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 http://simpson.tix.com

Theatre students excited about the BPAC addition. . .even the renovated bathrooms

Senior theatre major Tiffany Flory has been checking out some of the changes to BPAC.  Here is what she has been finding:

The renovations of the Blank Performing Arts building are slowly starting to take form.  As I’ve been wandering around the theatre, I’ve been getting excited for the parts that have been showing up.  First the seats gradually came in, followed by the carpeting, and Pote Theatre was transformed.  And one day I decided to pop into the bathroom in the upstairs lobby and it was like it had a complete face-lift. It was a beautiful experience.  However, I’m not the only Theatre Simpson student who is eager for the new building so I asked a few other students what they thought.

The fresh new sink area in the renovated women's restroom

Third year student, Heather Powers is “thrilled and think[s] it will be the coolest building on campus when it’s finished.”  Second year student, Caleb Carver believes that “this is a big step in the community and for Simpson College in supporting the performing arts and speaks for the growth of the department.”  And first year, Ethan Newman is just “excited to see it all come together.”

The overall consensus that the students had about the work going on at the theater is that the construction can get in the way sometimes with the noises of drills and other machinery, and space is somewhat limited, but it’s all a small price to pay for what the new spaces will bring to the community, the students, and to Simpson College.

–Tiffany Flory

Meghan Vosberg is amazed by the transformation of the bathroom.

Theatre Simpson New Year

It is a blustery first day of 2011 here in Indianola.  The wind rattling everything that moves, but the structure of the BPAC addition can withstand anything the wind wants to dish out.

The semester came to a close a couple of weeks ago with a flurry of finals, including an exciting night of performance projects and design displays.  For a number of years now the theatre department has brought the fall semester to a close with an annual project night.  Traditionally project night has been in Barnum Studio Theatre, but this year the space was closed due to the construction.  We moved the event over to Camp Lounge in the Brenton Student Center and while it was exciting to have close to 75 people filling that space, I think we are all looking forward to Project Night Fall 2011 in the new space.

As the spring semester approaches our thoughts turn to the start of the semester, auditions for Eurydice, and travel to Ames for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Over 30 students, faculty, and staff will participate in the week-long festival the third week in January.  The department has participated in KCACTF for over twenty-years and we are thrilled to be taking students to the festival again this year.  The department will be busy at the Festival with various projects including performing in the Invited Scene Showcase with a scene from Festival of Short Plays 2010: Disturbing the Peace.  The scene (actually it is the complete play) invited is Samuel Beckett’s Catastrophe directed by Candace Zak.

Here’s to an exciting year of building, creating, and performing at Theatre Simpson.  (Check back here often—the theatresimpson blog has it’s own New Year’s resolution to post more regularly on life in Blank Performing Arts Center!)  Happy New Year!

The more things change. . .

There are new concrete walls south of Blank Performing Arts Center.  Each day the project begins to take on a more recognizable form.  As you walk by the building you can see current faculty, staff, and students pause for a few moments to watch the progress.  The progress is exciting, and the addition to the physical space is essential, but many people who spend time in BPAC and those who have spent time there through the years know that it is more than concrete and green carpet that give life to this space.  Today’s blog entry is written by Simpson College alumnus Margy Gibson McCarthy ’84.  Margy is a pre-published writer currently teaching seventh grade writing at Crane Middle School in Yuma, AZ.

Margy Gibson McCarthy '84, guest writer for the Theatre Simpson blog

“The houses south of BPAC were coming down to make way for the renovation when I was in town last summer.  At the intersection of Detroit and D, I squinted through the rain toward the building, suddenly realizing it could well be my last opportunity to see my theatre as it has been since I first knew it thirty years ago.

Only a moment’s indecision and I chose to drive on by.

The opera was in residence.  I made that mistake a number of years ago—finding an open door and entering only to find the place all but unrecognizable and overrun with strangers.  Strangers who eyed me with distrust, as if I were the one trespassing on their turf rather than vice versa.

No.  There was no need to stop.  More than a quarter century later, the imprint of that time and place is still so vivid in my mind and my everyday existence that there was no need for a “final” visit.

I drove slowly– but I drove on.

It’s hard to put into words what I think of when I look back at Theatre Simpson.  The difficulty lies in the way those four years have sent tendrils twining into every aspect of my life every day.  Over time, “what was” has evolved into and tangled up with “what is” until the two are simply one thing.

It’s not a looking back; it’s looking in a mirror.

To this day the reflection that returns my gaze is the person I became when I was there.  In her eyes I see enormous potential, a deep love of art, an appreciation for creativity in many guises, and the kind of passion that never dies.  With a subtle flick of an eyelash I also recognize that without the accompanying hurts, risks, disappointments, heartbreak, and hard lessons learned during those years, I would never have developed the tenacity and belief in myself it takes to continue to see potential.

In four short years at Theatre Simpson I learned more about life and love and human nature and human spirit than I had ever learned before or will likely ever learn again.  It is one of my greatest blessings that so many who fell into step with me within those walls three decades ago still travel the road of life beside me today.

When I first saw the plans for the addition to the building I was of mixed emotion.

I’m not anymore.

Nothing in life stays the same and nothing changes.

So long as the house remains that peculiar luminous shade of apple/Kelly green… So long as the scent of paint and fresh-cut lumber greets me at the loading dock door and I hear familiar voices laughing and calling my name from the catwalks of my memory…  So long as the passages down center vom cradle the belly of that stage like a mother’s arms around her beloved unborn…

…I will hear the echo of my past and the promise of my future in that place.”

Thanks to Margy for taking the time to share her thoughts about Theatre Simpson.  The renovation will continue to bring changes to Theatre Simpson, but the heart and soul of the experience of creating theatre at Simpson will remain the same.

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.”

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.