A Review of Outside Mullingar

outsidemullingarby Matthew Falduto

Some plays are a call to political action. Some expose some truths that need exposing. Some are just really funny and allow us to escape from real life for 90 minutes. But what I believe plays can do better than any other artistic medium, is reveal our humanity. There is an immediacy to live theatre that sets it apart. We see our fellow human beings experiencing emotions, revealing themselves through the characters they create. We relate, we empathize, we reflect. This is what theatre can do best, and there’s an excellent example of it happening in Amana right now: Iowa Theatre Artists’ production Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. Continue reading

ITAC Presents Dates with a Nut

dateswithnut*press releases from ITAC*

Amana – The Iowa Theatre Artists Company (ITAC) together with the Ox Yoke Inn® have created a very special “Dinner plus Theatre” summer package in Amana with the ITAC comedy, Dates With A Nut. Reservations are being accepted at the Ox Yoke Inn® for a unique dining and theatre experience. While the meal is served at the restaurant, patrons will then travel to the theatre for their dessert and the show. Dates With A Nut is an original comedy by ITAC co-producers, Thomas P. Johnson and Meg Merckens, both of South Amana. The play takes place in a “party room at a midwestern restaurant,” which prompted discussions earlier this year between the ITAC staff and Bill Leichsenring, Owner of the Ox Yoke Inn®. “We’ve had a great time coming up with the menu and logistics for this first-time partnership of our two businesses,” states Johnson. “We think our audience will enjoy having a great meal at the Ox Yoke and then coming over to ITAC for pie at our “restaurant” on stage. Not to mention that the play is really, really funny.” Continue reading

ITAC Offers New Acting Program for Seniors

Amana – A new project is being offered at the Iowa Theatre Artists Company in Amana that is designed specifically for people 55 and over who are interested in having fun doing something they have always wanted to try but never got around to it: Acting in front of other people. The group is called Over the Speed Limit Players and will begin to meet in May.

Tom Johnson, one of the co-producers (retired) of ITAC in Amana, describes the project, “Initially, it will consist of six two-hour weekly sessions where the group works on improving their voices, on creating characters, on learning stage movement, and on learning more fun stuff about the theatre arts. No experience is necessary to join the project. The only requirement is an interest in live theatre from the perspective of either a performer or an audience member. It will be a lot of “on-your-feet fun,” Johnson added. “If, like me, you are a little forgetful these days, don’t worry, no memorization will be required.”

The project’s first phase starts on Tuesday, May 19 and continues through June 27th. The group will gather at the ITAC theatre in Amana for 6 weekly acting lessons, each of which will be followed by a short social time. The first phase will culminate in a concert theatre presentation, open to the public, called Never Too Old To Laugh, on Friday, June 26th and Saturday, June 27th.

There is a $50.00 membership fee for each participant. This fee entitles each member to six group-acting lessons, scheduled private coaching, and two free admissions for friends or family to the production of Never Too Old To Laugh. Johnson states, “Come and join the group. If you don’t enjoy the first session, we’ll give you your money back.” He adds, “We don’t anticipate many asking for a refund because we think the whole experience is going to be a lot of fun for all involved.”

Johnson, who taught speech and theatre at Iowa State University before starting the Old Creamery Theatre Company in Garrison, Iowa in 1971, will conduct the sessions. Veteran stage performer, Meg Merckens will also participate in at least one of the sessions.

To sign up for the project, or for more information, interested folks “who are at the speed limit (55) or well over the speed limit, traveling however fast or slow,” are invited to contact ITAC at itac@southslope.net or 319-622-3222.

ITAC announces Garage Sale AMANiA” Fundraiser

Amana – The Iowa Theatre Artists Company (ITAC) will hold its sixth annual Garage Sale AMANiA (and Wee Flea Market) on Saturday, March 28. The hours of the sale will be from 8 am until 4 pm at the ITAC building in Amana.

“Each year just gets better and better,” states Co-Producer, Meg Merckens. “We hope to fill the hall with a huge number of area sellers, as in years past, and to have several hundred attend. The record has been over 500 coming through the doors. We hope that we can break that record this year!”

For information on renting tables and selling garage sale items, please call 319-622-3222 or send an email to: itac@southslope.net. Tables are still available. The sale will take place downstairs in the dance hall and lobby and upstairs in the theatre lobby. A $1.00 admission fee will be charged to attend this large indoor sale on Saturday, March 28. All proceeds from the admission price and the rental of tables will go toward the fundraising goal of the not-for-profit Iowa Theatre Artists Company. Individual sellers are responsible for their own sales.

Merckens adds, “This year, the Clear Creek Amana Color Guard will once again be included in the day’s event and will be fundraising for their organization with a bake, beverage and lunch sale. This selling event has always been a fun way to raise money for some very worthy organizations and projects as well as offer some terrific bargains for area residents.”

The Iowa Theatre Artists Company is a small, professional not-for-profit theatre operating as a 501(c)3 organization since 2008. 2015 will mark ITAC’s eighth year of producing live theatre in Eastern Iowa, and its seventh year in the former Barn Restaurant in the heart of Amana. Though co-producers Tom Johnson and Meg Merckens have announced their retirement from producing full seasons of theatrical productions, ITAC will continue to offer special projects and workshops in the coming year, as well as presenting musical concerts and offering their space for traveling theatrical troupes. The building also serves as an event center for wedding receptions, graduation and birthday parties and other special occasions. For more information, visit their website.

Morning’s at Seven Opens on ITAC Stage on October 24 in Amana

Meg Merckens and Clark Skaggs

Amana – Paul Osborn’s classic American play, Morning’s at Seven, opens on Friday, October 24 for a three-week run on the Iowa Theatre Artists Company’s stage in Amana. Written in 1939, it has received two revivals on Broadway, the most recent one in 2002, with New York City papers describing the show as “absolutely entrancing” with “charm to burn.”

Set in the backyards of an “American town” in the late 1930s, the story revolves around the seemingly quiet lives of the four aging Gibb sisters, who have lived in close proximity to each other all of their lives. Osborn skillfully paints a sweetly funny portrait of the four sisters, their eccentric mates and quirky offspring and the long-held secrets that divide them but ultimately strengthen their family ties. Bringing this endearing, funny and “oh-so-familiar” family interaction to life is a cast of some of the strongest veteran actors in Eastern Iowa, along with two very talented young performers. Audiences in the Cedar Rapids area will recognize and enjoy favorite, local stage actors, Cherryl Thomason, Marty Norton, Jim Kern, David Morton and Susie Streit. Equally acclaimed are two actors from the Amana area, Meg Merckens and Tom Milligan. Two younger Iowa theatre artists, Robert Kemp and Jessica Murrillo, who hail from the Iowa City area, represent the up-and-coming stage talent of Eastern Iowa. It’s the largest non-musical cast in ITAC’s seven-year history to grace the theatre’s stage in Amana. Mike Cervantes of Cedar Rapids is making his directorial debut with this production. “We wanted to present a festive season of theatre this final year in our building, and choosing this particular production with such an outstanding cast of actors is turning out to be a perfect fit,” stated Producing Director, Tom Johnson.

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 pm from October 24 through November 9. Reservations are strongly encouraged for this three-week run in the intimate 99-seat ITAC theatre. Prices are $22.50 for Adults, $20 for Seniors (60 and up) and $10 for Students (through college). For reservations call: 319-622-3222 and for more information about ITAC, visit: iowatheatreartists.org.

Source: ITAC Press Release

Lost Boy Found Opens Sept 13

Amana – The Iowa Theatre Artists Company (ITAC) of Amana brings the long-awaited production of Lost Boy Found to the stage for ten performances only, September 13 – 28. The original play opens Saturday, September 13 at 7:30 pm and runs through Sunday, September 28 at 2:30 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are strongly recommended for this riveting, true story that became a landmark decision in Iowa’s judicial system.

Viewed as one of the most sensational and intriguing mysteries of 20th century Iowa history, the real-life kidnapping case of three-year old Ray Elliott from Marengo was covered by newspapers across the entire state from 1893 – 1896. Young Ray was discovered missing in May of 1893. In July of 1895, a boy matching his description was discovered in Waterloo and brought to Marengo. The Elliott family claimed he was their long-lost son. The Burke family declared he was their child, Roy. The habeus corpus case (habeus corpus literally meaning “you may have the body”) was decided in court by Judge M.J. Wade, but the true identity of the child was never discovered until playwright Thomas P. Johnson (South Amana) used modern measures of DNA testing to answer the question in a definitive manner in 2002. Johnson has uncovered even more information since his first theatrical production of the story twelve years ago. The ITAC presentation of the story will use an ensemble of actors to portray the many characters involved in this fascinating tale of love and deception. Violinist Ursula Williams (Middle Amana) will help set the tone of the play with live music accompaniment.

Evening and matinée performances are scheduled to begin with the 7:30 pm show on Saturday, September 13. There is also a Sunday matinée at 2:30 pm on September 14. The next two weekends will offer Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Ticket prices are: $22.50 Adult; $20 Senior and $10 Student. A student price is offered to those attending school all the way through college and graduate school. Due to subject matter, this play is not recommended for those younger than high school age. To reserve tickets, call: (319) 622-3222. For more information about Lost Boy Found and the Iowa Theatre Artists Company, visit: iowatheatreartists.org.

Source: ITAC Press Release

ITAC’s Fall Shows

Amana – The Iowa Theatre Artists Company (ITAC) of Amana will offer five theatrical productions beginning in August and running through December. Although ITAC will continue as a producing theatre in 2015, the upcoming fall productions will be the final performances on the stage housed in the ITAC Performing Arts Center, located at 4709 220th Trail. The season will open with an original script written by Thomas P. Johnson, The Old Guy, a comedy that debuted in the Fall of 2013 and has been extended into the new season for two weeks. A variety of original and classic theatrical productions will round out the season. There are also three musical guest events that are scheduled in late July and December.

ITAC co-producers and co-founders, Tom Johnson and Meg Merckens, have placed the arts center building up for sale. Built in 1984, the building served as the Amana Barn Restaurant for twenty years before closing its doors at the end of 2003. The building sat vacant for five years before Johnson and Merckens purchased it and renovated it into a 99-seat theatre on the upper level with a dance and concert hall located on the lower level. “It feels like a great time for us to sell this wonderful building with the hope that the new owner(s) will see the potential of this exciting space for whatever project they might have in mind,” states Johnson, who also helped found The Old Creamery Theatre in Garrison in 1971.

Johnson and Merckens worked together in the theatre business in Eastern Iowa for over thirty years before starting the Iowa Theatre Artists Company in 2008. Merckens recalls that the initial plan for their enterprise was a five-year commitment.

2014 will mark ITAC’s 7th season. She explains “Tom and I are looking forward to scaling our theatrical endeavors back a notch and producing one or two special projects each year rather than a full-length season. The idea for the future is to look for fun and creative venues to present our work rather than have just one “home” theatre.” Johnson wraps up, “We selected our upcoming season with great care and excitement, knowing that this is going to be a very special year for us. We hope to go out with the same enthusiasm and passion for live theatre that first brought us into this business.”

For more information and reservations, call: 319-622-3222. ITACʼs regular performance schedule: Friday: 7:30 pm; Saturday: 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm; Sunday: 2:30 pm. Theatre ticket prices are: Adults: $22.50; Seniors: $20; Students (through college): $10. A Group Rate is available. All Musical Guest Events are: $15 Adults and $10 Students. Information is available on the ITAC website: www.iowatheatreartists.org

The Iowa Theatre Artists Company is a small, professional theatre company located at 4709 220th Trail in Amana, Iowa. It is a member of Actorsʼ Equity Association, the organization of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

2014 ITAC Season

The Old Guy, an original comedy written by Thomas P.Johnson

A broke and out-of-work mechanic learns that he is “only as old as he feels” once he puts the problems of others ahead of his own.

The Old Guy will perform in Amana from August 22-31.

This production will also travel to Dysart for two fundraising performances for the Garrison and Dysart Lions Clubs on Saturday, September 6 at 7 pm & Sunday, September 7 at 2 pm.

Lost Boy Found, adapted by Thomas P. Johnson

A chamber theatre production that revisits a mysterious and historic, century-old Iowa County kidnapping. Tom Johnson, solved this real-life crime story using modern technology, but recently discovered information, never before revealed on stage, adds yet another shocking twist to this riveting true story.

September 12 – 28

Tobyʼs Corntussle News by Neil Schaffner

Neil and Caroline Schaffner entertained Eastern Iowa in the 1930ʼs andʼ40ʼs with radio broadcasts of the “Corntussle News.” The ITAC Ensemble is privileged to be one of the first to adapt the best and the funniest of the “Toby and Susie” sketches from the archives of the Schaffner Players. Good old-fashioned Iowa fun!

October 10 – 19

Morningʼs At Seven by Paul Osborn

A sweetly funny portrait of the four aging Gibb sisters, long-time neighbors, who find their lives turned upside down when an oddball nephew finally brings home his fiancée of twelve years to meet his parents. Family secrets and long simmering jealousies come to light but ultimately give way to the true ties that bind a family together.

October 24 – November 9

Assorted Nuts! An ITAC Original

Mix together a large helping of music with more than a splash of comedy and you have a recipe for a delightfully nutty concoction that is perfect for groups and holiday get-togethers. Internationally famous singer/musician, Kerry Christensen joins up with local comic favorites, Meg Merckens and Deborah Kennedy for this Must-See Event!

November 21 – December 7 (Sat, Dec. 6 – Celtic Christmas will be on stage)

Musical Guest Events:

Music of our Family ~ Stories of our Times

“Music we grew up with” from the 1920ʼs through the ʻ70ʼs performed by The Mockingbyrds (Joe & Deb Byrd, Carlis Faurot & Michael Crist)

July 26 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm; July 27 at 2:30 pm.

Celtic Christmas by IrishJam

A rollicking holiday celebration of Celtic music with a wee bit of spirited storytelling!

December 6 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm

The Great Bluegrass Herons Christmas Concert

This beloved ensemble and friends celebrate Christmas with much-loved acoustic classics and toe-tapping bluegrass favorites. A Six Year Tradition on the ITAC stage!

December 12 at 7:30 pm; December 13 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm

Source: ITAC Press Release

ITAC Seeking Volunteers

Amana – ITAC is seeking dependable volunteers for its 2013 season and beyond. Perfect opportunity for seniors or any adult at any age wishing to help out a local non-profit organization, make a significant impact, and give something back to your community. If you are looking for a way to make a difference in your community volunteering at ITAC may be your ticket!

Volunteer duties could include ushering, selling concessions, light office work, helping in the box office during performances, answering phones, being a board member, light carpentry for sets, painting sets, creating props, or any other volunteer opportunities that might be needed. Let us know what you might like to do. We are open to any kind of help that you can provide. Volunteers earn free tickets! Call (319) 622-3222 or email itac@southlope.net.

Source: ITAC newsletter