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Center Stage

From Boise to Tina Turner to summer camp


Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villenueva portray Tina Turner in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Photo credit: Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villenueva photographed by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022.

With a constant flair for finding exceptional scripts to produce, Iowa Stage Theatre Company prepares its next gem. “A Bright New Boise” will grace the Stoner Theater stage from May 12-21, and its selection brings Samuel D. Hunter’s Obie Award and Drama Desk nominated play to central Iowa audiences. Add a healthy dash of home state pride, as its playwright is a University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum. Hunter is also a successful screenwriter, honored for his multiple award-winning 2012 play, “The Whale,” recently adapted into the Oscar-winning film from his screenplay. 

That’s a lot of creative firepower driving this production. “A Bright New Boise” is considered Hunter’s 2011 breakthrough play. The story is anchored by Will, who moves from his rural Idaho hometown and gets a job at the Boise Hobby Lobby for a fresh start. Moving, funny and filled with Hunter’s signature talents for drawing the human elements into his characters, “A Bright New Boise” promises a fulfilling cultural adventure.

In a recent interview with Hunter, he expanded on some underlying motifs in this story. 

“I’ve always been interested in the way that Christianity interacts with modern American life,” he begins. “And I’m frequently disappointed by our stages and screens representing modern evangelicals as delusional or simple. So, I hope that audiences feel like they’ve spent time with someone who is real, someone for whom their faith is both grounding and destabilizing in an increasingly secular world.”

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Hunter adds insightful reflections about what separates live theater from film or television. As a MacArthur “genius grant” fellow, among other honors, his talents and experience offer much in preparation for the immersive experience of “A Bright New Boise.”

“I think the simple fact that we’re sharing a space with the actors, breathing the same air, immediately makes the theater a perfect platform for stories about our current moment. There’s also a collective suspension of disbelief that goes on when people watch plays — unlike most film or TV, theater isn’t trying to capture real life as it actually looks and sounds like. Somehow that allows us to focus all the more on the people being represented, not the spectacle.”

Iowa Stage’s director, Alex Wendel, added his special insights into this production. He has special connections to this story because he lived in Boise, worked retail for years with a breakroom much like the one this story takes place in, and often questioned his own purpose.

“Samuel Hunter stories take mundane settings and render them extraordinary. ‘Bright New Boise,’ in particular, has us contemplating what gives a life meaning, questioning our need for religion, and wondering if we really would be better off swallowed up in the apocalypse.

“You’ll laugh, you’ll probably want to hug one of these characters, and maybe punch another one.” 

Tina Turner’s complex story anchored by musical prowess

Des Moines Performing Arts brings a powerful show to central Iowa with the first national tour of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” This show tells the inspiring journey of a woman who broke barriers and became the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Tina Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards.

Roz White (as Turner’s mother, Zelma Bullock), shares how she cherishes “standing backstage in the wings and tearing up listening to the audiences fall in love with this woman (Tina Turner) all over again, every single night.”

“You get the musical magic, all the songs,” White continues. “Katori Hall (who wrote the book) infuses Tina’s music into her story, that is, the true story of Tina’s life as told by Tina herself.” 

Summer camp with creative flair

From tots to adults, central Iowa cultural organizations offer creative immersion from STEAM to performing to directing that await the cultural adventurer. Summer camp, especially in the creative realms, offers participants new opportunities to explore subjects new to them, to experience activities that will challenge, engage and otherwise expand their worlds. 

Class Act Productions (CAP Theatre) in Altoona. Summer CAmP 2023, Five summer camp programs.

Des Moines Community Playhouse. A wide range of ongoing classes and camps is available, including summer programs.

Des Moines Performing Arts. Musical Theater Camp, Broadway Intensive, and Broadway Academy are offered.

Iowa Stage Theatre Company. Offers three summer classes through West Des Moines Parks and Recreation.

Science Center of Iowa. Offers a wide range of camps for different age groups and interests.

Tallgrass Theatre Company. Seedlings Children’s Theatre Camps Summer 2023. Eight different week-long camps beginning in early June and continuing through mid-July. ♦

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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