Hancher is celebrating its new season with an event - "Drawing Closer" - that has multiple meanings.

With just one more year before the University of Iowa's new flagship opens, Hancher launches its season Saturday (8/22/15) in the street and green space adjacent to the new structure.

Festivities will incorporate chalk drawings by pros and participants and is aimed at drawing all ages to the massive $176 million performing arts complex rising like a phoenix after the floods ruined Hancher's previous home.

Free activities run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1 Park Rd., across from City Park in Iowa City. Leave your vehicles in the Hancher lot, and bring lawn chairs and blankets to park yourselves for the wild antics of Squonk Opera's "Pneumatica."

It's described as an event "about air, made of air and powered by air," mixing original music with towering, air-powered figures waving in the wind. The centerpiece is the 40-foot-tall "Lady Pneumatica," topped with a wind turbine on her head. She "blossoms with sails, breathing steam and raising her inflated arms to the sky" as the band plays at her feet.

You might not be sitting in your chairs for long, especially if you're sitting near the stage.

"Some of it is pretty interactive, so I can see a lot of the kids not being able to sit still," Chuck Swanson, Hancher's executive director, says.

The Pittsburgh troupe - complete with bagpipes - will perform its 30-minute piece at 11:30 a.m., 1 and 2:30 p.m. A STEAM workshop for kids - merging science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics - will follow the 1 p.m. show.

Education is a Hancher hallmark, Swanson adds.

"There's always ways to further your knowledge, whether it's learning about the world, or learning about science. Whatever it is, Hancher has a way to connect learning through the arts," he says. "It's a fun way to learn, and it's a way that people can understand sometimes difficult topics - connecting it through the arts."

Artists will use the street between Hancher and the Levitt building as a canvas, drawing performers they'd like to see on the new Hancher stage. Chalk will be available for audience members, too, who would like to get in on the act. Food vendors, a face painter and games also will be part of the mix.

The celebration's interactive nature builds on the success of last October's "Leave Your Mark" event, where the public was invited to sign their names on a beam that was ceremonially hoisted into the Hancher structure. More than 1,000 people answered that call, with pen in hand.

"We really want to find ways to engage the public and keep them getting geared up and getting excited about the opening of Hancher," Swanson says. " ... I see this as an outdoor spectacle."

A staff member since 1985 and at the Hancher helm since 2002, Swanson is getting positively giddy about the year leading up to the new building's opening in September 2016.

The 2015-16 season will be shorter than usual, to give the Hancher staff time to move into the new building and learn all the systems and test them in time to train auxiliary staff, from ushers to technicians.

"I'm glad we made that decision," Swanson says about the abbreviated season. "It's an important time. Our focus and efforts need to be on that new building. It's complicated - it's not just something you unlock and walk in."

But that doesn't mean audiences will be shortchanged. Plenty of big artists are bringing Hancher events to downtown Iowa City venues, including a holiday show by jazz giant Ellis Marsalis on Dec. 11 at the Englert Theatre. The season wraps up with Grammy-winning singer Bobby McFerrin on Feb. 12 in the Riverside Casino Event Center.

Swanson is expecting that final show-on-the-road to be an emotional one.

"We've done a great job of working without a building," he says, "but I'm looking forward to having a home again. ... (Through) the journey, we've learned a lot, and we have definitely been through a lot. We're anxious to have a place called home, kinda like Dorothy. 'There's no place like home.'"

GET OUT!

WHAT: Drawing Closer, family festival featuring Squonk Opera's "Pneumatica"

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (8/22/15)

WHERE: New Hancher Auditorium site, 1 Park Rd., Iowa City

ADMISSION: Free

SCHEDULE: "Pneumatica" performances 11:30 a.m. to noon, 1 to 1:30 p.m. (followed by a STEAM workshop) and 2:30 to 3 p.m.

EXTRAS: Parking available in Hancher lot; chalk art, games, food vendors; bring seating

DETAILS: Hancher.uiowa.edu/drawing-closer

ARTIST: Squonkopera.com

HANCHER SEASON

MUSIC Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: Iowa Soul Festival, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 28, outdoors on University of Iowa Pentacrest, 1 N. Clinton St., Iowa City; free

MUSIC The Claudettes: 8 p.m. Sept. 16, Club Hancher at The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City; free

DANCE/THEATER Lucky Plush Productions: "The Queue," 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18, Space Place Theater, 339 N. Madison St., Iowa City; $10 to $35

MUSIC Las Cafeteras: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sept. 25, Club Hancher at The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City; $10 to $20

MUSIC Brentano String Quartet: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17, Riverside Recital Hall, 405 N. Riverside Dr., Iowa City; $10 to $35

MUSIC Lynne Arriale, Carla Cook and Grace Kelly: "You Know How I Feel," A Tribute to Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Joni Mitchell, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 30, Club Hancher at The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City; $10 to $20

MUSIC Chris Thile: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4, Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City; $10 to $40

THEATER/MUSIC Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, "The 1850s: Whitman vs. Foster," 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5, E.C. Mabie Theatre, 200 N. Riverside Dr., Iowa City; $10 to $30; Hancher co-commission

MUSIC The Ellis Marsalis Quartet: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City; $10 to $37

MUSIC Vocalosity: "The Aca-Perfect Musical Experience," 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30, Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City; $10 to $35

MUSIC Bobby McFerrin: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, Riverside Casino Event Center, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside; $10 to $45

TICKETS: On sale Monday (8/24) at Hancher Box Office, 193 University Capitol Centre, Room A (Old Capitol Town Center), Iowa City; (319) 335-1160 or 1-(800) HANCHER; and Hancher.uiowa.edu/tickets

DETAILS: Hancher.uiowa.edu/upcoming-events