The Stage: Get in on the Act

Working Group Theatre
Make it Better Iowa

Sunday, April 17 at 4 p.m.
Grand Ballroom, Hotel Vetro

An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated there was a charge for this event. This was incorrect: the event is free and open to the public. The author regrets the error.

In the 1990s, United Action for Youth was home to a drama group called the Dating Cellos (full disclosure: this writer was a member for several years). The group began because the center had gotten a grant to do some sort of artsy thing that would educate people about dating violence, but, the story went, no one liked saying, “I’m going to rehearse for my Dating Violence group,” and so the name was changed to the Dating Violins and later to the Dating Cellos. In any case, the group did improv sketches that focused on teen issues (sample titles: “Alcoholic Mom” and “One in Three,” a reference to a frequently cited date rape statistic). At some point in a performance, the group’s moderator would beat a set of drumsticks together twice and we would freeze the action on stage and the moderator would turn to the audience. So? What do you think? What’s happening here? What should happen?

Given that the audience for these sketches was high school students and that the time was the early 1990s, a time when attendees at a panel discussion on AIDS at West High were still asking what lesbians did in bed, the answers were often less than forthcoming, or enlightening. One hopes that the audience interactions a decade later at the Working Group Theatre’s presentation of Make It Better Iowa, later this month, will be better.

Anyone who’s been hanging around the Internet in the past year is probably familiar with the “It Gets Better” campaign, a sort of quasi-grassroots response to the suicide of Billy Lucas and other teens bullied because they were gay, or perceived to be. Dan Savage encouraged people to upload videos with just that message to GLBT teens: It gets better, and hundreds responded. The project has now moved from a statement to an exhortation and Make it Better Iowa is a part of that.

Working Group Theatre members have been training in the concepts of the Theatre of the Oppressed, a movement that, like its other similarly monikered 1970s counterparts, seeks to involve the spectator in the spectacle and to make the theatre an event of community, not an event of experts. Those interested in learning more about how to use theatre in working with LGBT youth are invited to an all-day workshop on April 2.

The whole project culminates with an “event” on April 17 at 4 p.m. at the Hotel Vetro’s Grand Ballroom. Dan Savage will address the audience by Skype. Audience members will have a chance to interact and take part in the event, which is free.

More information on the project and on registering for the workshop is available here or by calling (513) 545-6195.

Riverside Theatre
The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien

Directed by Sean Christopher Lewis
Featuring Saffron Henke
April 1-17, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.

Riverside Theatre has been doing larger-than-life shows in its small space for many years now and The Syringa Tree, a one-woman show (currently also running off Broadway), is the latest. The play covers the relationships between a black family and a white family in South Africa over the shifting tides of apartheid through four generations.

Tickets and further information at here.

Iowa City Community Theatre
The Drowsy Chaperone
April 29 – May 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

There’s an early episode of “News From Lake Wobegon” wherein Garrison Keillor describes standing in front of his dresser as a young man and singing–imagining, of course, an audience, a show, even a congregation–someone who is listening. Instead, enter his mother, with the laundry. “She looks at me, puts the socks in the drawer, walks out,” he says in a monotone. In The Drowsy Chaperone, a young would-be star really does have an imaginary stage come to life out of the musical playing on his turntable. Good for all us dreamers.


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Tickets may be purchased at the door or at a variety of locations around town. Further information here or by calling (319) 338-0443.

University of Iowa Theatre Arts

Music by Mark Hollman
Lyrics by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis
Directed by John Clarence Cameron
April 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 at 8 pm
April 17 and 24 at 2 pm
E.C. Mabie Theatre

If you can get over the name (and really, you should–urine even shows up in Shakespeare and some sort of lame reward will go to the first person who can email the reference to, this should be a highly entertaining piece about a society in which the government has decided to regulate toilets, so anyone who needs to take a leak needs to pay a fee. One man decides to lead a revolt. We assume this will involve acting, not actual urination.

Tickets and further information are available here or by calling (319) 335-2700 or (800) 553-IOWA.

University of Iowa Theatre Building, Theatre B

April 7-9, 8:00 pm
April 10, 2:00 pm
Tickets $5/free for UI students

April is the cruelest month in poetry, but it’s not been the best month for labor, either. 100 years ago this month a fire killed 146 young women at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. 43 years ago this month, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while in Memphis to talk to striking sanitation workers. 11 years ago this month, students all across the county (including here in Iowa) held sit ins and hunger strikes for workers rights. But what about drama? This month, a series of events at the University of Iowa will explore the legacy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the labor movement here and around the world. One of the events is the debut of a play by Janet Shlapkohl simply called Triangle which depicts the lives of a group of young women who worked at the factory.

More information here

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