Open Door to Enter

LungsComing up for 4 shows on April 28-30 is a new entity in Des Moines, the inaugural presentation for Open Door Rep. Their two-hander play is called Lungs, a story of a young couple deciding if they should bring a baby into this volatile existence. And new life and new ways of thinking are what Open Door Rep is all about. Welcome to their new world, and see what awaits....

Josh Visnapuu has been one of the busiest actors in the Des Moines area for the last decade, working with everything from the old Theatre... for a Change group at Grand View to the DM Playhouse, Tallgrass, and DM Young Artists' Theatre. And while he's been pretty satisfied with the amount and quality of the work he's done in the past, he wanted to add a bit more. Working with his wife April, and good friends Micheal and Renee Davenport, they've created Open Door Rep, which they call Des Moines first "pop-up" theatre.


Room with a New View


"We are looking to take a very modern, contemporary look at the world, funnel that through a minimalist eye, and focus on the story and performances," says Josh. "We want to challenge audiences to get out of their comfort zones, not only with the choice of shows, but literally in terms of the venues."


"There are a handful of established performing spaces in town, places where the audiences are comfortable to go. We want to use unique, found spaces to do our shows, which means the audiences will have to be more on their toes, and we know there are smart, savvy audiences looking for something like that. Maybe you call it injecting a little rock & roll into the shows, I don't know. But audiences should not expect a 'normal' theatre experience with Open Door."


To that end, their first show, Lungs, will be presented at the Waterhouse Studio, an historic building in Highland Park. The intimate venue will seat about 60 people per show, and there will be wine on hand for the patrons. Conversation will be encouraged before and after the show about the issues raised in the play, with the hopes of engaging the audiences right from the start. And Open Door has kept their ticket prices modest as well, hoping to encourage a wide variety of people to take a chance on a new group and a different experience.


Opening Hearts and Minds


With only a cast of two (Josh, and Marnie Strate) and direction by Megan Helmers (who has been terrific handling small casts and venues well in the past, such as at Noce for Tick, Tick,...Boom! and Murder Ballad), Lungs has significant potential. Marnie says it's her favorite script she's read in the last six years, and Josh was hoping to do this show long before the idea of Open Door Rep came to fruition.


"Really, we were planning to put on the show before we ever thought of starting a company -- cart, meet horse, I guess!" Josh continues, "Marnie and I read this for a Scriptease at StageWest last year and it stuck with us. But it is absolutely what we were looking for--modern, thought-provoking, minimal."


"The script is challenging and brings up many tough questions for the performers and the audience. It's very timely in its themes. It's truly beautiful and one of the best scripts that I've read in years. I think this is one of those shows that starts to get produced more and more around the country as people are looking to do something different, especially amidst all the cuts to arts funding."


"And right now we are still figuring things out," as far as everything that will be unique about the milieu and the presentation. In true 'pop-up' style, the group only gets two days rehearsal time in the actual venue before the performances. "There are no rules, just some guiding ideas that we are working with. We plan to host a wine reception -- after the opening night for sure, and hopefully the rest if it goes well -- where the audience will be welcome to stick around and chat with each other, and the cast and crew. Kind of like a talk back, but replace the formality with fermentation! I would love it if that is an idea that sticks, but really that's up to the audiences. If there's a want, we will provide it."


Unlocking the Door


Putting it all together, especially the first time, is definitely a challenge, but it's one Josh and the rest of Open Door look forward to. And there are plenty of hands to handle the work. "We run lean and mean. I am the producer, an actor, and help with the marketing somewhat. I also have the title of Artistic Director of the company, which is really just a title I gave myself because I needed something official looking for the website. (A joke... kind of.)"


"April has been instrumental in finding the space, building the website and being the driver for the marketing. We have a phenomenal director and an amazing stage manager in Megan Helmers and Lyndsy Darland respectively. Everyone in the company and involved with the show helps with the promotion, which is heavily reliant on social media. We've also been very fortunate to have the support of people in the community who have helped us with getting radio, television, and interviews, which can be very difficult for a startup, no-name venture."


"We haven't had a whole lot of surprises yet, but I guess one would be the amount of interest in this style. I think that is a pleasant surprise. I've always liked the minimal aesthetic, but I wasn't sure how into it others would be."


Room for Everyone


"Maybe we just offer a different flavor. We have some of the most talented people in this city--any time we travel we try to see something new. And every time, I am reminded how truly gifted the people in DSM are. We are really lucky that our little town in the middle of the country continues to put on such amazing work."


"I've also been incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the most creative and talented people in the theatre scene here, and also people that challenge each other to keep performing to higher standards. They have also been the people that we talk to about Open Door, and have been incredibly supportive of us. We really could not do this without them. It's this constant push to do better, more varied, and more challenging work that really motivates us."


Perhaps this article has motivated a reader or two to go take a chance on Open Door Rep, and go check out their first show. Lungs will be presented at the Waterhouse Studio in HIghland Park from April 28-30, with shows on Friday and Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Tickets are available at 

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Josh Visnapuu Megan Helmers Open Door Rep April Visnapuu Lyndsy Darland Renee Davenport Lungs Micheal Davenport