Payne’s Pains: Quality theater is limited for a college our size

I will admit I love theater.

I guess you could say Broadway is one of my guilty pleasures. Bridges of Madison County is on Broadway and I am dying to go see it.

The theater at Northern Iowa area Community College (NIACC) is impressive for a school less than one-fourth the size of DMACC. Photo by Jordan Tobias

The theater at Northern Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) is impressive for a school less than one-fourth the size of DMACC. Photo by Jordan Tobias

I am a season ticket holder at the Civic Center and I enjoy going to other musicals when I get the chance.

I grew up acting in different productions for the Altoona Children’s Theater. I spent my summers doing theater camp at the Des Moines Playhouse. So when I was in high school it was natural for me to want to be a part of the theater.

I decided I did not want to act; I wanted to do the lighting.

I was a freshman at Southeast Polk High School; we had just moved into a beautiful large new high school building with a theater that would make almost any high school drama teacher drool.

I became a part of the set crew and made my way into the light booth. I loved my job, I made set pieces, I controlled lights and sometimes sound, I drove our director Malaura Werling crazy sometimes just for the hell of it.

Coming to DMACC in the fall of 2012, I was excited to see what productions would be done here. I would read in the DMACC Daily about auditions and show times but I didn’t ever have the time to audition, go to rehearsals or even make it to the productions because of my class schedule.

I was able to finally go to one of the Huff Theater productions last fall.

The first thing I noticed was the lighting of the “stage” was horrible; the former high school lighting director in me was cringing. My brain was hurting trying to watch the play that was dimly lit and all red.

I really do not know what I was expecting from a DMACC play, but I honestly was expecting something way different. We are Iowa’s largest community college after all.

We have a mid-sized lecture auditorium with a light/sound booth and a curtain that we call a theater.

I have been to my fair share of community colleges in Iowa and I have seen their theaters.

DMACC dwarfs all of these other colleges but they have real theaters with real theatrical and musical productions.

One of the best community college theaters that I have been to would have to be Northern Iowa Area Community College (NIACC). It has a beautiful reception area that welcomes you into their impressive theater.

I would describe NIACC’s theater a mixture of the Civic Center in Des Moines and Stephen’s Auditorium at Iowa State University.

One of the most beautiful theaters at a community college in Iowa would have to be Iowa Western Community College (IWCC). The theater at IWCC is smaller than that of NIACC’s but has a beautiful, modern, state of the art design.

One of the arguments I have heard as to why we don’t have a nice theater and decent shows is that we have Des Moines in our “backyard.”

Is that a real point to make? Look at IWCC for example; they are just a hop, jump and skip away from Omaha, which has over 300,000 more people than Des Moines’ metro area.

A neat community college theater is at a college I seem to forget about quite often, Iowa Central Community College (ICCC).

Our neighbor to the north is about one-fourth the size of DMACC. ICCC has a theater not as beautiful as IWCC’s and not as large as NIACC’s, but it is a nice-sized theater where they put on decent plays.

I enjoy the fact that we have original plays and let local people write plays. However, we need to have plays that people have heard of.

When students go on from DMACC they should be able to have built up a resume with reputable well-known plays and musicals.

One thing that amazes me about ICCC is the types of productions they do. Students put on Broadway shows like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Hairspray,” “Footloose” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”  But hey, why should I be surprised that a college would bring in Broadway shows? We did it while I was at Southeast Polk. We did musicals like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “A Little Shop of Horrors.”

We were also the first school to gain the rights to do the comedy “Leaving Iowa.” That same year Roosevelt had just done “Rent;” we were all jealous at SEP.

It is surprising when local high schools are doing productions such as “Rent,” “Into the Woods,” “Pippin,” “Grease,” “Chicago,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “A Little Shop of Horrors.”

Come on DMACC, we need a better theater and better productions.

Do we have to wait till we get a nice theater to have decent plays, or do we have to have decent plays to get a better theater?

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