Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Show in Town

December 19, 2009, 8:30 a.m.

Tonight's the Last Night
(brought to you by*)

Iowa City's recognized as a "City of Literature."

It's also a "City of Theater," companies and venues -- City Circle, Community Theater, Dreamwell, Englert, Hancher, Riverside, University Theater, and our three high schools, City, Tate and West.

In many ways one of the most innovative and interesting is "Combined Efforts Community Theater."

The theater a creative idea of Janet Schlapkohl that lives up to its name. She's the gifted playwright and director. The actors and support staff are volunteers from throughout the community, with and without special needs, of all ages, from a range of grade and high schools (including recent graduates) -- using City High's Little Theater, generously provided as a venue.

Their winter performance is an adaptation of the Scrooge story: "A Carol for Our Time," with Alec Grubbe, left, as Scrooge.

In addition to the quality of the show, and the moving way in which those with and without special needs support each other, at $5.00 it's Iowa City's best entertainment bargain this evening.

Understandably, it's enjoyed sell-out crowds Thursday and Friday nights (December 17 and 18), and will undoubtedly be a sell-out tonight as well. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at the door. So if you plan on going it's best to get there by 7:00. Better still, call 319-321-7926, and leave a voice message if necessary, to reserve tickets ahead of time.

Here's co-director Mary Vasey's letter to the editor describing the project and its latest show. Mary Vasey, "Theater Can be Model for Other Groups," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2009.

Theater can be model for other groups

Let me introduce you to one more of our theatrical treasures: Combined Efforts Community Drama.

Its members are children, youth and adults with and without special needs. It was started five years ago at City High by Janet Schlapkohl and a small group of students and parents. Since then, it has grown to include, in addition to students, many community members. This year the group added summer stock and produced an original play with music called "Zombie Hotel."

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the presentation at the City High Little Theatre is an adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" titled "A Carol for Our Time." The cast of 40 actors, singers and dancers present scenes from the original plus a glimpse of a possible future that we, like Scrooge, can change for the better.

This is a unique group. I learned about it last summer and became involved almost immediately. I have worked with drama in alternative schools for years so I appreciate what it can do to foster everyone's self confidence, cooperation and mutual respect.

The degree to which the members of the Combined Efforts Community Drama troupe show respect for one another is awe inspiring. These young people are willing to make time to share their talents in spite of the fact that many have incredibly busy schedules. The result is a quality performance that features and challenges every participant in addition to thoroughly entertaining the audience.

Because it involves actors and crew with and without special needs it can be a model for other groups who see value in diversity and just plain good theater.
There are a number of reasons why Iowa City is often ranked as one of the best American cities for quality of life. "Combined Efforts Community Theater" is yet one more very powerful example.

[Full disclosure: Although I have no personal connection with this project, co-director Mary Vasey is my wife; the acting coach is our professional actor/director son, Jason; Scrooge was played by his son, Alec; and the project photographer, Andi, is known in our ever growing "bigger and stranger family" as my "sister-in-law for life." I'm proud of them all.]
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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