Meet the lesser-knowns of the
Iowa Fringe Festival
week before the premier of the
first-ever Iowa Fringe Festival,
StageWest Executive Director Ron
Ziegler was still finalizing equipment
needs, filling out volunteer schedules
and planning and implementing
a kick-off party. The four-day
theater and performance art event,
which starts today and runs through
Sunday, will take place at five
venues and feature 20 performance
groups showcasing 21 different
shows. By the time Sunday evening
rolls around, attendees will have
had 83 chances to see a show.
And though small by Fringe standards,
Ziegler hopes to expand the event
in future years should it go off
as well as he hopes.
Soon, he'll find out if Des
Moines is able to sustain such
a typically bigger city event
reserved for places like Minneapolis,
Orlando and Cincinnati. What will
he consider a successful event?
"Breaking even in terms of
finances," he says. "I
hope that everyone is satisfied
with how it runs. But we're going
to make some mistakes. We know
that. We'll just use those mistakes
to make corrections for next year's
But with the help of a few grants,
if there's a shortfall on ticket
sales, Ziegler is optimistic that
they "should" be able
to cover it.
For anyone even close to being
well-versed in the Des Moines
theater scene, there will be some
familiar names participating in
the event: FLB Productions (responsible
for many of the shows brought
into the Vaudeville Mews), Theater
... For A Change and The Drama
However, there will also be
some new names, some unlikely
suspects, if you will. And in
lieu of this, we decided to provide
you with an introduction for these
Aggravated Assault Ensemble
Sokoloff didn't choose theater,
the stage chose him.
"Theater is a calling, like
the priesthood," the amply
tattooed Iowa City playwright
explains. "I was drawn to
it right away from an early age.
It's like being queer; you just
Of course, in Sokoloff's case
the inherent drive was aided by
his dramatic environment. Born
in Keokuk, Sokoloff grew up in
New York City where his parents
kept him acquainted with Broadway,
and where one of his pals at his
private prep school just happened
to be the son of the famous Ethel
Mermen, allowing Sokoloff to hang
out at the theater where "Gypsy"
became an American classic.
But, while his New York City
escapades were a worthy baptism,
Sokoloff soon said to hell with
traditional standards and, while
the "prissy prep school kids
were all trying to get into Princeton
and Brown, [Sokoloff] rejected
all that" and came back to
Iowa to cash in on his home state's
burgeoning arts reputation. However,
once education had run its course,
Sokoloff says he was never clever
about plotting a career path.
First, there were years of professional
dancing that took him to the highest
of the New York City circuit,
teaching him the value of a rigorous
that he believes is critical,
not only for dancers, but actors,
as well. From there, it was on
to stunt fighting work and stints
at acting conservatories around
the country, teaching the finer
points of fighting and tumbling.
But after theatrical involvement
in just about every big city from
the Bay Area to the Big Apple,
Sokoloff decided to come back
to his home turf and harvest his
But even Sokoloff admits that
his intense ideas and the Aggravated
Assault Ensemble that sprung up
to reap his often-disturbing,
deep-seeded drama, are a lot to
swallow for folks in the corn-fed
"Well-received is not the
way to describe it," Sokoloff
says of his provocative plays,
which often include hefty doses
of violence, profanity and nudity.
"The stuff is strong; there
are ideas here, images here that
are disturbing. It's always been
important to me that people be
engaged and agitated by what we
do. People at 'Mustapha's Bride'
[performed in Des Moines this
year] later told me they didn't
know what to think about the piece,
but they realized they were still
talking about it hours later.
That's really it: 'It's not a
matter of whether I liked it or
didn't like it, but I'm stirred
up and feel the need to talk about
The Corky St. Clair Players
guys have no qualms calling each
other fat, old and lazy.
Long-time friends who can banter
with the best of them, Mark John
Conley, Steve Berry and Andy Elliott
grew up together on the stage
of the Des Moines Playhouse. Over
the years, the trio became local
favorites of Central Iowa theatergoers
and, so often linked on stage,
Conley says when people ask about
his "older brother,"
more often than not, they're talking
about Elliott, who played that
role in a show years ago.
When the curtain dropped on
their childhoods, though, the
stage brothers went their separate
ways: Elliott now a radio program
director, Berry the spokesman
for Prairie Meadows and Conley
a communications consultant at
Wells Fargo. But last May, as
the three reminisced about the
drama days gone by over drinks
at 801, the topic turned to reuniting
for another show together. That
cocktail-hour idea quickly turned
into a community fund-raiser for
the Des Moines Art Center and,
in the fall of 2004, the friends
found themselves back onstage
in "Art," a Tony Award-winning
comedy ideal for a small cast,
simple set and a trio of old friends
who have a solid history of gleefully
maligning each other with razor-sharp
Then, when the DMAC fund-raiser
had cashed out, the Fringe Fest,
with its emphasis on the uncensored
and unusual, seemed like a natural
"Well, we say 'fuck' a
lot," Berry says. "Aside
from that, we're contemplating
doing one of the shows in the
"Oui," Conley quips.
"I think we're fringe-y
because we're not a formal company,"
Elliott adds. "We're just
out there to have a good time.
Each night, it's random. It can
"I like to think we're
fringe-y, because we're akin to
garage theater," Conley continues.
"We want to do a show. Where
we do it doesn't really matter.
It's like Andy Hardy: 'Come on
kids, let's put on a show in the
barn and everyone will come to
But will these former child
actors continue the newly formed
troupe with future performances?
"God, I hope not,"
Elliot says facetiously. "But
you know, these guys are getting
up there in age, so if we're going
to do another show we'll need
to do it soon."
"Bite me, Fat Boy,"
We'd wager that's a "yes."
Tramp Theatre Troupe
Julie Joyce, "fringe"
is more than a theme for a theater
festival; it's a daily experience.
The Des Moines native and boisterous
founder of the recently created
Tramp Theatre Troupe fell in love
with classical musicals while
she studied English at Notre Dame,
widened her horizons with independent
theatre during nine years living
in Chicago and landed a full-tuition
scholarship to study in the masters
program at Smith based on the
merit of the first play she ever
But, Joyce's stay at Smith was
short-lived. Suffering her first
nervous breakdown, the "wannabe
writer" came home to Des
Moines and was soon diagnosed
as manic-depressive. But that
unexpected turn didn't thwart
the constant flow of dramatic
ideas. From the unique experiences
of her varied work life - from
liquor store clerk to legal assistant
to crowd control at Wrigley Field
- to the everyday encounters at
her favorite coffee shop on the
South Side, Joyce continues to
see inspiration just about everywhere.
"The absurdity of life
makes me write," she explains.
"Through my writing I try
to communicate thoughts I'm unable
to convey in everyday conversation
because of social conventions
and time constraints. I tend to
write plays that attempt to slyly
change people's minds on subjects
I care about."
That was certainly the case
in her role as assistant head
writer for "Voices,"
a play written by people with
mental illnesses and performed
for both the entertainment of
the public and the education of
state legislators this year. Or
the debate about a certain sacrament
that recurs throughout her current
play, "Cup of Communication,"
which subtly takes on the intolerance
of the religious establishment
that has rejected her because
she is gay.
And for a "cynical idealist"
whose experiences tend to exceed
the carefully manicured margins
of mainstream society, Joyce defines
the upcoming festival as an apt
metaphor for life.
"Fringing is an act of
faith," she says. "I
fringe for fun. I fringe for freedom.
I fringe for food."
Iowa State University and Ankeny
High School drama departments
Robin Stone is pretty sure his
parents were just faking it.
Growing up, Stone was fascinated
with impressions, endlessly imitating
comedians and celebrities for
family members who pretended to
be impressed with his living room
performances. In fifth grade he
got his big acting break as Santa
Claus, but even then it was only
because he was the only one who
volunteered. But now, all grown
up and directing the latest production
of Iowa State University's Theatre
Department, Stone has become the
real deal and has an invitation
to the world's largest independent
theater festival to prove it.
Back after a riotously successful
run last year, Stone and three
ISU actors will bring their lightning-speed
production of "The Complete
Works of William Shakespeare"
first to the Iowa Fringe Festival
this weekend and then, in August,
they will head to Scotland to
perform the satire at the Edinburgh
And the college kids won't be
the only Iowans at the world-renowned
festival that sold more than 1.2
million tickets last year. Performing
their rendition of "All I
Really Need To Know I Learned
in Kindergarten," the drama
troupe from Ankeny High School
will join their college counterparts
in Edinburgh as one of only 35
high schools from the United States
and the only from Iowa to participate
in the 58th annual event.
And like the Shakespearian satirists
who rehearsed in a theater without
air conditioning, these high school
kids will go to great lengths
to raise the green necessary to
get across the Atlantic in the
name of drama. Earlier this year,
AHS hosted a Ankeny Fringe Fear
Factor fund-raiser that had students,
teachers and community leaders
alike munching on Haggis. Eating
a sheep's internal organs for
the love of the stage? Now that's
the kind of commitment you just
Ankeny Community Theatre
like the city of Ankeny, the Ankeny
Community Theatre has grown exponentially
over the years. Founded in 1981
by a small parish led by a Methodist
minister, the group now includes
members of the community, a board
of directors and a number of actors,
directors and stagehands who present
three to five productions each
year during its 10-month season.
"We've grown and we hope
our participation at the Iowa
Fringe Festival will introduce
ourselves to more people,"
says Monica Green, president.
The non-profit group has been
housed by a 100-seat theater located
at 1932 S.W. 3rd St. for the past
12 years. In addition to producing
adult theater productions, they
also produce a children's theater
show and sponsor children's theater
summer camps. Green says the theater's
work with children has been successful,
both financially and creatively,
and that the group hopes to expand
"It's an effective outreach
to the community," she says.
"We're also raising future
For its participation in the
Iowa Fringe Festival, the Ankeny
theater group will present John
Mann's "Karaoke Killer."
The interactive murder-mystery
allows the audience to ask questions
and vote. The winning audience
member will receive a prize.
Green says the festival not
only plays an important role in
providing theatergoers another
outlet for live performances,
but it also helps boost Central
Iowa's overall artistic community.
"It's really exciting,"
she says. "There's a lot
of good things going on in Des
Moines and this is another event
a lot of people can enjoy."
I-You Theatre Company
I-You Theatre Company's performance
of Peter Parnell's "Scooter
Thomas Makes it to the Top of
the World" also marks the
debut production from this newly
Inspired by Martin Buber's "I
and Thou," the I-You Theatre
Company was founded by Iowa City-based
actor Kehry Anson Lane and actor-director
Jaret Moreland, graduates of the
University of Iowa's theater program.
Lane, a former member of the Aggravated
Assault Ensemble, says the duo
formed the company to help them
achieve their dreams of becoming
"It's something we both
want and we're best friends,"
Lane says. "So we decided
to take a chance we could make
it on our own."
The duo hopes to add Florida
playwright Chad Simonds to the
mix in the near future as well
as recruit other members of the
University of Iowa's theater program,
but for now they're focused on
producing meaningful community
theater. The 28-year-old Lane
says their first production, a
"memory play" where
estranged childhood friends Dennis
and Scooter reconcile their relationship
in dreams following Scooter's
death, is a good start.
"It's a subject that's
accessible to many people,"
he says. "It's a simple story
that is personable and interactive."
Hurley & Dancers
Kathleen Hurley understands that
sometimes you have to leave home
to appreciate it. Like most young
dancers, Hurley left Iowa to pursue
a career in professional dance
in New York. But after paying
her dues for a few years in The
Big Apple, she grew tired of the
expensive lifestyle and returned
to Des Moines in 2001 where she
founded Hurley & Dancers,
the city's only modern dance company.
"When you're young you
think the East Coast is the place
to be, and you do need to be in
a community of artists to generate
ideas," the 35-year-old artistic
director says. "But the market
is wide open here and I think
Des Moines is hungry for cultural
Hurley says not only does Des
Moines crave modern dance - a
form of dance more abstract than
traditional dance - but so, too,
are cities throughout North America
that have booked her company to
perform. Hurley & Dancers
have performed throughout the
Midwest and in 2003 and 2004 they
played Thunder Bay, Canada. Later
this summer they will also play
the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
In addition to Hurley, who teaches
modern dance at Grinnell College,
the group's core members include
director-actress Patricia Choate,
David Decker, Carla Hughes-Olson,
Paula McArthur, William Schneider,
Emily Finch, Ashley Miller and
Claire Hruby. Hurley says their
humorous and dramatic production
of "Eat Drink Marry,"
an original work choreographed
by Grinnell College professor
Shawn Womack, for the Iowa Fringe
Festival addresses same-sex marriages
and unions through modern dance
"It's a complex piece,"
she says. "Sometimes it's
serious, sometimes it's fun and
wacky. We started performing it
six months ago and it's a nice,
Hurley says she appreciates
the opportunity to participate
in the Iowa Fringe Festival, adding
it's another important event for
the local artistic community.
"I'm thrilled to be a part
of it," she says. "It's
another cultural offering to present
to the community and show people
this can be an exciting place."
Cynthia Mercati works on a play
she loves, she lives in that world
with what she calls "an amazing
intensity." She becomes the
characters so completely that
she is able to tell their stories
with utter plasticity. Such is
the case with "The Totally
True Completely Fictional Story
of the Mother of Jesse James"
(produced and directed by Tom
Milligan). We all know the story
of America's most notorious outlaws,
Jesse and Frank James, but it
took a writer like Mercati to
lay down the tale of a broad who
was tougher than the two of them
combined and truly ran the show:
"I heard an interview about
Zerelda about two years ago on
public radio, and the woman has
haunted me ever since," Mercati
says. "She was gritty, passionate,
strong, funny, mean, sexy, and
had she lived today, she would
be running a huge corporation
or be a movie star or both."
Mercati, who dreams of a "nice,
fat run" in the tough theater
town of Chicago, says there are
too few juicy parts for women,
so picking up the ball and running
with it regarding a play about
Zerelda (who is played by Mary
Bricker) wasn't a difficult decision
to make. It's all about the character,
and Mercati has written plenty
of parts, but none quite like
the James' boys' mama.
"I've made my living as
a writer for years and years,
but writing plays is my love...
plays explode out of you,"
she says. "I want my work
to take me right to the truth
of life, as I see it, and make
everyone else see it that way,
too." Just make sure to duck
when the bullets start flying.
working in the local commercial
industry for a few years as freelancers,
Cory Doss and Jaysene Overton
realized they had all the resources
to start doing projects of their
"With support from friends
and family - both financial and
emotional - we gathered the guts
to blindly step into the world
of narrative production,"
Doss says. It's a good thing they
And while film is not yet a
full-time career, many would argue,
and rightfully so, that the duo
is ready to take zero-zero films
to a professional level. With
the award-winning short "On
Account of Amber," zero-zero
films has demonstrated it is one
solid break away from being a
self-sustaining production company.
Its small, yet excellent library
tells the story well.
"All three of these films
were the result of an extreme
time commitment from a wealth
of local talent," says Doss
of "Amber," "Crystal"
and "Spring Cleaning"
(all of which will be screened
during Fringe). "We have
a great mix of enthusiastic people
who are looking for any opportunity
to be part of a film project."
And the result has been a trio
of moody films, devoid of the
"The world is full of shadows,"
says Doss. "Our goal is to
ensure that contrast carries over
to the screen." On with the
Central Iowa Repertory
Central Iowa Repertory Theatre
(CIRT) is an emerging company
of theater artists who are dedicated
to offering audiences quality
theater ranging from established
modern plays, classics from the
past, and new work, including
original plays by Iowans that
will be developed and presented
annually. And they want to go
"Des Moines has a number
of community theaters, but what
Des Moines is missing is a professional
repertory theater," says
Joe Leonardi, who got his start
in theater in his backyard doing
Phyllis Diller impersonations.
"Providing employment opportunities
for talented local theater artists
in Des Moines will enable our
city to reduce the artistic brain
And with the work done by groups
like CIRT (which will perform
George Bernard Shaw's classic
comedy "OverRuled" and
the gritty "Twyla's Boy"),
we're on the right track. Leonardi
says a more sustained talent base
will benefit all the theater companies
in Des Moines and complement the
enhancement of "quality of
place" of our city as a world-class
metro. In short, CIRT will add
one more reason for people to
live, work, visit and spend their
entertainment dollars here.
But it all goes back to opportunity.
When asked about the cast, Leonardi
says he realizes that in order
to consistently produce outstanding
theatrical productions with consistently
across-the-board stellar casts,
capable of garnering a reputation
of excellence in the performing
arts, we have to be able to attract
and retain high-caliber talent.
That means there has to be some
professional opportunities for
theater artists who live here,
if we want to keep them here.
Otherwise, they will keep leaving
for other markets that do have
ample professional opportunities.
"I've spoken with people
involved with Des Moines' community
theaters, and none of them are
talking about going professional.
Some of them don't think it can
be done here," he says. "So,
a group of us have started the
Central Iowa Repertory Theatre
to begin the process of bringing
a professional repertory theatre
to life in Des Moines. If a non-profit
professional repertory theatre
can be successful in Tama, The
Old Creamery, if a small professional
theater can be successful in Iowa
City, Riverside Theatre, then
certainly it can be done in Des
Moines - the capital city."
We couldn't agree more.
Tallgrass Theatre Company
of the mission of Tallgrass Theatre
Company is to develop local talent
within the theater community.
Not only does that mean hiring
Iowa actors for its roles, but
it also means that, when possible,
the company will perform plays
written by Iowa playwrights. Such
is the case with the Iowa Fringe
Festival, where Tallgrass, one
of Iowa's fledgling companies,
will perform "Banter New
Year" by local talent Shadley
"He is a local playwright
who shares the same drive to enrich
the Des Moines area culturally,
and his enthusiasm for his work
was contagious," says Jessie
Philips, co-artistic director.
"We felt 'Banter New Year'
was the most appropriate of his
works to perform at the Fringe
Festival due to the cast and set
requirements (making it simple
to transport to several venues)."
This will mark only the company's
second mainstage performance.
Tallgrass began as the brainchild
of two post-graduate students
from the University of Northern
Iowa. Having moved to Des Moines
only to find themselves without
a venue for their collective artistic
vision, the two of them decided
to form a company deeply rooted
within the state. Incorporated
and dubbed a non-profit in 2002,
the company has since developed
a board of directors, a group
of donors and performed its first
show, "Attention Deficit
Drama," in October 2004.
"We are also working on
side projects, including educational
programs for both youth and adults,"
Tallgrass is working on expanding
its talent pool and educational
programs, as well as to solidify
a season. Long-term goals include
having its own performing space
and to be able to compensate artistic
and technical staff. What this
means? You're going to hear a
lot more from the Tallgrass Theatre
Company in the near future. Stay
It's amazing what a little bit
of encouragement can do. Robert
Baca was born with psychic gifts,
but he suppressed those abilities
because he was not encouraged
to use them. However, after a
life-threatening accident in May
of 2000, he was no longer able
to ignore the visions and messages
from spirits close to people around
So, using Baca as a communicator
to those in the physical world,
these spirits pass messages on
to the loved ones they've left
behind. You've seen it before
with world-renowned psychics John
Edward, James Van Praagh and Silvia
Brown. Like them, Baca conducts
readings to deliver these messages
from the other side.
Having made many television
and public appearances, astounding
both believers and skeptics, Baca
has become one of the top psychic
mediums in the Midwest.
"Continually, I am filled
with gratitude to be able to help
others to connect and communicate
in this way," Baca says on
his Web site, www.voicesfromheaven.com.
"The spiritual world has
been, and continues to be, a great
teacher for both others and myself.
Being involved with this work
keeps me connected to the Divine,
and offers hope, validation and
appreciation through this important
communication to the spiritual
Cinderella turning to Snoop Dogg
for help with her gangsta style.
Oprah Winfrey on trial for operating
an illegitimate carnival game.
Bruce Willis leaving Ben Affleck
behind to blow up the asteroid.
These are some of the warped improv
comedy skits brought to the stage
in the past by Comedy XPeriment.
At the Iowa Fringe Festival, the
troupe will perform more of these
summer blockbuster movies with
Currently 13 members strong,
the Comedy XPeriment has been
together since April 0f 2003.
The troupe performs around Des
Moines, offering fun evenings
filled with improvisanationalized
skits and jokes.
"Our goal is to become
an established attraction for
Des Moines that any audience -
regardless of age, creed or religion
- can enjoy," says member
Joe Van Haecke. "Our material
is chosen for us by the audience.
Our shows depend on the suggestions
by the audience. We guarantee
that no two shows are alike."
Which means, of course, that
you can laugh at them multiple
times at the Iowa Fringe Festival
members of The Brink have never
talked about doing improv comedy
for a living. They've never even
talked about making money at it.
They've just always wanted to
have an outlet for writing and
performing while making enough
money to be able to put on another
show, says troupe member Shawn
Six members strong (with a seventh
alumni member returning to Des
Moines from Chicago for shows
in the Iowa Fringe Festival),
The Brink has been reeling in
the laughs since 2002. Wilson
says the troupe is trying to provide
Des Moines with big city-caliber
sketch and improv comedy.
"We take a lot of risks,
try a lot of formats and, most
of all, have a lot of fun,"
Wilson says. "We have also
tried very hard to give Des Moines
some unique improv games that
aren't played by most troupes.
For instance, we are proud of
the list of 'danger improv' games
that we play like Mousetrap, Oxygen
Deprivation and The Brink original
game 'Bet Your Nuts.'"
The Brink's sketch material
usually comes from its large brainstorming
sessions or from individual writing.
Though the comedy troupe performs
quite a few shows throughout the
year, at least 80 to 90 percent
of them contain fresh material,
"Our biggest goal is to
remain fresh and keep pushing
out good quality entertainment
that isn't going to break people's
wallets," he says.
Brooks assures us that The Patsies
show at the Iowa Fringe Festival
this weekend will only carry a
PG-13 rating. Sometimes controversial
and sometimes just plain edgy
in its brand of adult humor, The
Patsies have been writing, producing
and performing original sketch
comedy for the past year.
And many of that "tried and
true" sketch comedy will
appear in the troupe's fringe
shows, though each performance
will have a unique lineup so that
audiences won't see the same show
"We're really looking forward
to seeing a lot of new faces in
the audience during Fringe Fest,"
said Dave Brooks, co-founder of
The Patsies, in a press release.
"It's a great chance for
people who've never seen us to
check us out. We'll be a little
light on some of our trademark
mullet wigs, alien puppets and
dance numbers. But you'll still
get a healthy dose of what makes
us The Patsies. We'll be doing
everything from a psychotic psychic
possessed by Harry Carey to the
Crocodile Hunter trapped in the
The Patsies have performed throughout
Des Moines to sold out crowds
at the Stoner Studio Theater,
and can currently be seen on stage
as part of the "Tuesday Mewsday
Madhouse" at the Vaudeville
Mews, performing the fourth Tuesday
of each month. They also air performances
on Mediacom's public access channel
on Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays
at 8 p.m. CV
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