Theatre Thanksgiving

Turkey on stageThe annual celebration of Thanksgiving is next week, and as is typical there is no new theatre opening up that weekend. People are too busy with families, or shopping for their holiday gifts, or just sleeping off their overeating from Thursday. But it is also typical at this time for each of us to at least examine, just a little bit, the things we are thankful for during the last year. With that in mind, here are some theatre gifts I’m grateful for over the past months.


DM Playhouse stage workLet’s start with one that has significant impact on me personally. The DM Playhouse finished up the last stages of their remodel this past summer, in time for their 100th season. The important part, for me at least, is that the stage and every other location in the Playhouse is now ADA compliant and accessible. At their open house early this fall I was able, for the very first time, to actually get up on the stage of the DM Playhouse. As a person who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and has mobility issues, I walk with an arm crutch and have difficulty with stairs. This is no longer a problem I have to deal with at the Playhouse, and I’m very thankful for that.


DMYAT ButterflyMy next item is aimed at a few different groups. Between DM Young Artists’ Theatre, CAP-Altoona, Story Theater Company up in Ames, and the amazing high schools in the area, the future of theatre in our community is bright and exciting. Whether it’s important emotional works like I Never Saw Another Butterfly from DMYAT, Story Theatre Company producing Antigone, or CAP-Altoona’s summer classic doing Hamlet, kids of all ages are being exposed to not only great works of theatre, but to the knowledge and tools of acting and stagecraft.


Waukee HunchbackI’m also amazed at the kinds of work local high schools are doing. Waukee debuted the first Iowa performance of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame last spring, and Hoover High School mounted She Kills Monsters this fall, with a storyline that would challenge many adult groups. Both schools performed with style and grace. And Roosevelt and East HS are developing more and more opportunities for their students to excel and learn theatrically, opening eyes and hearts to this wonderful world. I’m also grateful that the DM Civic Center has now gone statewide with their annual Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards, and almost 80 different schools are taking part in the program.


Souvenir_1Another great innovation I’m seeing is the cross-pollination of so many people being involved with so many different groups in the area. It wasn’t that long ago that certain people only worked with certain theatre companies, and there wasn’t any chance for people (and companies) to learn and grow from others. Thankfully, a number of people are working wherever their skills are useful. Thatcher Williams is a moving force behind CAP in Altoona, but directed a couple of shows in Ankeny over the last year or so. Gina Gedler stole the show in Steel Magnolias at the Playhouse and won a Cloris Award for her work at Noce in Souvenir. And Micheal Davenport is practically everywhere, whether it’s directing On Golden Pond at Tallgrass, acting in Misery and Billy Elliot at the Playhouse, or teaching theatre at Roosevelt with shows as varied as Death of a Salesman and The Lion King. And the list of talent goes on and on, in more places than I can count. It just shows how incredible we can all be together.


Piece of Heart DrakeI’m impressed at the ability and intensity I’m finding at Drake these days. And in this case, it’s not just found in the auditorium and the writers’ room. These rising stars are not only great at theatre, but great at life as well. When a local family-owned restaurant was robbed, many of the theatre students stepped up to encourage the Drake community to support and patronize the business. Just this week, many of them were involved in the #paintitblack initiative to show support and commitment to disparaged communities and students at the school. The best thing I can say about the theatre students and faculty at Drake is that they care DEEPLY, and live their truths every day. And I’m thankful to be their friend and be inspired by their lives.


Hedwig Kata programOne of those Drake students, Connor Ripperger, kind of hits all these buttons. In the last year or so, he’s performed multiple shows at Drake, was in Fun Home for Iowa Stage, and starred as the title character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch for Kata Klysmic Productions. He even made the trip from his family home in Dubuque just to perform as Hedwig at the Cloris Awards this year. He’s a dedicated performer, student, and friend, and I’m grateful to know him and see him grow every step of the way. I can’t wait to see what’s next....


Cloris AwardsSpeaking of the Cloris Awards, I’m thankful for the continued existence of this group, and for the extension of the Awards to new categories and new theatre companies. Carousel Theatre of Indianola was part of the mix this past year, and Best Choreography was added as a new award. And making the ceremony a free event this past August was a great step to allow more to attend and see the amazing talent in our area perform and be recognized for their achievements. 


Too Heavy PyramidI would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pyramid Theatre Company, and the quality work they’ve done the past few seasons. Their emphasis on the experience of Black artists, writers, and performers is laudable, especially here in a state that is overwhelmingly white. Ever since Tiffany Johnson, Ken-Matt Martin, and the rest of the group started, they’ve brought cutting-edge material and the best of the past generation alive here in Des Moines, to prove that there are voices out there that need to be heard. And I continue to hope that they find the ears who will listen, and the minds to be opened through their works.


MeAnd finally, I’m incredibly thankful that my own work here with the Gentle Guide has been recognized and appreciated by so many. When I first started, I wasn’t even sure how much of an audience was out there, or if such a site was something viable. But the welcome and acceptance I’ve received over the past couple of years have literally made this the best time of my life. And whether it’s Broadway Karaoke at Noce or a play reading by Focal Theatre Group up in Ames, at the biggest theatre event of the summer (Hamilton at the Civic Center) or watching a single ISU professor performing four different parts by herself on an almost bare stage at the Ames Public Library, it’s all been more than worthwhile. The kudos I’ve received have warmed my heart, and the people I’ve met in this theatre community have made that same heart practically burst with joy.  It’s all of you who have been Gentle Guides for me, and I can never thank you enough.

—Tim Rose