While COVID-19 is altering nearly every aspect of life, small businesses are being hit especially hard. These changes are forcing business owners to adjust, but their uplifting stories of perseverance and creativity are showing what Iowans are capable of in difficult times.
Jamie and Andrea Henley had only owned the Giving Tree Theater in Marion, Iowa, for nine short months when they had to close due to the pandemic. Then, when they were finally able to reopen, they were forced to close again when Marion was hit and devastated by the derecho. But that won’t stop them from putting on shows and telling great stories with big heart.
Both Jamie and Andrea have been involved in theater their entire lives and even met each other through theater. A dream of theirs was to own a small business that gave back to their local community. As if it was fate, the Giving Tree Theater was listed for sale. Drawn to the theater’s homey feeling, Jamie and Andrea knew it would be the perfect opportunity.
Since purchasing the Giving Tree Theater in June 2019, Jamie and Andrea have committed to making it the best small community theater in the region. They continued offering a one-of-a-kind, intimate live theater experience, complete with cozy love seat, armchair and couch seating options, and stayed true to the theater’s name by partnering with and donating a portion of proceeds from each show to a different local human services nonprofit.
“One of the great things about Giving Tree Theater is the unique seating – it’s like watching a live theater performance from your living room,” said Jamie. “I work in the nonprofit sector during the day, so we knew we wanted to own a business that gives back to the community. We’re grateful to be able to do just that, while also bringing awareness to various local nonprofit organizations.”
They’re both heavily involved in all aspects of the theater, with Andrea directing more than half of the shows and Jamie performing as well as handling the set design, lighting and sound. They both run the concession stand and teach classes for elementary, middle and high school kids.
Then, when COVID-19 forced them to close their doors for three months, they banded together with their theater community to ensure “the show must go on.”
They produced a show that was written specifically during the pandemic to be performed virtually, allowing them to collaborate with actors and reach a new audience from across the country, and even adapted other shows to be performed virtually. They also posted virtual variety shows on their Facebook page , featuring several types of performances.
“We hope to provide live theater for those who are ready to come out, but still do a few virtual opportunities for those who aren’t ready,” said Andrea.
Though they had to cut down their capacity and limit the seating options, they’ve been able to welcome back theater-lovers and get back to doing what they love.
“The biggest thing we want people to know is that this is a unique theater experience right here in Marion that you won’t get anywhere else,” said Jamie. “Now that we’ve been able to reopen, we’re doing everything possible to ensure our customers’ safety while allowing them to enjoy live theater again.”