If you were to cross paths with Danielle Wilbanks and Derek Shonrock on a performance day at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium, you will likely find the two UI alumni dressed in black from head to toe – with good reason.
“We like to lurk quietly and anonymously in the shadows,” says Derek, with a hearty chuckle and stroke of his beard.
The pair will be tucked away in a dark corner when Steve Martin and Martin Short take the stage on Sept. 24 for the new Hancher’s inaugural gala performance. It’s been eight years since the Danielle and Derek have had the opportunity to work at Hancher Auditorium, where they routinely spend 60 to 70 hours a week during the peak of performance season.
Hancher Auditorium was one of 20 buildings on the UI campus affected by the devastating flood of 2008. Hancher was damaged beyond repair, and was razed. The new Hancher, built just west of the old auditorium, will celebrate its grand opening on Friday, Sept. 9.
As Hancher’s lighting and rigging supervisor, Derek has little difficulty filling his workday. He also supervises set-up and change-over of all stage equipment, and assists with load-ins and load-outs. He works closely with Hancher’s union crew of stagehands and is engaged with UI students employed by Hancher.
Danielle is Hancher’s stage manager and her plate also is full. A native of Victoria, Texas, Danielle coordinates all the logistics for load-ins, set-up, performances, and load-outs. She works closely with all UI students employed at Hancher – she’s involved in the hiring, training, and scheduling of the student stage crew. She’s also responsible for any and all special needs of Hancher artists during their time in Iowa City.
“I have my dream job,” says Danielle, with a smile as wide as Hancher’s new stage.
That evening in late September will officially mark the end of a bittersweet chapter in Wilbanks’ and Shonrock’s professional lives, a chapter that included tremendous challenges and meaningful rewards.
“It’s fair and accurate to say that Danielle and Derek helped to keep (Hancher) alive,” says Chuck Swanson, Hancher’s executive director, without a moment of hesitation.
Keeping Hancher alive during the eight years the auditorium was being rebuilt meant taking the performing arts to the people of Iowa -- in places near and far. That was no easy task.
“It was very challenging, particularly the first few years. We were learning on the fly about the ins and outs of these new places. Sometimes we were doing shows that obviously did not fit in the spaces. We just had to make the best of it,” says Danielle, a May 2008 graduate of UI’s theatre program.
Not only were the replacement venues often smaller than required, the timeline for a production often was squeezed as well.
“We couldn’t really afford to rent the venue for a day of pre-hang and set up, and then the show date, and then a day of strike. Everything was condensed down to one day unless it was a big, big show,” says Danielle. “Our show days would go from 8 a.m. to sometimes 2, 3 in the morning, depending on how the load-out went.”
Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, they’d have to get behind the steering wheel of a truck parked somewhere in the far reaches of the state and drive back to Iowa City. Such were the challenges of taking Hancher on the road.
“You get to the end of the show and then you realize, ‘As soon as I get this all packed up, I have to drive home and unpack it.’ That extra step was often a killer,” says Derek, an Ames native who earned a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from UI in 1999 and worked for the Theatre Department before joining the Hancher staff in 2002.
Yes, during the eight years Hancher was without a home, productions took place statewide. For example, during the 2010-11 season, “Professor Kubinek Meets the Symphony” played in Cedar Rapids, Decorah, Mason City, and Omaha, Nebraska.
All hurdles aside, Danielle and Derek remained true to executing each event the “Hancher way,” which includes a healthy dose of personal attention and a strong sense of ownership.
“We’re a small staff, our ‘Hancher family.’ We don’t brag about what we have. We’re proud and we’re excited about the opportunity to share it and make people comfortable,” says Danielle.
As challenging as the last eight years have been, Derek and Danielle say they will look back on the time with fondness.
“We got to work with so many talented people who I’m so pleased to have as friends and colleagues. I think of people like Patty MacTaggert at St. Mary’s Church. We got hugs every time we came into her building. She called us her children. That stuff sticks with you, and you try to be like that as much as you can now that we’re welcoming guests into our home,” says Derek.
Take a video tour of the new Hancher Auditorium by clicking here