarrow, who is in charge of determining artistic performances, said the first round of artists to perform at the new auditorium will be announced in April 2016.

It seems they just can’t wait that long to host events, though. On Aug. 22, Hancher presented “Drawing Closer” to mark one year until the auditorium opens. Chalk artists decorated the concrete around the construction zone as Squonk Opera provided background music for the afternoon. The event was intended to show the relationship among art, music, and the community that Hancher hopes to provide in its new location in the coming years.

In the meantime, Hancher has relied on Iowa City venues to host performances since the flood. Next fall, shows can be held in one central spot.

“It will be excellent to have our own facility again,” Yarrow said. “It’ll be an unbelievable place to bring communities together with some of the greatest artists of our time.”

Werner is proud of the UI community for “dreaming big” with the new auditorium, she said.

“Build a small hall, and kids dreams will stay kind of small,” she said. “Build a big hall, and kids’ dreams will expand to fill the space. The new Hancher is a helluva big hall.”

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