Enhancing Des Moines’ next generations through performing arts opportunities
Local youth plays and workshops likely won’t be a fast track to stardom, a short cut to a Tony Award, or the building of an adoring fan base. For the increasing number of youthful participants, however, their reasons for involvement define the appeal and melting pot meeting point of performing arts. The Des Moines Playhouse, Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre, Class Act Productions, and Ankeny Community Theatre all encourage this.
Central Iowa is anchored by one of America’s most respected and long-lived children’s theatre programs: the Des Moines Community Playhouse. Nationally recognized and celebrating its centennial in 2019, the Playhouse started producing Theatre for Young People shows in the 1950s. Programming took a major leap forward with the founding of the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre (KGCT) in 1995. Presenting popular literature-based shows, tens of thousands of families have treasured the magic of favorite books coming to life on stage.
“We have produced multi-generational, professional quality theatre for families and young people for the majority of our existence,” explains Playhouse Artistic Director John Viars. “We support our volunteer performers with professional quality set, costume, sound and lighting design.”
With humble beginnings in 2008, the vision created by Bob and Maria Filippone grew from occasional shows at the Unitarian Church on Bell Avenue into Des Moines Onstage, then into Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre (DMYAT). David Van Cleave shares the core principle behind DMYAT “…we believe our organization belongs to the students themselves. We know that the youth of this city are capable of great artistry, empathy and creation. We are happy to support them on this journey by providing a home and treating them as artists, first, and students second.”
Class Act Productions (CAP) started in 2006 with a production of “Cinderella.” This season will mark their 41st mainstage show. Board President Melissa Grooters described CAP as a group “…(that) produces children’s theatre, but the end product (performance) isn’t why we produce children’s theatre. What makes our role unique is we are an organization focused on being a safe place for our children to grow and learn.”
CAP calls a repurposed historic building in “Old Altoona” home. This intimate space creates a bonding experience for audience, cast, crew and CAP team alike. CAP’s Board includes in their Belief Statement: “We challenge your children to be confident, expressive and genuine. We just happen to do children’s theatre.”
Ankeny Community Theatre (ACT) was founded in 1981 but started producing programming specifically for children only recently. This facet of ACT solidified when a partnership between them and Ankeny’s Kirkendall Library utilized library space for free workshops (25 last year alone), with hundreds of youth participating. These workshops have increased interest in ACT’s summer camps.
“(The ACT) role is to offer educational experiences for youth grades K-12 to participate,” explains Lynn Arterburn, youth education director. “(This programming allows) them to explore the world of theater as well and hone acting skills.”
Benefits to our community? According to American Alliance for Theatre & Education research: improvement of academic performance, better SAT scores, school attendance, reading comprehension, improved self-esteem. Other researched improvements for young theatre arts participants happen in creativity, focus, memory, empathy, self-confidence, communication and teamwork. Such youth theatre programs and their results seem like win-win activities for everyone. www.dmplayhouse.com, www.dmyat.org, www.captheatre.org, www.ankenycommunitytheatre.com
Overheard in the Lobby
“The Sound of Music” (CAP, through March 4); Open House for Children/Teens – learn about ACT opportunities (ACT, March 3, 1:30-3 p.m.); “Jack and the Beanstalk” Lunch & Performance (CAP, March 10, 15, 17, 24); “Miss Nelson Is Missing!” (KGCT, through March 11); Spring Break Audition Camp (DMYAT, March 12-16); Des Moines Playhouse offers A Whole New World (Grades 1-2, March 14-16) and Performance Academy (Grades 3-8, March 12-16) plus other classes throughout the year. ♦
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.