The arts exist wherever there is a will to create. People in larger metropolitan areas sometimes forget that outlying towns and cities are as likely as they are to have talented folks in the community who take it upon themselves to make something out of nothing. With the performing arts, all it takes is a few people with compunction and gumption, and the "Hey kids, let's put on a show" attitude will prevail. After a few of these shows develop, routines become established, connections are made, and before you know it, you have a veritable scene on your hands.
The theater scene in south central Idaho is active, varied and vibrant. You can see everything from big musical-production numbers to intimate cutting-edge theater, and see it everywhere from secondary school auditoriums to historic opera houses; from company halls to movie houses. Taken together, the varied settings and dates of engagement amount to a full theater season throughout the year.
In the southernmost region of the area, Twin Falls hosts a variety of theater companies. It is home to the oldest community theater group in the area, the Dilettantes of the Magic Valley. There is also the Magic Valley Little Theater, which began in the early 1960s as an offshoot of the Dilettantes, who wanted to do smaller musicals and comedies. The Theater Department of the College of Southern Idaho provides the academic training ground for students and produces shows of the classic variety. In addition to these larger companies, smaller companies such as the Random Acts of Theater and Evil Wine are making their mark with more challenging works.
The Dilettantes of the Magic Valley have existed for around 50 years, according to their president, Sharon Warner. Their annual spring musical is performed at the end of March in the theater at the College of Southern Idaho. This year's play will be The Pajama Game, and they will be holding open auditions in January for all aspects of the production.
"True theater people will go to any show that's going on," says Warner of the scene in Twin Falls. "There are a lot of different theater groups doing different things, so we have as much going on as anywhere in the state."
"It's almost like having a theater season; it's just all different companies," says Lori Henson of the Magic Valley Little Theater. "Everyone is respectful of everyone's time, and there's always something to do on the weekends."
The Little Theater's annual show is in the Fall, and their production of Annie, directed by Henson, recently completed a successful run in the 350 seat auditorium of O'Leary Junior High School. Henson has watched the theater scene develop in Twin Falls over the last 17 years. She describes it as "constant," with growth specifically in the area of smaller companies doing more modern plays. The crossover between groups is unavoidable, and the cross-pollination helps to keep everyone inspired. "For a small town, we have a lot of talent," says Henson.
Much of that talent has passed through the theater program at the College of Southern Idaho. "The ones who want to continue doing theater continue doing theater," says Tony Mannen, professor of Theater at CSI. Mannen has been at the college since 1975, and has done close to 70 shows during his time there. CSI puts on two productions each semester for a total of four per year, with Mannen splitting directorial duties with his colleague Laine Steele. Students and faculty alike are anticipating the opening of a new 360-seat theater next year, designed specifically for theater productions.
"It's called doing a play, but it should be called doing very hard work," explains Mannen. The shows at CSI tend to be of the mainstream variety necessary for the training of students: lots of Shakespeare, then a production to be Robert Bolt's historical drama A Man for All Seasons. Mannen still considers it a highlight to watch the shows take flight. "What we do is far too important not to have our best effort," he explains.
In addition to his position at CSI, Mannen is the co-founder of the Random Acts of Theater (RAT), which puts on shows with contemporary adult themes. They have produced 10 shows since their start in 2001, including 'Night, Mother; Love Letters; The Vagina Monologues and two original scripts. Their next show will be Sleuth.
"We do shows for actors who still want to work, but don't necessarily want to do musicals," says Mannen. The goal is to produce three to five plays per year, and to support other companies. "It's the idea of everybody helping everybody out, which is what's supposed to happen so that theater can thrive."
The Lamphouse Theater in Old Town is the place to see foreign and independent films in Twin Falls, in addition to catching alternative performances that run the gamut from RAT productions to poetry readings to midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Owner Dave Woodhead opened the Lamphouse in March 2000 and has catered to the off-beat ever since.
"There would be no culture in Twin Falls if it weren't for the Lamphouse Theater," declares Wes Malvini, founder of Evil Wine Production Company. "The Lamphouse Theater is the only art house here in Twin, or even close to Twin. It's been the heart and soul of Evil Wine."
Formed to produce feature films, Evil Wine has expanded its talents to live theater. This December, Malvini is lending his acting and directorial talents to spearhead a benefit for the Lamphouse: a production of Samuel Beckett's tragi-omedy Waiting for Godot.
Other than a few productions, Malvini sees the theater scene in Twin Falls as "monotonous."
In Oakley, a tiny town southeast of Twin Falls, the Oakley Valley Arts Council puts on plays three times a year based on a set seasonal schedule. The Arts Council, formed in 1974, performs their plays at Howell's Opera House.
"As far as we are able to ascertain," says president and charter director Kent Severe, "it is the oldest continuous theater in the state. It's never been used for anything but theater since it started in 1907."
The playhouse seats 280, and provides an intimate setting in which to see a show. As their brochure states, "Only in Oakley, Idaho, population 712, can you find a theater with crystal chandeliers, cyclorama, velvet curtains, dome ceiling, and raked extended stage." The storied playhouse gets a rest between productions; "It's sitting there getting up enough courage for the next one." They just completed a successful run of The Secret Garden, and are looking forward to a spring production of West Side Story. Also scheduled for the 2006 season are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Harvey.
In the northern part of the region, there is a vibrant theater scene thanks to the Wood River Valley's Company of Fools. Based in Ketchum out of the 260-seat Liberty Theater, the Fools produce theater year-round. Founding member Denise Simone has maintained the group's commitment to being a process-based company dedicated to the study of theater.
"We just try to stay true to our path: to share stories of the human heart in conflict with itself," says Simone.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the company in Idaho. The season started in June with Quilters and will end next July with A Year with Frog and Toad.
"We live in a gracious community and gracious state," says Simone. "Ours is a vibrant theater community, and it's not only the theater. The arts community as a whole is very dynamic and diverse."
The Company of Fools is a consummate professional theater, and as such, recognizes the importance of education as the cornerstone of their endeavors. "We have a huge arts and education component," says Simone. They will teach over 150 classes this spring geared to teens and middle school students. The Fools do not seem to be such fools after all; they are an example of just what can be accomplished with perseverance and dedication to their craft.
The distance to travel may be more than most art aficionados are used to, but the variety of productions and the different voices of the growing, thriving theater scene in south central Idaho have something to offer everyone.