Sunday, June 21, 2009

More About the Des Moines Social Club

Last week I posted the first half of my cyberinterview with Iowa theatre impressario (and former NYC indie theater stalwart) Zach Mannheimer. Here's the second part, with input from Zach's fellow theater artist/pioneer Matt McIver:

ME: Tell us a little about the play by Steven Gridley that is happening at your space this month.

Z: Matt's got this.

MATT MCIVER: Steven Gridley's The Twelfth Labor is a play I've wanted to direct since I saw a workshop of it at Columbia last June. I walked out of that theater, called Zack and told him we were doing this play or I wasn't moving to Des Moines.

When we talked to Steven about producing the play he was supportive, and even better indicated that Erin Treadway was interested in reprising the role of Cleo, which she had created. I jumped at the chance. We had a group of actors in town that I believed were up to the dazzling, imaginative challenges that Steven's language poses. Kim Grimaldi (Esther) and Michael Cornelison (Forrest) are local legends; Mike spent time in NY and LA and has Broadway credits under his belt. Kim is a force of nature and one of the pillars of Repertory Theatre of Iowa, a company devoted to theatrical classics. We were very fortunate in the younger actors who worked with us, some of whom had been in our first production, R.U.R.

The rehearsal process is almost a blur at this point--it's a huge four-act play with dazzling leaps of the imagination. A large part of the action is seen through the memory and dreams of a mentally damaged woman who harbors a family secret. Dad is in a POW camp, and in Cleo's jumbled imagination Abbott and Costello and the Wizard of Oz blur with her parents and siblings. We had a lot of ground to cover and the cast worked hard to get to the meat of the language and characters. In the middle of all this work one of our actors lost her mother, and that added to what she was dealing with in the process. But it all came together right at the end, when it needed to.

Steven had a lot of wonderful sound cues, and Chris Peterson did a wonderful job with video projections that play at moments in the background. All of the technical elements came together at the last moment--Steven and Erin were wonderful, hard-working and supportive. We were so fortunate to have them here. In the end I had the wonderful experience of watching this moving story told with the skill, creativity and grace I had dreamed of for a year. I've been a fan of Steven's writing and Erin's acting for some time and I'm as big a fan of them as people.

You can see a review of the play here:

ME: Finally, what differences and similarities are you finding between Iowa audiences and NYC audiences? Is Des Moines going to become a great indie theater outpost?

Similarities first - they all love theatre. They are excited about it and want to get involved in it. But that's really it.

Differences - night and day to me. The audiences here are passionate and excited about the work they do and see. In NYC there was a feeling, I thought, of "Been there, done that" for most shows I would go to. Here people are so excited about the work they can't wait to jump in and learn themselves. And many of them have been through the NYC ringer and returned home to Iowa. I mean, how many people do you know who are actually from NYC? Lots of them come from Iowa. We're hoping to provide a place so they don't have to go back.

The main thing is - here you can make a living doing your work if you work like you did in NYC. And people other than your colleagues, friends, and family will come see your work - and not to "support you" but because they really want to see it. I've met some of the most brilliant artists living out here - and also, they're a hell of a lot nicer!

Indie Theater Outpost - you betcha! We've got our own theatre now, so that's what we're filling it with. Come and do a show with us - spend some time in DSM!

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