Peer Gynt: The Man, The Journey

Theatre Simpson has been traveling this semester (figuratively speaking) with Henrik Ibsen’s epic character Peer Gynt.  When Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt he wasn’t necessarily thinking about it for production–as written it would probably be a seven hour theatrical experience.  Tom Woldt, theatre department chair, undertook the challenge to adapt and direct this play.  Woldt has shortened the play and modernized it.  The finishing touches are being put on in the final technical rehearsals preparing for the first audience on March 16.  Yes, indeed, the trolls are coming. Image

Peer Gynt is the story of one man’s journey to find ‘self.’ Along the way he finds trolls and Egyptian dancers, crashes a couple boats, gains riches and loses them again, and finds true love. The process for making this show has been much like Peer’s journey as the production team and performers search for the best and most interesting ways to tell this story to the audience.

And interesting it will be (we can’t tell you exactly what will happen because that will spoil the surprises) but the audience is guaranteed to be amazed as Peer is as he enters new lands.  Tom Woldt, mentioned that he  “really enjoyed staging some of the interesting and unusual scenes that the people will see, now if you’re going to ask what the hardest part of the process was I will say the same thing [chuckle] hardest but also most fun.”  The costume designer, Laura Perkins, said, “My favorite part of the show is the wicked big dress, if you don’t know what that is come see the show and you will. It was fun figuring out with the set designer, Amber Miller, her assistant, Shelby Burgus, and the scene shop supervisor, Rick Goetz,  how we would make it and how to use it on stage.” A student, Ali Simpson, said, “One of my favorite things is how much Tom brought out each actors special talents, we have live music, some dancers, acrobatics, and so much more.”

So come join us at Theatre Simpson this weekend, where you will be reminded that life is a journey. March 16-17 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 at 1:00 p.m.

Order tickets at

Guest Scenic Designer Amber Miller Returns to Theatre Simpson


Guest designer, Amber Miller (front) and her student assistant, Shelby Burgus, adding texture to the set for Peer Gynt.

Guest artists are key component of the success of the Theatre Simpson program.  This year we invited scenic designer Amber Miller to return to design the set for Peer Gynt, Audiences may remember her sweeping design for the 2010 production of The Learned Ladies.   Amber graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002 and since then has worked professionally in the Chicago and Minneapolis/St Paul areas as a graphic and project designer for Ravenswood Studio, Starbucks Coffee Co and the Jungle Theater.  Her theatrical designs have been seen at many notable theaters in the Twin Cities, including Park Square (Rock-N-Roll, Painting Churches), Theatre-in-the-Round (The Burial at Thebes, Bus Stop), The Playwrights Center (800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K Dick, Glyph, The Sense of What Should Be) and the Southern Theater (Hedda Gabler).

While Theatre Simpson has four full-time faculty and two full-time design staff, guest artists help bring a new perspective to the work.  We are able to assign students to serve as assistants to the guest designers.  This gives the student an opportunity to look deeper into the area of expertise of the guest artist. Last year Amber’s assistant was Cassie Ring and this year it is Shelby Burgus. “Amber is a wonderful role model to those who have an interest in design,” Cassie said in one interview, “after working with Amber I was energized and inspired.”

Cassie explained her role as the assistant set designer:  “Some of the jobs that I did while working with her included picking out colors, picking out fabrics, searching for furniture and set dressing, cartooned and painted drops, calculate and make the hanging books, as well as act as a communication tool between her and the director when she was not staying in the area.” With Peer Gynt Shelby is helping out with special effects, including designing some over-sized antlers.


The Peer Gynt set earlier in the process.

When asked what the most important thing was to remember while being an assistant designer was the students both responded with a resounding, “communication.” No matter what area you are working in whether it’s set, props, directing, stage managing, you always have to remember communication is key.

Peer Gynt runs this weekend.  March 16-17 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 at 1:00 p.m.

Tickets are still available.  You can reserve online at or contact the box office at 515.961.1601.

What’s Been Going on at Theatre Simpson?

What’s been going on at Theatre Simpson?  A lot!

The past month has been full of exciting activities at Theatre Simpson.  We started the semester with auditions for Peer Gynt and now with a cast of 24, rehearsals are in full swing and the shops are a buzz.  Then four faculty, two staff, and 25 students traveled to Ames for the KCACTF Region 5 Festival (more on that in a moment).  And just this week we completed the company assignments for Festival of Short Plays 2012: Experimental Theatre in America in the 60s and 70s.  (Oh, and there are 42 students directing, designing, managing, teching and acting with this project.)

Now, back to KCACTF.  Theatre Simpson has actively participated with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for over 20 years.  We enter all of our shows and prepare our students to participate in acting, design, and technical events.  On January 15, 2012 the Iowa State University campus was invaded by theatre students from the Region 5 states–Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota.  Around 225 schools from around this region all participated in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. This is a week long Festival for College students who want to immerse themselves in the theatre experience. There are workshops, performances, job auditions and interviews, and so much more.  This year our students served as volunteers helping make the Festival (with 1500 attendees) run smoothly.  Here’s what some of our students said about the experience:

“KCACTF has impacted my life every year, for all four years that I have attended it. Each year I’ve learned something different or have had a different experience that teaches me something new about myself. Who would I recommend to go to KCACTF? ANYONE and EVERYONE! You don’t have to be a theatre major to attend. Sure it’s a week long event celebration theatre, but it’s also great for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and how theatre relates to them and the world around them.


Meghan Vosberg, on the left, in the concert reading of The Book of Adam

My advice to someone attending KCACTF for the first time would be to try everything! Don’t spend the whole time in your hotel room. Attend workshops, see performances, and audition for something. The most memorable thing that I experiences this year would have to be participating in the staged reading of the Kennedy Center Nationally Award winning student written play, The Book of Adam. This was a great experience that included a 30 hour rehearsal schedule that took place in two days. I was 1 of 6 cast members, one for each state of the region, and I represented Iowa.” –Meghan Vosberg, senior theatre major and member of the Theatre Simpson Company

“The most memorable thing about KCACTF was the design expo, it was really interesting to see all the different aspects of design and how different people designed the same shows.”


Senior theatre major Lindsey Oetken, on the right, receiving feedback at the design expo on her costume designs for The Glass Menagerie

“I would recommend that anyone who is even the slightly bit interested in theatre should attend the festival. It is a great learning experience ranging from newbies to people who have been involved in theatre their whole lives.” –Nicole Cavanaugh, junior music major and member of the Theatre Simpson Company.

Behind the scenes with the stage manager


Ali Simpson, stage manager for The Glass Menagerie, at the tech table.

Ali Simpson is a junior theatre major from Maquoketa, Iowa.  During high school she was involved with the school Drama Club.  She also worked with local community theaters including, Peace Pipe Players and Encore. She has two siblings who both have made careers in theatre and helped support her, along with her parents, in her decision to pursue a career in theatre.  Ali has held a number of positions at Theatre Simpson. In addition to stage managing she has been on the deck crew and has acted in productions.  This year Ali is serving as the first Undergraduate Assistant in Marketing for Theatre Simpson.  These are some of Ali’s insights into her experience with Theatre Simpson’s latest production, Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie.

As the Stage Manager for The Glass Menagerie I’ve been working on this show since…last July. With my job I am responsible for keeping everyone informed on what’s going on with the different production areas.  I also work to keep everyone happy and calm during rehearsals, and to help out with whatever I can. I also “call” the show, which means I cue the lights and sound during the run of the show.

For me tech week is one of the most exciting times of the production. This is when everything is coming together; months of planning, staging, and hard work are all going into this one week of tech rehearsals and then four performances. This is also the time when I get to learn so much about how to work well with people.

While working with this company I have learned how to read people–something that is really helpful when working under pressure.  It helps to know when people are getting flustered, agitated, or are doing great.  With this experience I know that I work well under pressure, and that when under pressure I can still keep a level head and stay happy.

Organization is key–if you are not organized with your work you tend to lose things (that’s not a good thing when you start losing the props, costumes, or even the actors). Another thing I learned is that as stage manager my attitude sets the attitudes for the rest of the company. If I start out a night just grumbling to everyone I see they then grumble to others and so on. However, if I stay my happy self, ask for things politely and mind my manners, everyone is in a better mood and helps those long rehearsals seem shorter and more enjoyable.

I am looking forward to the run of this show and seeing the audience’s response to the production that Theatre Simpson has created.  I hope to see you at The Glass Menagerie this weekend.  If you come to the show, look up.  I will be up in the booth watching the magic unfold on the Pote stage.

Theatre Simpson students perform for first-year students

Jenny Wilkerson and Chris Williams in a scene about the tragedy that results from drunk driving.

Powerful, engaging theatre can be created with four actors, a bare stage, and some rehearsal furniture.  Last Saturday night first-year students at Simpson College attended a performance of Risqué Business directed by senior theatre major Meghan Vosberg.  The vignettes are an introduction to some of the issues the college students may face as they navigate their journey into college life.  Performed by four theatre majors, Risqué Businesshas become a tradition at Simpson since the late 90s.

Natalie Hining and Jenny Wilkerson

The students who performed this year find the performance to be a great way to introduce new students to topics that are sometimes challenging to talk about.  The actors see the performance as a conversation starter.  The scenes bring many issues (date rape, eating disorders, depression, and others) to life in front of the students in a safe and often lively performance environment.  Chris Wiliams, an actor in the project, thinks the performance is a very important step in the orientation process.  “The cards are laid on the table and what a good way to get thrown into something.”  Natalie Hining agrees with Williams.  I remember sitting in the seats of Pote as a first-year and watching Risqué Business, it left a huge impression on me and I’m glad to be a part of it this year. “

Clay Daggett and Chris Williams

To prepare the project the director and actors arrived to campus a week before classes started and rehearsed together for about 30 hours.   They were able to immerse themselves in the act of creating theatre.  This is just one opportunity for Theatre Simpson students this year.  Next stop: auditions for Women Beware Women and The Glass Menagerie.

Chris Williams, Jenny Wilkerson, Natalie Hinning.

Portrait of A.H. Blank

The A.H. Blank portrait hanging in the main lobby

The portrait of A.H. Blank has been relocated to the newly expanded lobby of Blank Performing Arts Center.  The college commissioned the portrait from New York artist Joseph Margulies (1896-1984) when the Performing Arts Center was first built.  The painting was unveiled in 1971 by Dr. Blank’s son, Myron N. Blank, during the dedication ceremony.

Thanks in part to a generous donation by the Myron and Jacqueline Blank Foundation the college was able to expand the Performing Arts Center, upgrade Pote Theatre and make the building handicap accessible.  The painting of Dr. Blank now hangs above the donor sign recognizing many of the individuals and organizations that helped make the project possible.

Preparations are being made for the “Love Letters. . .From Our New Home; A Grand Theatrical Celebration.”  The event is September 10 and reservations can be made at

Summer Is Here, and the Internships Are Sprouting!

Caleb Carver and Lindsey Oetken, "The Learned Ladies"

“School” is officially out for summer (go ahead, shout some Alice Cooper!), but Theatre Simpson company members are expanding their horizons of experience around the country. At last report (and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’ve overlooked someone), the following current or just-graduated students are keeping themselves quite busy this summer, theatrically speaking:

Emily Ledger–Santa Fe Opera (Sound/Electrics Apprentice)

Kelsey Swanson–Ford’s Theatre, Washington DC (Lighting Intern)

Tiffany Flory–Des Moines Playhouse (Education Intern), Iowa Shakespeare Experience (Actor)

Katie Rooney–Historic Valley Junction (Events Coordinator)–[Permanent position]

Meghan Vosberg–Spencer Community Theatre (Intern)

Cassandra Ring–Brownville Summer Theatre (Acting Company and Technician)

Caleb Carver–Des Moines Playhouse (Intern-May Term), Theatre Cedar Rapids (Education Intern and Assistant Director)

Sadie Ackerman–StageWest, Des Moines (Stage Manager-The Shape of Things [Jennifer Nostrala, Director])

Lindsey Oetken–Simpson Summer Theatre Institute for Youth (Intern), Destination Leader/Teaching Assistant (Simpson Summer Orientation and Simpson Colloquium)

Trevor Vaughn–Simpson Summer Theatre Institute for Youth (Intern)

Ali Simpson–Simpson Summer Theatre Institute for Youth (Intern)

Kennedy Horton–Simpson Summer Theatre Institute for Youth (Intern)

Samantha Harold-Aaron–Des Moines Playhouse (“Tracy”-Hairspray)

Working outside the walls and halls of Blank PAC is an important part of the development of each student’s experience–so important, in fact, that it is required for all majors and minors! We are pleased with all of the enthusiastic artistry that these students are putting forth, and are looking forward to hearing reports of their experiences–and war stories–at summer’s end. If you have a chance, stop by and see what they are up to!

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