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Giving Tree to compete at state level

By Deirdre Ryan, Marion Times | July 23rd, 2015 |

For many family-owned businesses, getting things ‘off of the ground’ can be tricky … and even a lengthly process. But for the Giving Tree Theater in Marion, that luckily, has not been the case!

Within a four-month time frame, Richie and Heather Akers, owners of the Giving Tree Theater, had an up-and-running business. From the beginning of October 2014 to its opening day of January 30, 2015, they put together plans, purchased the building, purchased props and seating, remodeled the space and took care of everything that needed to be done in order to successfully run a small, but very professional theater.

This Cedar Rapids couple knew they wanted the Giving Tree Theater to be in Marion, as the location would be ideal. Once Richie and Heather, along with their two children, Harrison and Zoey, saw the inside of their building, there was immediate excitement, noted Richie.

This duo had dreamed about owning a business for over a decade; since both of them were very passionate about theater, this type of venue just made sense. Now this vision is a reality for the entire family.

“We wanted to build something different, and do shows that people were familiar with,” said Richie. “We are lucky to be in an area where people enjoy theater and do this as a hobby. This is giving the community a centralized gathering place that’s ‘arts’ related, and the community has really adopted us here.”

Even though the Giving Tree Theater has been very beneficial to Uptown Marion since they opened the doors, the community has been very accommodating to the theater as well.

Recently, the Akers received information from the Marion Chamber on how to get involved in the first ever “Open 4 Business” contest. This is a statewide competition sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Main Street Iowa.

“Uptown Marion is a solid thing for businesses,” said Richie. “We really didn’t know what to expect with this.”

After entering in this contest with many other applicants, the Akers and their Giving Tree Theater were one of three local businesses to win $8,000 at the regional level. On Wednesday, August 26, Richie and Heather will attend the Iowa Downtown Summit, and go on to compete at the statewide level, with the possibility of winning $20,000.

“Really proud is the best way to describe this,” commented Richie. “It feels like we’re representing Uptown Marion and small theaters in general … it feels like a win for all of us. Everyone has been so gracious … knowing we have a one in five chance is pretty exciting. We truly hope they like what we’re doing and what our mission is!”

With the additional funds that the Giving Tree Theater has won thus far, they intend to invest in sound equipment, props, costumes and maybe even a digital movie projector in the future. The grand prize would also be a nice asset to the theater, as portions of their proceeds are donated to non-profit organizations in the area. With each Giving Tree Theater production, a different charity is selected to receive the donation.

Until Sunday, August 9, patrons of the theater can enjoy ‘The Boys Next Door.’ This play is set in the Boston area, and it deals with four men who have various mental disabilities, and who live in a group home. The play provides a humorous commentary on the men’s lives.

The next show coming to the Giving Tree Theater is ‘The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.’ This performance is based on the comedy by John Bishop. The play is said to have been based on several 1940s mystery movies, including The Cat and the Canary, one of Bob Hope’s first films.

At many performances held at the Giving Tree Theater, the whole Akers family can be seen. Richie, Heather, Harrison and Zoey enjoy participating in many aspects of this business.

“It’s common for us as a family to come in on a Saturday or Sunday morning to clean and get ready for the next show,” said Richie. “We all pitch in together – the four of us!”

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