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.

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.

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!

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

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.

Theatre Simpson Welcomes Another Guest Artist

This blog entry submitted by senior theatre major Tiffany Flory:

Jason Amato, guest lighting designer for Eurydice

Last semester we were lucky enough to have Amber Miller come in as a guest set designer for the production of The Learned Ladies. This semester Theatre Simpson is fortunate to have a guest lighting designer for our spring production of Eurydice. The week before spring break, Jason Amato spent the week with the lighting crew putting the finishing touches onto his design.

Before Jason came to Indianola, there was a lot of work that had to be done so that we would be ready to work on what he needed us to do. Caleb Carver was the assistant to the lighting designer, which meant that he stayed in direct contact with Jason to maintain communication between Jason and the crew.  At Simpson the light crew consists of four people. I am the lighting undergraduate assistant (UGA) as well as the master electrician for Eurydice, also Kelsey Swanson, Meghan Vosberg, and Chris Schaben work on the lighting crew.  The four of us, plus Caleb, hung and circuited the light plot that Jason sent before he came.

Caleb Carver, assistant lighting designer, focusing a light from the cats.

Working with Jason was a great experience.  Jason has won many awards for his light designs as well as worked at many professional theatres (mostly around Texas where he is from).  The first day he came, we all got to catch a nice dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, La Casa, and talked about his life, lighting experience, and how La Casa’s salsa was like tomato paste compared to the salsa that he is used to in Texas.  After chatting at lunch, it was time to really work hard at focusing all of the lights and gelling (meaning to add color) to create the mood for his design.  Because Jason is used to working with professional electricians, he taught us a lot about fast tricks to focus, organizational skills, and kept us all on our toes to be fast and efficient.  Having Jason come in and working with him was an exceptional experience and not only was it apparent how talented he was, but he was extremely easy to work with and a lot of fun.

Meghan Vosberg working on one of the foot lights.