It’s been one year since the Iowa Talent Factory LLC purchased the Nevada theater. The Talent Factory, as the theater is now called, is the brainchild of Larry Sloan of Nevada and his wife, Cindy.
“We settled into an agreement with Sam and Sue Banks (former owners) in November of 2012,” Larry said. “But it was Jan. 6 of 2013 that we put our first show on.”
That first show was part of several initial shows that were free to the public to give people an idea of what kind of shows The Talent Factory would be presenting. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves from Richard Stauffer, the previous tenant,” Larry said.
The Talent Factory shows have featured a lot of singers and a few bands, like Big Joe Kinzer and Marshall County Hangmen. Shows have also featured entertainers like Ron Semler (Nearly Elvis), Preshia Paulding (Judy Garland), the Big Bear Puppets and the comedy group, Banana Punch of Des Moines. The Talent Factory also hosted a reunion of the Nevada Variety Show in August.
While they show movies on special occasions, the Sloans have regularly brought a variety of entertainment to the stage of the historic downtown theater and, honestly, they have been more successful at bringing talent to the theater than they have at bringing an audience.
“We need (attendance of) at least 50 people to pay the bills and pay the performers a little,” Larry said. Oftentimes, they aren’t getting that attendance, which means they take money from their own pocket to pay the bills.
“We’re not destitute yet,” Larry said. But he and Cindy are concerned. They need to increase their regular audience, so they will be able to pay good talent and keep the shows up to the quality that people want to see. “We have relied on talent of good friends of ours to help get through some lean nights. I consider ourselves quite blessed to have friends like that,” Larry said.
In its first year, the theater has never made a profit that has allowed the Sloans to take any money from it for a salary. In fact, it’s worked just the opposite. They’ve put a lot of their own money into it, which isn’t easy for working-class people. Cindy earns a living as a day care provider and Larry is plant engineer for Mom’s Meals/Purfoods LLC.
Around $1,500 in donations has been given this year to help the Sloans with improvements. Larry also mentions that the successful variety show, which grossed $1,600, allowed them to make roof repairs and some air conditioning repairs. “The variety show was a great help and very popular,” he said.
But nothing so far this year has helped the Sloans come close to the $25,000-$40,000 that Larry said has probably been spent on repairs, cleaning and equipment up to now.
Since purchasing the Nevada landmark, the Sloans have been working hard to make improvements, paying for some things themselves and relying on favors from friends and family for others. Some of the more technical things needed, Larry said, have been done by professionals, who either helped him with the work or were contracted to do it.
“Cleaning was the first thing that needed to be done,” Larry said. “Removing trash and debris that was left behind, as well as sanitizing all the public areas.” The apartments on the second floor of the building also received major cleaning efforts.
The biggest project prior to the first show, Larry said, was putting in a new water heater.
In fact, there’s been a lot of plumbing work needed. “The plumbing was frozen when the power was shut off, and instead of repairing the pipes, the pipes were just capped in the basement. So when we turned on the water and reconnected the water pipes, we had water pouring out of the walls and under counters. We had to repair/replace fixtures in the bathrooms and add a sink in the concessions area,” Larry said.
Other improvements the Sloans have made over the year include laminating the lobby floor, patching the roof, repairing the only working air conditioner unit on the roof, removing the remnants of partially completed projects that were left “half done or cobbled together,” replacing the screen, replacing the sump pump, adding stage lighting and a digital controller for the strobe systems that were added to the lighting system, and many more things that have enhanced performances, like wireless headsets.
But there is so much more still needing to be done. And to get to all the other projects, the Sloans need support for their shows.
“People are constantly telling us how pleased they are that they see us breathing life into this old theater again. They love seeing the uptown area all lit up and full of people, families and cars, but they won’t get out and support the theater by their attendance,” Larry said. “They don’t seem to understand that a business like ours depends on community involvement.”
Larry said he’s tried to put on fun shows and shows that all ages can enjoy, but many of these acts need to be paid.
The Sloans have handed out comment cards and tried to get feedback on what types of shows people would enjoy most. This has led to country shows, ’50s Rock N Roll shows, comedy groups, Americana groups, as well as Elvis and Judy Garland tributes. And they’ve promoted their shows by spending money on advertising, mailings and flyers, along with their online presence.
But even with the variety of shows that people have wanted to see, the Sloans are still seeing less than 50 in attendance at most events, and concessions revenue hasn’t helped much either, bringing in less than $100 most nights. Admission to the shows is generally $7 per person, $5 for senior citizens (age 60 and older).
For the present time, Larry said they’re going to keep trying to put on the best shows they can at the theater. “I guess we’re not smart enough to walk away while we’re ahead … that ship has sailed,” he said with a laugh.
Larry said he never got into this to make money. “People do what we’re doing because of a love of performing arts. The love of making people smile or laugh. Every time we have a show that goes well, every time a performer gets a standing ovation, every time a joke gets a big laugh, we swell with pride. We know that we helped make that moment possible,” he said.
“But the reality is that there are bills to pay, repairs that need to be made, upgrades that are needed and equipment that would make it better. We need the public to use our facility and to come to our shows, so we can continue to entertain them.”
The Sloans are open to any and all possibilities for keeping the theater open. They would rent the facility to the public for certain events. And they are open to the formation of a community committee that could help them brainstorm ways to keep the doors open.
“(The future of the theater) all hinges on the community’s support. If we’re doing a good job, reward us by being entertained. If we’re doing something wrong, tell us so we can make the changes necessary to be successful,” Larry pleads.
If the Sloans eventually have to close the theater, it will be a blow to them, because they would lose the sweat equity and money they’ve personally put into the building. But Larry believes it would be an even bigger blow to Nevada, because the community would lose an icon from its better days.
“That theater was in everyone’s hearts and memories for close to 70 years. Couples saw their first movie there. Couples had their first kiss and fell in love there. It saw them through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, the Cold War and Viet Nam. It was the source of national and international news reels. It was also a source of pride that Nevada had a theater, second to none in the small communities. If we were to lose it somehow, the odds that the next owner would keep the business as an entertainment venue are slim,” Larry said.
“It has been through the grace of God and the friends and contacts we have that has seen us through so far.”