Readers respond to theater opinion

Letter to the DMACC Chronicle:

To this date, DMACC Huff Theatre has produced the original plays of 57 local writers, among them students, faculty, and the general public. Since 1995, we’ve presented a total of 92 productions, presented at a variety of venues, including the Grand View University, Ankeny’s Northwest Grade School, Chicago’s Copley Theatre, the Odyssey Channel, the Temple B’Nai Jereshun, the DMACC Boone Campus and some 17 annual productions at the Des Moines Civic Center. Such productions have involved over 500 participants, both students and general public, who have gained invaluable practical experience and the freedom to express a great diversity of views. The author of the recent article was at best ill-informed about the long-standing history of our theatre and his claim that we need “decent” plays is an insult to any person acquainted with the function of the arts. In these last three years, we have presented no fewer than 18 plays, some of which are first-time attempts by young writers, among them high school students. Admittedly, these plays are frequently experimental works, charged with social and political commentary. These works may not please the audience members who seek merely entertainment; however, in central Iowa, there exist few opportunities for writers, young and old, to see their work come to life before an audience. A closing note of particular importance: In writing his article, the student-journalist at no time contacted or interviewed any person affiliated with our theatre. He simply dismissed our collective work of 19 years and pointedly called for a theatre which offers “decent” plays.

Sincerely,
Prof. William V. Johnson
DMACC Huff Theatre

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Quality Reporting is Limited for a College Our Size

By Kristie Burns

Response to article, “Quality Theater is Limited for a College Our Size” (You need to read the original article first).

I will admit I love news. I guess you could say news is one of my guilty pleasures. I am a subscriber to the Des Moines Register and I check the online BBC News, Huffington Post and NPR News services daily.

I grew up reading the news and wrote news on a daily basis in grade school after my mom bought me a diary when I was eight years old. Most of my entries consisted of my menus each day but my reporting was accurate and factual. When I enrolled in Northwestern University as a freshman I decided I didn’t want to be a journalism student but I did join the prestigious Northwestern Daily Newspaper as a photojournalist along with all the Medill School or Journalism students. I took photos for the paper.

Sending my daughter to DMACC campus I was excited to see what kind of news would be produced from the local campus. I was aware they had a daily newspaper but I didn’t ever have the time to read it, go to the campus to get a copy or even attend an online viewing of the paper.

I was finally able to read an article in my own home when my daughter brought me home an article called “Quality Theater is Limited for a College Our Size” this winter.

The first thing I noticed was the lighting of the photography in the article was horrible. The former college photographer in me was cringing. My brain was hurting trying to figure out if it was a picture of the Huff Theater or another theater in town.

I really don’t know what I was expecting from a DMACC newspaper, but honestly, I was expecting something different. Someone from the paper did interview everyone on the cast and had them submit information, after all.  Where was this insight hidden in the opinion piece I was reading?

One of the arguments I have heard as to why we don’t report the news accurately and factually anymore is because, “We only deliver the news worth reporting” (Anchorman II, 2014) and, after all, we do have the Des Moines Register in our backyard.

I enjoy the fact that we have original writing in the DMACC newspaper and we let  local people write for it. However, we need to feature writers that people have actually heard of.

When students go on from DMACC they should be able to have a built up resume with reputable, well-known syndicated articles and writers next to their own names. It would be much more valuable for a student to be able to say their article appeared next to an old syndicated Doonesbury Cartoon and reprinted article by Bob Woodward rather than next to original works by students and staff.

The quality and originality of their articles, the creative freedom, expanded and unique experience that DMACC newspaper provides them instead is surprising. Come on DMACC, we need a better newspaper than that!

Do we have to wait until our newsroom looks like an episode of CSI Miami to have a decent newspaper or do we have to have a decent newspaper to get a better newsroom?

The End

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Chronicle faculty and participating students,

I’m almost a full-time student twice over this semester with a load of 19 credits. Three of those classes are for honors, which means I have three extra semester-long projects due in under a month. I’m acting and directing in Huff Theater’s 2014 Spring Festival plays. Outside of school I work for the Bearth Institute, Inc. and am qualified to tutor five subjects through DMACC. I volunteer twice a week at the Young Women’s Resource Center and Methodist hospital’s ER. Today I signed my very first apartment lease in Iowa City.

I only say all this because I feel it’s important to know how efficient I must be with my time in order to appreciate what I decide to spend my time doing. I’ve decided to spend my time writing this letter in response to Mr. Payne’s article on Huff Theater that recently appeared in the Campus Chronicle. As a writer I’m more even disappointed than as an actor.

First, where did our interviews go? I personally got texted and called of each and every one of my cast members during the theater’s most recent production Paris 1942 to tell them to write 1,000 words each on the theater and their experience with the plays. I know I sent a carefully crafted letter. And what about our pictures? Not one of our theater appeared in the article, though plenty were at the newspaper’s disposal. We provided every aspect one could need to write a well-informed and accurate article. Any kind of expository or argumentative/persuasive essay demands not only a fair portrayal of the conflicting sides of an issue, but primary sources. At best I can only call the article in question an ill-informed opinion piece.

I’m struck by a major point that seems to have been overlooked in the article. It’s something that I, and many others, celebrate about Huff’s productions. These works have greater meaning than the mainstream Broadway productions Mr. Payne requests. I can’t help but be offended when these original plays are publicly denounced as inferior and not “decent.” The original plays that this article complains of provide more opportunities than would the limited plays suggested in the following ways.

 

  1. The characters hold so much more potential for the actors. These are characters no one else has played before, and therefore have no been already shaped and therefore confined.
  2. All participants have the opportunity to work directly with the playwrights 99% of the time.
  3. The audience is exposed to something new and forced to think outside the confines of their minds.

 

The most important thing I think I have to say is this: our theater is real. We work with playwrights who are closer to being regular human beings than out-of-touch celebrities. We face challenges with our budget that force us to be creative, just like everyday regular people, especially college students! The themes of the plays always touch on a relevant aspect of human nature. The purpose of art at its core is to convey a meaningful truth. 

I by no means want to insist that everyone needs to like the plays we put on. I know that they’re hard to understand and can even seem meaningless without some explanation. As one who appreciates a clear plot myself, I can relate. All I want is a fair representation of the work we do. I suggest publishing one or two of the best responses you’ve received on behalf of the theater – or even a few excerpts – to amend the imbalance.

Respectfully,

Nora Mohsina

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“Do we have to wait til we get a nice theatre to have decent plays, or do we have to have decent plays to get a better theatre?”

I admit that I love theatre, too. I love performing it and I love watching it. In fact, I love GREAT theatre… but what constitutes a great theatre? According to the author of this article, a great theatre consists of fluffy plays with a great spectacle of a stage. We need bright lights with state of the art sound systems and more! Apparently, our “mid-sized lecture auditorium with a light/sound booth and a curtain” doesn’t cut it for the author. However, the situation is on the contrary; Huff doesn’t need a stage that “oohs and awes” an audience because the focus is on the performers, instead.

I was one of the those performers. One of the greatest decisions that I’ve ever made, especially as a DMACC student, was joining Huff Theatre. I grew as a performer (Now I’m performing in Los Angeles) and as a person. To suggest that the highly demanding work and energy that we all put into in our productions is “decent” at best, is an absolute insult to everyone who has ever dedicated the great deal of time and emotion that is required at Huff. Yes, I have also been a part of community theatres and High School theatre but I’ve never truly performed until I joined Huff Theatre.

Huff is a GREAT theatre for many reasons on many levels but seeing those levels requires us to look beyond what immediately meets the eye. However, to those who still prefer just “decent” plays, then yes, you should definitely stick with the fluffy “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Hairspray”, because decent is what you’re going to get at best. But don’t worry, your family will still come up to you afterward and tell you how GREAT you were… but if you truly want to be a part of a theatre that truly makes us reflect on ourselves as people and as a society in ways that will move you and make you ACTUALLY FEEL from the inside, not to go without mentioning the strong traditional values, high standards of performing, and strife to not only entertain, but also to enlighten, then I strongly suggest that you reconsider your views on Huff Theatre.

Huff Theatre is one of greatest things to happen to me. Some of my best friends were met here. Together, we grew, we laughed, we cried, we entertained, and we enlightened.

Do we have to wait til we get a nice Chronicle to have decent journalism, or do we have to have decent journalism to get a better Chronicle? Who did the author interview from Huff for the article? I don’t see one quote from anyone from Huff.

– AH

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During my 20 years of teaching at DMACC (1989-2009), The Huff Theatre was one of the most

enjoyable and encouraging student activities that I supported. The quality of theatre and

its value has little correlation to the size, technology, or acoustics of the theatre

itself. The joy of Huff every time I attended plays there was its intimacy, intensity,

and authenticity. The actors act, the set and the setting do not get in the way. One’s

focus in on the actors and what they are trying to convey to us about the world we live

in. i.e. these disunited States of America. Finally, the $1 admission continues to remind

us that this life isn’t about “money.” Bill Johnson and the actors who have

experienced his directing have brought us interesting dramas that speak to our minds,

reminding us again that “The play’s the thing…” and the only space that it

needs is the one in our minds and if it adds to that, then let the audience say,

“Amen,” and me, “I’m in.”

Dr. Hal Chase, Emeritus Prof. of History & President, Farmers & Merchants Bancorp

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