There is a surprising amount of theatre going on in rural Grinnell, Iowa. There’s the Theatre & Dance Department at Grinnell College, of which I am a current major, but there’s also the community theatre through Grinnell Area Arts Council. The theatre scene in Grinnell is interesting due to a quiet tension between the college and town that has remained for quite some time. Grinnell College is a private liberal arts school that attracts students from all around the world while Grinnell, IA remains a small town in rural Iowa.
I began to see this divide between the college and town quickly during my first year on campus. Being from Iowa (admittedly from the suburbs, not somewhere rural), I was surprised that some students had little desire to venture into the town itself, and that few town members were present at public events on campus. I found this especially frustrating in the area of theatre. Both Grinnell Area Arts Council and Grinnell’s Department of Theatre & Dance were putting on amazing work, but there was little crossover between the two.
Grinnell College's "Godspell"
Seeing this motivated me to produce and direct an Open Space Production (a completely student led production with college funding) of the musical Godspell last spring. While I knew that I wanted the entire production team and cast to be students, I decided that I wanted to produce the musical in the town’s theatre rather than one on campus and ensure that half of the tickets for the production went to the town and half went to the college. I intended to bring both students and town members together in a town space to watch a musical about Christianity and generate conversation about great theatre. Luckily after a lot of hard work, the production was a success and now there is a spot reserved in the town’s theatre space for a student show each semester.
After working on Godspell, I started brainstorming more ways to bring the town and college together through theatre, which led me to my Community Service Project. Due to various reasons like size, scope, and newness, many shows do not get produced in Grinnell, including some great LGBTQ+ authored or focused plays. I am currently creating a play reading program where actors from the town and college will come together and perform staged readings in a town space of these plays to not only present new works, but also create discussion around topics of potential disagreement. While the program has not officially launched yet, I hope to have two readings presented before the end of the semester, including one that will take place through Grinnell College’s Stonewall Resource Center’s Pride Week. It is my hope that through this program, LGBTQ+ artists and students feel more comfortable in town theatre spaces and town members can experience some amazing LGBTQ+ theatre.
Grinnell College's "Godspell"
I am a strong believer that theatre has the ability to bring people together. Although there are so many different people who can make up an audience, the idea of a singular audience is powerful. If one person goes to a show and learns something new, that one person can tell another what they learned. I hope that the Grinnell theatre scene will unite more in the future because if they do, some great ideas will come out of it.
This post was written by Point Scholar Nolan Boggess.
Nolan is studying Theatre and Dance at Grinnell College. His goal is to create a non-profit theatre company in the Midwest dedicated to producing shows by LGBTQIA+ playwrights or focused on LGBTQIA+ topics that would also offer educational and outreach programs to the community. Read more about Nolan here.