Waterloo Community Playhouse

For the last 98 years, the Waterloo Community Playhouse has been a staple in the Waterloo community. Founded in 1916 by the Waterloo Drama league, the playhouse is Iowa’s oldest and most successful community theater. The playhouse hosts approximately 30,000 patrons each year for their various performances. The playhouse credits their success on their ability to find a place for everyone whether that be onstage or backstage, with the playhouse recruiting close to 800 volunteers every year.

Retired artistic director for the playhouse, Chuck Stilwell credits the success of the theater to the numerous volunteers that have worked over the years.

“About 1960 they had staff, but that staff has always been backed by a great many, hardworking volunteers,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell says that even though the playhouse is a community theater, in the sense that none of the performers are paid and very little of the backstage staff is paid, the product that they give their audience is beyond that of a normal community theater.

“They treat it like professional theater. Their goal is to do professional level shows,” Stilwell said.

Artistic and education director of the children’s theater Anita Ross is no stranger to a professional theater atmosphere, having once toured with a professional theater company. Ross says that the shows the playhouse puts on is at the level of professionalism that she is used to. Ross credits the Cedar Valley community for allowing the playhouse to put on these top notch shows.

“There is an amazing amount of talent in the Cedar Valley, and to be able to use that is pretty phenomenal,” Ross said.

The playhouse also offers a variety of workshops to help anyone with acting, musical theater, or just overall stage presence. The playhouse also has contacts that reach beyond the Cedar Valley for those wanting to take their talents outside of Iowa.

Current Playhouse Artistic director Matthew Kerns hopes to keep the playhouse growing and evolving in order to keep producing the level of shows the Waterloo community has come to expect.

“With us being 98 years old, there is a clear, clear want, need and desire for art to be presented,” Kerns said.

Kerns says that he knows that to keep the playhouse successful, they need to keep pushing the envelope, and they need to keep striving to put on performances that the audience won’t see anywhere else.

“Hopefully people will laugh with us, people will cry with us, and people will constantly come back and making us a regular part of their entertainment life,” Kerns said.

The Waterloo Community Playhouse puts on fourteen shows a year on average and hopes to put on a variety of shows from traditional plays, to Black Box Theater, and even putting on a show in the bathroom of the playhouse. The playhouse also does costume rentals to anyone interested in looking through their vast costume supply.

Anyone wishing to get involved with the playhouse can call them at 319-235-0637 or email them at

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