Digging in

As the earth around BPAC is being dug up to make way for the new elevator, I thought it would be interesting to dig a little into the past of Theatre Simpson.  The college archivist, Cyd Dyer, sent me a paper written in 1965.  The paper, “A History of Dramatics at Simpson College,” was by Neil Bys ’65 who wrote it for a speech course.  The paper tracks the development of the academic programs in speech and theatre while also looking at the plays that have been produced on campus.  Before there was a specific theatre department, plays were being produced by other departments and organizations.  It seems that the first play presented at Simpson College was Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which was presented by the department of elocution on February 8, 1901.

Up until 1934 plays were presented at various places in Indianola, including the Methodist Church and the High School Auditorium.  As Mr. Bys writes, 1934 was a “very prosperous one for dramatics at Simpson College.  School opened with fourteen actives and thirty-six pledges of Alpha Psi Omega.  Also, Simpson finally got its Campus Theatre.  It was built in what was formerly South Hall.  It has a seating capacity of 125.  Room 31 in Hillman was used to store props and scenery.  To show the popularity of the theatre this year, each play had between 80 and 100 try out!”

By 1947 plans were drawn up for the Simpson College Little Theatre housed in College Hall.  “Many phases of the planning came as suggestions of students in drama classes.  The stage specifications and the third floor arrangement were planned by the theatre projects class.  The auditorium was designed by Mr. Lull, of Des Moines.  With the exception of the electrical work, all construction was done by the building and grounds staff of the college.”  The theatre space was previously the chapel auditorium so renovations were necessary including the addition of a stage with a proscenium and a backstage stairway.  The seating capacity was 225.

Mr. Bys concludes his paper saying the “it seems as though (in 1965) the Simpson Theatre is again going uphill, as there will be an addition to the speech and dramatics department next year, in the form of a second instructor, Mr. Peyroux.  As a result, new courses are being offered.  These new courses are “Introduction to Film,” “Stagecraft, “History of Drama,” and “Elements of Acting.”  With these additions, under the direction of Professors deLaubenfels and Peyreux, and with the help of Alpha Psi and Blackfriars, dramatics at Simpson College should soon reach an all time high.”

And now, forty-five years later, Theatre Simpson, with the building renovation and more plans for the future, is about to reach another “all time high.”

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And the walls come tumbling down…

The outer concrete walls of the Blank Performing Arts Center were taken down yesterday.

An Empty Space

Through the construction fence

The empty space south of BPAC

Yes, Simpson College now has a beautiful empty space south of Blank Performing Arts Center.  With the two houses on Detroit removed and tons of dirt hauled away, there is an open expanse from the street to the south side of the building.  It is a stunning sight.  Of course the space will not be empty for long.  In a matter of months the addition will begin to fill that space.

As we look toward the future with the building it is also interesting to look back.   The groundbreaking for Blank Performing Arts Center was June 1, 1968 at commencement.  The building formally opened March, 1971 with a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Shelly Priebe, a 1974 Simpson alum who currently works on campus in Faculty Development, played Anitra in that production of Peer Gynt.  I recently asked Shelly what she thought of the renovation project:

“I think it looks like a huge project, and I’m excited by it.  I keep driving by checking on the progress.  It will totally open the space of the theatre and not only make it more accessible but add an element of friendliness and warmth – an open feeling!    It has been a rather closed off structure with massive castle-like walls surrounded by some imaginary moat.    While that is rather romantic and was attractive to me as a student (entering and living in my own personal fantasy—I could have been Alice going down the rabbit hole) but I doubt that it did a lot for those outside of the theatre.  I think this will be such a great improvement to our campus!”

The empty space will be transformed to an open space.  Theatre Simpson looks forward to the day when we can invite you all in to the open space.