Theatre Thanksgiving 2019
- By gentleguide
- On Fri 22 nov 2019
Last year I started a tradition here on the Gentle Guide that I’d like to continue. Since the weekend of Thanksgiving is typically devoid of theatre events (unless you call Uncle Joe falling asleep at the dinner table a “performance”), I’ve decided to just list a number of things that I’m personally thankful for in the Des Moines theatre scene over the past year or so.
I’ve often made the joke that the theatre community here in Des Moines seems to be starting their very own “Children’s Theatre” organization. That’s not quite true, but it is a result of so many of my wonderful theatre friends becoming parents and creating their own families over the past couple of years. I can just imagine how the creative spark will continue to be grown in so many beautiful youngsters, brought up surrounded by actors, directors, and others involved in our beloved local theatre scene. Congratulations and welcome to Maylene, Jack, Eloise, Dexter, Isla, Forrest, Simon, Everett, and to their amazing and loving parents (and to so many new families of theatre I’ve likely missed).
One of those theatre people/parents I want to recognize specifically is Carl Lindberg out at DMACC Ankeny. Over the past couple of years he has radically redesigned the department, significantly increased the opportunities for his students, and reached out to the larger DM theatre community (he’s also a board member for Pyramid Theatre Company, and has established joint projects with DMACC and Grand View University in addition to his personal acting pursuits with Tallgrass Theatre.) He’s become a parent both for his own growing family and to the many students that have passed through his kind and considerate care at DMACC. Best of all, under his leadership the Theatre department in Ankeny has just joined with the DMACC Music department to form the Simon Estes School of Fine Arts. He has already sent off a number of 2-year graduates to 4-year schools such as Iowa State and University of Iowa, and he’s made DMACC Ankeny an exciting place to learn and grow in the art of theatre.
There are a few other new places that have become part of the theatre landscape over the last year. It’s very nice to welcome Franklin Jr. High and their offices and performance spaces to the mix. Jeff Young has been actively working to renovate the former school into a multi-purpose building that can house various groups, such as Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre, who moved their offices there last year. The building also features the Franklin Theatre, a beautiful auditorium with over 500 seats and a stage with a giant TV screen that can be used for virtual backgrounds. The location has already been utilized by Urbandale Community Theatre, DMYAT, and Open Door Rep for shows and events. As the remodel of the rest of the building continues (with hotel and restaurant/bar spaces as part of the plan), this will be a new beacon for the Des Moines entertainment scene.
The new beacon at the Des Moines Playhouse is Katy Merriman, who took over as Artistic Director there earlier this year. Katy is hardly new to the Playhouse (having starred in numerous roles and directed a number of shows there), and her new position is one which will showcase her extensive theatre knowledge and abilities in many different ways. While I’m grateful for the lasting work that her predecessor, John Viars, brought to the community, I’m also very excited about the new directions she and the rest of the DM Playhouse staff can explore going forward, while they celebrate their storied history.
There are some exciting new things happening up in Ames these days. Between David Detlefs and his new Vagrant Fear theatre company, the occasional productions from Sascha Antropov (with last year’s Moonrock and the upcoming Fortress of Light) with support from Reliable Street, and the continuing developmental work being done by Focal Theatre Lab partners Taylor Sklenar and Vivian M. Cook, there’s a whirlwind of fresh theatre in Cyclone country. Add in the offerings of the youth organization Story Theater Company and the efforts of Brad Dell and his talented ISU staff and community, and you have adventurous new theatre of all kinds and sizes. Special thanks for Focal Theatre Lab for allowing me to be part of one of their shows this past season, and to get to stretch some of my own acting muscles again!
I will note that I’m now working with some other local theatre creatives on ways to update and bring into focus the Cloris Awards and their website. While those efforts won’t be obvious until early next year, I want to thank Michael Morain, Tony Tandeski, and most especially Laura Jordan for the hard work and knowledge going into this endeavor. Laura is the marketing coordinator for Iowa Stage and an established creator in her own right, and I’m grateful to her. Not just for both her website work and organization, but for being such a champion of local theatre no matter what group or individual is performing out there. And she does it all while working her regular job, living up in Ames half an hour away, and taking care of her husband and family, in addition to taking care of Iowa Stage and the rest of us so well. I’m not sure how she does it all sometimes, but I’m more that grateful that she’s such a great part of our world.
Unfortunately, there are a few in our community that are no longer with us, and we remember them fondly. Jeanne Hopson was a regular performer and creative force at the Playhouse and with other organizations here in town, and was an incredible champion for the power of theatre in the lives of young people. Her family has started the Jeanne Hopson Angel Endowment Fund to help provide scholarships and other funding to enable people to assist those who wish to attend camps, classes, and other programs there. Fellow judge Denis Hildreth was also instrumental in the lives of many in our theatre community and beyond, between his work as a teacher at Hoover High (where the auditorium is named after him), and working with DMYAT, the Iowa HS Musical Theatre Awards, and so many others. In addition, the theatre community was saddened by the loss of Sarah Frank and Jack Balcombe, who were regulars at a great many theatre performances in the area for a number of years. Tallgrass Theatre Company has named their annual Dream Project production after Sarah and Jack for their many years of patronage.
And finally, once again it has been an incredible year for myself personally in the area theatre community. I’ve made more friends, seen more shows, and just been overwhelmed every day with the opportunities and connections I’ve discovered along the way. A Gentle Guide to Des Moines Theatre was honored with a special Cloris Award this past August, where I expected polite applause and a few words of appreciation—and I was blown away by a standing ovation from a crowd of 500 strong. I never, ever thought such a thing would happen in my life, and you’ve made it all so very special. So I shall continue to the best of my ability to be worthy of that ovation, and make A Gentle Guide to Des Moines Theatre as valuable a resource to this community as I possibly can. I will continue to support and encourage all the amazing theatre artists, organizers, and patrons with my presence, enthusiasm, hard work, financial support, and everything else I can contribute. And I encourage you all to do the same.