Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Center Stage

Dark, virtual, or real space


Theatre Midwest’s “Stripped” cast: (standing) Madison Ray, Karen Schaeffer, Princess Winters, Kristin Gredys. (Seated) Bryce Browning,
Ashley Schaeffer, Audrey Kaus. Photo by Katie Privitera

When last we left this fluid situation, the central Iowa theater scene reflected the national and international trends and responses in their art. Each company, with its own unique circumstances, was in seclusion to determine what could be done and when. From Des Moines Performing Arts, a dynamic performing arts force that attracts patrons from surrounding states; to the Des Moines Community Playhouse, a multi-million dollar operation, the only local theater company with fulltime staff; to Iowa Stage Theatre Company, Pyramid Theatre Company, Theatre Midwest, and Iowa Shakespeare Experience, with part-time staff and stipends to its performers; and to several volunteer-driven companies, the abilities to respond to the COVID-19 situation has been as diverse as the companies’ profiles. One constant is shared among all of these companies, and that is that all hope for live performances as soon as possible. Patrons also are thirsting for that experience.


The two largest theater producers in Greater Des Moines have made plans. As with many cultural and business strategies, everything remains contingent upon the pandemic situation, so they ask that patrons stay in touch and remain optimistic. Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA) and The Des Moines Community Playhouse hope they will be able to follow through on the longer-range plans they recently put into place.

DMPA starts the 2020-2021 Willis Broadway Season in February of 2021, with the musical comedy “Tootsie.” They hope that by waiting such an extended period, that a resolution to the pandemic will have happened (think vaccination).

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The Playhouse has taken a bold, if cautious, step forward in announcing live theater beginning mid-October. They opted for small-cast productions, and will accommodate about 35 percent capacity in their mainstage space, with COVID-19 protocol precautions in place. Plans beyond these two shows are being held under wraps, likely to allow evaluation time for this effort to bring patrons and performers together in the same space. Detailed information is on their website.

Plans at this column’s deadline weren’t firm yet, but The Playhouse also hopes to offer small-number, in-person and online only education classes. Streaming Friday Fundays begin Oct. 23, with shows about every three weeks.

“We safely presented theater in the parking lot (Drive-in Theatre) this summer,” shared Lee Ann Bakros, marketing and PR director. Their success through these innovative productions provided insights for future actions, as well as patron feedback about beginning live theater this fall.

Iowa Stage Theatre Company started its virtual 2020-2021 season with September’s staged reading of company member Kerry Skram’s adaptation of “Persuasion” by Jane Austen. The season continues with “Tuesdays with Morrie” this month and December’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play.” Iowa Stage’s model is to offer these shows online for free, giving patrons the opportunity to donate to support the company’s efforts.

Theatre Midwest is growing a blended season, beginning through their “Fresh Produce” series (virtual shows) in October with “Stripped,” then three more shows under this brand, followed by a full production of “Atlas of Mud” in spring of 2021. Ankeny Community Theatre, currently doing a series of Virtual Readers Theatre, plans to return to in-house shows this coming spring, too. Iowa Shakespeare Experience has some virtual creative endeavors available. The rest of the companies listed below have suspended activities until further notice.

Overall, live theater creativity continues to find a way to produce and present. Check out what your central Iowa companies are offering, and stay current with their evolving plans. Support them as you can. They deserve and need it now.


Check for updates with each company regarding future plans and how to support.
Ankeny Community Theatre – www.ankenycommunitytheatre.com
Carousel Theatre of Indianola – www.carouseltheatre.org
Class Act Productions – www.captheatre.org
Des Moines Community Playhouse/Kate Goldman Theatre – www.dmplayhouse.com
Des Moines Performing Arts – For rescheduled, canceled, postponed events and FAQ https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/covid-19-update/
Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre – www.dmyat.org
Iowa Shakespeare Experience – www.iowashakespeare.org
Iowa Stage Theatre Company – www.iowastage.org
Pyramid Theatre Company – www.pyramidtheatre.org
Tallgrass Theatre Company – www.tallgrasstheatre.org
Urbandale Community Theatre – www.urbandaletheatre.com ♦

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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