Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Center Stage

Short-, mid- and long-term performing arts strategies


Iowa Stage Theatre Company collaborated with Iowa PBS to broadcast “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” in December. Photo
courtesy of Iowa Stage Theatre Company

One thing that we’ve learned about a pandemic such as this is that this virus has no concept of calendars, seasons, economics or aesthetics. This relentless Covid-19 invasion doesn’t care a whit about booking the next great Broadway show, the intricate interplay of crew, cast and volunteers to create an appealing stage production, or the energy created from performing halls filled with grateful patrons.

Humankind sets timelines and expectations. The pandemic doesn’t. These two opposing forces plague the process. Producers locally are adapting to and coping with the situation, finding innovative ways to present cultural content. Many remain dormant until the pandemic passes.

What’s happening locally

Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA), a cornerstone for Iowa’s performing arts scene, is reliant upon the national market. The Des Moines Community Playhouse (DMP) has deep brick-and-mortar roots in Iowa, giving it unique benefits. Iowa Stage Theatre Company (ISTC), with its resident company of paid-by project personnel, had to adapt. Ankeny Community Theatre (ACT) relied on its solid, all-volunteer and
community support to allow them to maintain a continuing presence.

Prep Iowa

DMPA has been the most challenged. Its cultural economic impact in central Iowa is noteworthy, and it often found itself as an international top ticket-selling performing hall. CEO and President Jeff Chelesvig’s savvy guidance grew DMPA into a first-stop venue for national tours of the newest Broadway shows. Broadway is shut down through May 2021. So without Broadway shows to present, there is no revenue.

DMP and ISTC both have options not available to DMPA. They produce locally. DMP’s advantage is owning its own theater. They use a Covid-safe protocol for live performances, including live streaming for cautious patrons. The new year ushers in two more shows, “Leaving Iowa” and “Stuart Little,” both in February. Auditions for these shows will be held, virtually, in early January.

The ISTC venue, DMPA’s Stoner Theater, became unsuitable for live performances. ISTC utilized national connections to embrace virtual performance events to benefit them. They also aired an Iowa PBS remounting of their popular “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”

Ankeny Community Theatre (ACT) developed an ongoing Readers Virtual Theater, giving its patrons the opportunity to remain connected while giving ACT volunteers the opportunity to explore and present new works that may not otherwise be presented on their stage. Upcoming presentations include “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein (Jan. 10, 6:30 p.m.) and “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson (Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m.). Links to both shows, which are free, can be found through the ACT website.

What will 2021 bring?

Most believe that 2021 will welcome the reawakening of live performing arts. All is dependent upon the success of vaccines, the waning of the pandemic and audiences’ willingness to sally forth again. Before this happens, all producers hope that the Greater Des Moines community will provide the necessary support to carry them through the current dearth of live performances and production work to that future when they again can produce and present shows. That will be a most wondrous holiday gift.


Check for updates with each company regarding future plans and how to support.

Ankeny Community Theatre –
Carousel Theatre of Indianola –
Class Act Productions –
Des Moines Community Playhouse/Kate Goldman Theatre –
Des Moines Performing Arts – For rescheduled, canceled, postponed events and FAQ
Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre –
Iowa Shakespeare Experience –
Iowa Stage Theatre Company –
Pyramid Theatre Company –
Tallgrass Theatre Company –
Urbandale Community Theatre – ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show,
The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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