Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Center Stage

Creativity and adaptability drive pandemic performances


Stuart (Will C. Johnson) is a little mouse on a big adventure in “Stuart Little,” playing through March 14, in repertory with “Leaving Iowa,” at The Des Moines Playhouse. Photo Credit: Brent Isenberger

This month marks the one-year anniversary of when stages across central Iowa went dark. As local producers mourn the loss, they remain resolved to adapt and find ways to overcome the situation. A key ingredient has been the support from patrons and the government. Each of these sources is a testament to the vital contributions that performing arts add to a healthy and thriving community. Another has been the collective coping with the situation. Each company not only has gone through rigorous internal evaluations and “rolling plans” in response to the fluid challenge, but they are also maintaining ties with their kindred spirits: fellow companies in the community. Countless pencil scratching with plenty of erasures were used in this ongoing process. These collaborative efforts prove the adage true, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The Des Moines Playhouse wraps up its latest repertory offerings, “Leaving Iowa” (through March 21) and “Stuart Little” (through March 14), in the John Viars Theatre. Beginning with their successful and socially distanced Drive-in Theatre last summer, this intrepid and nationally recognized company adapted. They presented virtual productions, started live theater (socially distanced, masked) last fall, and collaborated. Of special note is the addition of their first Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre show since the beginning of 2020. “Stuart Little” beckons families to share the magic of theater with young ones, introducing them to a beloved literary character through this stage adaptation. Both shows will be offered virtually, too. DMP collaborated with filmmaker Miriam Randolph of Two Steps to the Left Productions on a boldly devised theater project, “nature of the dream.” This will be available virtually through March 7.

Des Moines Young Artists Theatre slipped a quick performance fundraiser into February, “Duets.” This virtual show paired veteran performers with young emerging artists. Watch for details on their April virtual show, “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms.”

Iowa Stage Theatre Company begins a trio of partnership streaming national-caliber productions. They will present Tanya Barfield’s critically acclaimed “Bright Half Life” in March. Tickets sold for this series will benefit future Iowa Stage programming.


Ankeny Community Theatre continues its free Readers Virtual Theatre series March 14 (“Loving” by Peter Manoa) and March 28 (“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell). Contributions of support are welcome.

Theatre Midwest continues its Fresh Produce series with “When the Messenger is Hot” by Laura Eason, a free online event March 6 at 7:30 p.m., and March 7 at 2 p.m., with a talk back to follow the matinee. For more information, visit

One of the biggest developments in the local theater scene is with Tallgrass Theatre Company. Its lease ended at its Vine Street location. Then the pandemic struck. The search for a new space finally was successful, and it now will call the former Skate West building at 2019 Grand Ave. in West Des Moines home. Unofficially that city’s community theater, two major musical events are planned for this coming summer, “The Bridges of Madison County” (concert version) and “An Evening with Sondheim.” Both shows will be presented at the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater in the West Des Moines City Campus.

Our global leader, Des Moines Performing Arts, remains at the mercy of what Broadway producers do. Until that first important domino begins to fall, those incredible national tours are on hold before again inspiring Iowa audiences. DMPA has been far from idle, however. They have developed some world-class virtual programming, giving families wonderful opportunities to experience the best stage entertainment available.

Dixie Longate returns March 4-7 in a vivacious virtual show, “Dixie’s Happy Hour.” Irreverent, irresistible and totally needed now, Dixie returns to Iowa audiences to share her special “Bama sass” — and, yes, this show is intended for mature audiences. Suggestion: If you have friends and family in other parts of the country, have everyone tap into the same DMPA performance, then gather afterward to recount the oh-so-many ways that Dixie not only tickles, but absolutely rib-rocks, your funny bone. If everyone gets their tickets through DMPA, it helps that great organization.

Other performance opportunities not mentioned above:

Des Moines Performing Arts – “Mountain Goat Mountain” (through March 7); “The University of Wonder & Imagination” (March 19-21)


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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