Upping the game everywhere3/1/2017
Just how big of a splash has local theater made during the last decade? The best measure may be how far the ripples have reached. Community stages in Ames, Winterset, Newton and Ankeny have all recently upped their games — to enthusiastic applause.
A case in point came over the weekend of 9/11. As a salute to the disaster, Ankeny Community Theatre took on “110 Stories,” derived from the testimony of survivors and first responders.
“We got such an incredible response,” says Adam Haselhuhn, company president. “Our fans gave us the green light to explore further.”
In Ames, publicist Stanley Rabe calls its next show “our most serious drama in years.” Yet, while “Other Desert Cities” deals with a son’s death and a family breakdown, such challenges seem to be what theatergoers want. This year, Rabe points out, Ames has added extra performances to each run.
“We were turning people away,” he exclaims.
In Newton, the spring lineup opens with a drama of traumatized Vietnam veterans, a show the company will take to a state competition. At the end of March comes something lighter, but nonetheless ambitious: the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with a 14-piece orchestra — “including an electric bass,” enthuses Sue Beukema, one of the Administrators.
“Superstar” boasts a cast of 30, and while most come from Newton, Beukema points out proudly that “we get players in from Des Moines, Grinnell, all over.”
So, too, a former Newton regular now works with Winterset Main Stage. In Madison County, the big news doesn’t concern the shows coming up but rather the venue. The company is moving into a classic old building on the courthouse square, the Iowa Theater. The venue dates back more than a century.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a year and a half,” gushes Megan Barrett, Winterset’s board president. “We’ve updated all the technology. We’ll even have a fly space.”
That is, above the Winterset stage, characters like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins will have the room to fly — the room and the rigging, as the area overhead will allow for other effects like drop-down sets. Only Newton, among the suburban theaters, has something comparable, a community center with a full backstage and more. But both Ames and Ankeny aim to improve their own venues over time, again prompted by the rising local interest.
Still, all four companies will continue to rely on volunteers. Community theater exists, after all, to serve the community, and so “everyone in the show winds up feeling like family,” declares Beukema. More than that, according to Stanley Rabe, audiences are growing precisely because every production is such a labor of love.
“Even when the show is serious, we’re all just up there having fun. We’re having a ball, and that’s keeps folks coming out,” says Rabe.
Overheard in the Lobby: Starting March 3 at the Kum & Go, Repertory Theater of Iowa and StageWest present their first joint production, the Pulitzer winner “August Osage County.” ♦
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.