By: Christina Mancuso
BroadwayWorld.com, the largest theatre site on the Internet, is excited to announce a new feature to its comprehensive regional coverage - the Featured Regional Theater of the Week! Each week, BWW will introduce its readers to a regional theater located in one of our (over 130!) coverage cities. By exploring these different venues, their history and showcasing the production seasons, BWW continues its commitment to expand our presence in communities and cities across the United States.
This Week's Featured Regional Theater: Des Moines Community Playhouse in Des Moines, IA
The Des Moines Community Playhouse was founded in 1919 by members of the Iowa Press and Authors Club. Although the Little Theatre Movement was causing similar enterprises to spring up across the country, The Playhouse is unique in that it has operated continuously, under various names and in various homes, since its founding. With more than 90 years of uninterrupted service, The Playhouse is among the six oldest continuously-operating community theatres in the U.S. It is also the second largest community theatre in the U.S.
The Playhouse's mission is to partner with volunteers to create and deliver extraordinary theatre and education programs for communities in Central Iowa through high-quality entertainment with special emphasis on issues of social significance; programs which allow for the development of individual self-expression and self-esteem; and programs which identify and encourage individuals to pursue professional theatre development. Some tidbits from The Playhouse history include:
The first paid director of The Little Theatre (The Playhouse's original name) was a woman: Josephine Hunter Ray. And the first full-time director was also a woman: Pearl Bennet Broxam in 1927.
The theatre's first permanent building was a remodeled Congregational church on 35th Street near Grand Avenue.
A new era for the Des Moines Community Playhouse (a name change) began in 1953 with a move to the Roosevelt (movie) Theatre on 42nd Street. Membership reached an all-time high of 6,000 in 1956 and two new staff positions were added; technical director and children's theatre director.
The Playhouse achieved international recognition in the 1980s and 1990s with its cultural exchange production, Peace Child, and its host status for the first-ever International Community Theatre Festival.
The Playhouse remains one of the largest subscription performing arts organization in Iowa with 3,500 members. More than 55,000 people attend an average of 12 productions each season, produced by a professional staff of 10 plus more than 1,400 volunteers. The Playhouse education department serves more than 30,000 people annually and consists of a year-round program of classes and camps.
Many of The Playhouse's students and volunteers have successfully pursued careers in theatre, film and television. While few may be household names, Playhouse alum include Academy and Emmy Award winning actress Cloris Leachman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein), actress Phyllis Love (The Rose Tattoo, Bus Stop), actress and singer Claiborne Cary (Silk Stockings, New Girl in Town), director Eddie Rissien (Broadway and Hollywood), actor Michael Cornelison (feature films and television series including Dallas and Remington Steele), actor Chadley Kelderman (regional theatre and film), actor Gerry Neugent (regional theatre), actor Philip Lehl (Blood Brothers, The Kentucky Cycle), and playwright, author, and director Peter Hedges (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, About a Boy, Pieces of April).