Joy the pig in her usher's uniform and hat.
Joy the pig in her usher's uniform and hat.

Joy, the Movie Theater Pig

Field review by the editors.

Newton, Iowa

You may be too busy to see a movie in your local multiplex, but you might drive to Newton, Iowa, to see a movie in its Capitol II Theatre. That's because Newton's theater is home to its own, real, live pig named Joy. She plays a tiny piano with her nose. And she wears dresses.

Joy on her 5th birthday. The theater had a special screening of
Joy on her 5th birthday. The theater had a special screening of "Charlotte's Web" in her honor.

Joy's owner, Dawn Bleeker, had loved pigs every since she was little -- "They're so darned cute," she told us -- and eventually decided she wanted one as a pet. Newton, however, prohibited pigs within the town's limits. When Dawn approached the City Council to change the law, she was told no. "We don't want Newton to become a hog lot," was how Dawn recalled the Council's initial reaction to her proposal. The Council members knew about pigs, they said; Iowa has an estimated 22 million of them.

Unfortunately, the Council's idea of a typical pig was "livestock," which can each weigh up to half a ton. Dawn explained that what she wanted was a miniature pig (Joy weighs 80 pounds) bred to be people-friendly. Her arguments finally swayed the Council, and Joy became part of the Bleeker family.

Joy performs with owner/mom Dawn Bleeker between shows.
Joy performs with owner/mom Dawn Bleeker between shows.

Then, six months later, Newton's downtown theater -- open since 1927 -- unexpectedly went bankrupt. Dawn, who had worked at the theater part-time, felt it was wrong for her town not to have one. So the Bleeker family -- Dawn, her husband, and her three daughters -- bought it. "What do you do with a pig that is emotionally attached to you?" Dawn asked, feeling it would be cruel to leave Joy, who was still very young, home and alone. "You bring her to work with you."

The pig quickly became a local celebrity. Film-goers flocked to the Capitol II Theatre instead of newer, flashier movie houses in Ames or Des Moines, just to see Joy. Dawn, delighted, outfitted the pig in a little usher's uniform and pillbox hat. "One person was upset," Dawn recalled. That person complained to the health inspector, hinting that the Bleekers were using a pig as a kind of vacuum cleaner for spilled popcorn (They weren't). Joy was banished. "Now we had other people upset because Joy wasn't at the theater," said Dawn.

The Bleekers took Joy's case to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and a compromise was reached. Joy could still dress in her outfits, and perform tricks for patrons under the outdoor marquee during theater hours. Inside, she could be visited through the glass door of her Dressing Room (the old manager's office) in the theater lobby. That was in 2013. Tempers cooled, and Joy has been a fixture in downtown Newton ever since.

On movie days, Joy can usually be seen in her Dressing Room, sometimes lounging on her couch watching the Hallmark Channel. "She is a sensitive pig," said Dawn. "No Food Network." Joy also has what Dawn calls pigtatude; she'll shut the inner, solid door of her room on whoever's looking at her if she doesn't want to be bothered. If the onlookers ask Dawn to intervene, they might find that when she reopens the door, Joy's pork butt will be facing them. "Pigs are divas," said Dawn.

Visitors can view Joy through the glass door of her dressing room. She likes to sit on her sofa and watch TV.
Visitors can view Joy through the glass door of her dressing room. She likes to sit on her sofa and watch TV.

Pigs are also very clean, and Joy rings a bell to let the Bleekers know whenever she needs to go outside.

Any new superhero movie is an excuse for a new outfit for Joy, who also wears dresses frilly with taffeta. As a celebrity, Joy often wears custom creations, and her approval is sought-after by purveyors of miniature pig fashion.

Although Dawn has probably heard the term "little ham" too many times, it perfectly describes Joy, who enjoys performing. Dawn leads her out under the theater marquee and Joy runs through a series of tricks -- unrolling her performance rug, dancing, playing her piano, knocking down bowling pins -- all while happily wagging her tail. "Joy holds the Guinness World Record for most tricks by a pig in one minute," said Dawn.

Ready for the premiere of Wonder Woman.
Ready for the premiere of Wonder Woman.

Out-of-town travelers who want to see the movie house pig need not worry if their schedules don't mesh with the theater's. Dawn said that her family can bring Joy to the theater if visitors call ahead and give them enough warning. "We love doing it; we love sharing her," said Dawn, and Joy usually welcomes the attention. Fans of pig couture can check the movie schedule to see when Joy might debut her latest film-themed outfit (Wonder Woman was a big hit).

Joy's success as a goodwill pig ambassador was evident in 2018, when Dawn convinced the City Council to amend its pet code again -- this time without any fuss -- to allow two miniature pigs per family. "Joy gets lonely when we can't be with her; you can tell she's sad," said Dawn. "I think it'll be easier on her if she has a friend."

That may not happen for some time, said Dawn, and until then Joy remains the alpha pig of Newton, a familiar sight to townspeople who greet her when Dawn takes her for walks in the city square. "They don't know my name," said Dawn, "but they know Joy's."

Also see: The Pig Museum

Joy, the Movie Theater Pig

Capitol II Theatre

Address:
116 1st St. N., Newton, IA
Directions:
Capitol II Theatre. Downtown, on the east side of 1st St. N. just north of its intersection with US Hwy 6/1st Ave. E.
Hours:
During theater hours, or by appt. (Call to verify)
Phone:
641-792-3549
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Maytag Repairman StatueMaytag Repairman Statue, Newton, IA - < 1 mi.
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L.J. Maasdam's Wheel ArtL.J. Maasdam's Wheel Art, Lynnville, IA - 13 mi.
In the region:
Lincoln Highway Orphaned Bridge, Tama, IA - 31 mi.

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