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Center Stage

Center Stage: A mystery with a happy ending


image2The Oscar winner “Shakespeare in Love” has a great bit about theater. According to the man who runs Shakespeare’s company, he’s always facing “insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

And how does the show go on? “It’s a mystery,” he shrugs.

Todd Buchacker, artistic director of StageWest, knows just how he feels. The company has earned all sorts of esteem in 20 years of producing edgy, contemporary work. Just this fall, it had a hit in “Hand to God.” A romp both at once obscene and humane, “Hand” sold out every night, according to Buchacker. Yet at the end of the run, StageWest was squarely on the road to disaster.

“We’d lost about $60,000 in revenue since 2014,” Buchaker explains.

That was a year of big changes for the company. Buchaker replaced the founding director, and they moved into the new Kum & Go Theater. These moves all seemed like winners, but for many longtime patrons and subscribers, they wound up creating confusion.

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“On key issues, there was a lack of communication,” Buchacker admits.

Lately, then, getting the word out has become crucial — indeed, a lifesaver. The company would’ve collapsed, abandoning the season after a single show, if Buchacker and others hadn’t begun hustling for funds. Their goal was $50,000. Appeals popped up across social media, and Buchacker, as he says, “had a whole lot of meetings.”

What he wanted locals to understand, first, was how rare it was for a city the size of Des Moines to get the kind of material StageWest offers — feisty and up to the minute.

“Des Moines has got something truly rare and exciting,” Buchacker argues.

Case in point, the show planned for November, “Ugly Lies the Bone.” The drama concerns a woman who fought in Afghanistan, who returns home to Texas burdened with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Lindsey Ferrentino script has won awards and raves, but its Off-Broadway debut came just a year ago, and the StageWest production is one of the first since. The company, even in crisis, went ahead and arranged a director.

This was John Graham, and the job has him fired up.

“Ferrentino’s a smart, smart playwright,” he gushes. “She packs so much into every moment.”

Graham began rehearsals, too. He points out that his lead actress, Kim Haymes, is a veteran of Chicago theater, attracted by the kind of roles StageWest can offer.

“She gets it,” he says. “This company’s all about doing the best you can with whatever you’ve got.”

Buchacker adds that, for community theaters everywhere, ticket sales cover about half the costs of production.

“StageWest does all right, actually,” he insists. “We’ve had sellouts. Still, expenses run far higher than income.”

To cover the shortfall, a company needs angels, and this past month a few have landed on StageWest. Fundraising goals were met, with the average contribution less than $200. While steep challenges remain, for now, the show will go on. It’s a mystery.

Overheard in the Lobby: Tallgrass has began its season, with the comedy “Calendar Girls.” ♦

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See Domini


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