A story of love, tradition, and one staff member’s self-reflections at the annual Festival of Carols.
From Staff Writer/House Manager Sarah Kosch
It all started with a big red chair. TheLuxeZone had graciously let The Englert Theatre borrow it for its annual Festival of Carols in 2011, and not surprisingly, the staff turned it into a holiday photo op. It’s not every show we have time to goof off on stage, but when we do, it’s a grand production. That is the first Festival of Carols that I remember, even though it’s been an annual tradition since 2007 and I started working at the Englert in 2008 when I moved to Iowa City for college, first selling concessions and working in the box office, and eventually house managing shows. I think I remember it so clearly partly because it was the first holiday season with my boyfriend, Andrew, the Englert’s graphic designer since 2010 whom I tried to impress for months as he walked past the Englert box office on his way to the Marketing office, and partly because it was also my senior year as an English major, and I was thinking about the future and where/if the Englert fit into my grand plans for riches and world fame. Part of me was sure it was my last year in Iowa City, that it was time for a change, and I was right in one regard. Change was on the horizon, as it always is.
Festival of Carols 2012 found both Andrew and I still in Iowa City, still at the Englert, and wearing the exact same Christmas sweaters from the year before. Andrew was working 50 hours a week between his full-time job and the Englert, and I had graduated and was piecing together a living from multiple part-time jobs. The night of the festival, I skived off work so that I wouldn’t miss the fun. The Englert looks absolutely beautiful during the holidays. If you haven’t ever braved the Iowa winter to see a show, I promise it’s worth the trek to see the cozy lobby decked out in lights and the Christmas tree set up in the corner. It’s even better for Festival of Carols when hot cocoa, cookies, carols, and Santa Claus are added into the mix. Andrew and I posed in front of the tree, and thought, Hey wouldn’t it be funny to hold last year’s photo while we took another picture? There’d be us, and then there’d be mini us sitting in a big red chair. So we did it. We thought about the potential of the experiment. A thousand tiny us’s, year by year, always moving forward but never losing sight of where we came from. And what better setting than the Englert, a theater with 102 years of history unhesitatingly propelling into the next stage of its existence? This place is a juxtaposition in itself, so rich with the past and so eager to push the boundaries of what the future can hold.
The year after, we added another layer to our tradition. I had ventured out of the Arts world into a traumatizing but character building full-time office job. Andrew and I were both working 50 hours week then, but as overwhelming as it sometimes felt, neither of us could give up the Englert completely. I was working far less, but I’d still come in for shows in the evenings and helped out when I could. It was the year I fully realized how irreplaceable the Englert is. Workplaces like this are few and far between, if they exist at all. I love the people I work with. They are like family to me. They were my support after a crappy day at the office. Coming to work a show didn’t even feel like work, it was like coming home.
I look forward to what this year’s festival will bring as it will be to a much different tune than last year for me. For the first time, I’m not trying to squeeze the Englert in between classes or second and third jobs, and I’m doing just fine. I’ve realized that daytime hours and dental aren’t worth nearly enough to stay in a job you hate, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to knit myself a position that suits me perfectly for the time being. All it took was the realization that I needed to stop looking at the Englert as a place to grow up from, and embrace it as a place to grow with. Perhaps this year, Andrew and I will splurge for new sweaters. And though there will inevitably come a day when the backdrop to our Christmas photo will change, we will always have that beginning point, in a red chair years ago.