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.

Bunnies are Falling–check out the next event at Theatre Simpson

Lindsey Oetken, a junior, is the costume and hair/make-up designer. Here she works out the details of the makeup on first-year student Ethan Newman.

Tiffany Flory, one of the directors for the upcoming Festival of Short Plays has been contributing to the blog this semester.  Tiffany is completing her studies here at Simpson and then, in the fall, she will travel to Idaho to begin her M.F.A. in acting at the University of Idaho.  This is Tiffany’s final entry for the blog:

Festival of Short Plays 2011: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is finally here! This weekend the work of the Theatre Seminar class and the rest of the Theatre Simpson Company will be presented as an evening of theatre with two one-acts, Fall From Grace and Bunnies.  The nation’s national cultural center, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has been supporting the efforts of theater and the arts in colleges even before the Kennedy Center’s doors opened in 1971.  The American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) gives college students the opportunity to present, show, and compete with their crafts and talents. One of the competitions offered at ACTF is playwriting, and this year at Theatre Simpson we have taken two national, award-winning one-act plays from ACTF to showcase.  The seniors read many plays and chose Fall From Grace and Bunnies to produce for this year’s Festival. Everything is student-run—the directors, performers, stage managers, and designers are all students!

Cassandra Ring, a junior theatre major, is the scenic designer for Festival of Short Plays 2011.

Fall From Grace by Jason Martin is a highly theatrical and suspenseful play about Brian, who has been involved in a severe accident when he and his best friend, Chris, are caught in an avalanche on the side of Mount Grace. Brian has to attempt to free himself while the spirits of the mountain visits him.  Bunnies by Michael O’Brien is about how Hugh Hefner may have gotten the idea for Playboy.  Set in the 1950s, it’s full of wit and sexual humor.

Theatre Simpson company members working out the details of the scene change.

It will be an exciting evening full of suspense and laughter. So come to the Festival of Short Plays! Performances are April 15 and 16 at 7:30 PM and April 17 at 1:00 PM.  Tickets are available on line at

Symposium presentation tonight!

The Kennedy Center.

Tonight at the Theatre Simpson Symposium, senior theatre majors will present their research papers from the Theatre Seminar class.  Each seminar class is developed around a theme.  Last year the focus was on Vaclav Havel and political theatre.  This year the theme is The John F. Kennedy Center: Fifty Years at the Nation’s Performing Arts Center.  Throughout all of 2011 the Kennedy Center is honoring the 50th anniversary of the innaguration of President John F. Kennedy.  This semester the three seniors, Emily Ledger, Kelsey Swanson, and Tiffany Flory, have been reading and discussing the Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s history and it’s impact on American society. 

Tiffany Flory, a senior who has been contributing to the blog this semester, has to say about the Kennedy Center:

“A National Cultural Center of the Performing Arts was first mentioned during the Eisenhower administration. However, John F. Kennedy was the one who really started organizing the creation of this center.  Kennedy and Eisenhower both found it sad that the most powerful nation in the world did not even have a national theatre to enrich the American culture.  Kennedy was assassinated before the project was completed, but it was determined that the National Cultural Center would still become a reality and would be named after the man who was a true advocate for the arts and culture of America. That is how the National Cultural Center became known as the Kennedy Center, the ‘living memorial’ of John F. Kennedy.

To hear more about what we have been studying join us tonight at the Theatre Symposium.  Each of us will present a topic related to the Kennedy Center, digging deeper into the significance of John F. Kennedy and his memorial. The symposium is at 7:00 p.m. March 30 in the Barnum Studio Theatre of the Blank Performing Arts Center.  The event is free and open to the public.”

The bust of John F. Kennedy in the lobby of the Kennedy Center.

Turn on the lights: guest lighting designer at Theatre Simpson

The stones look on as the father takes Eurydice into the string room he has built.

To increase the educational opportunities for our students, Theatre Simpson brings guest artists in to work on our productions and share their expertise with the company and our patrons.  Recent guest artists have served as fight director, musical direction, set designer, Shakespearean vocal coach, and lighting designer. 

Tiffany Flory was able to work with Jason Amato, the guest lighting designer for our production Eurydice that closes today.  Here is what Tiffany had to say about working with Jason:

Cool shadows, interesting texture, amazing color, and shooting ELECTRICITY!  The design by Jason Amato for Eurydice is something I’ve never seen in my four years here at Theatre Simpson.  While I was watching him put together his light cues, I was surprised at his process and how fast he did it. 

Orpheus enters the Underworld

I asked him how he came up with his design and he said he analyzes the script almost like a director. “I look at the intention and the motivation of the script and then I take that and put it into the lights.”  When I took an introductory lighting design class I learned the basics about lighting the actors and setting the mood.  Jason makes it look very simple to yet it looks really cool.  While talking with him after a show he told me a fun story about how when he has an assistant he will ask them after a particular moment, dance number, or song what the assistant thinks about it.  Usually their answer is “It looked awesome!” He then challenges that response by asking: what did it mean? If they didn’t know, Jason would share with them his favorite motto, “If you don’t know what it means, then you can’t light it.”

From working on the beginning of this process and now seeing the final product, I understand what he means in his motto. His design is full of emotion and every light has a specific purpose to enhance the intention of that moment. Overall this was a great experience and this has been a wonderful learning experience.

Lighting designer Jason Amato.

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