After West Des Moines' Tallgrass Theatre Co. shut down its production of "Wonder of the World" in 2020, the group spent months readjusting to the pandemic and searching for a new venue. Now Tallgrass Theatre Company has a new stage and a show to perform on it.
The theater now makes its home at 2019 Grand Ave., suite 100, West Des Moines, taking over a portion of the former Skate West building. The theater company announced its move in December 2020, followed by months of fundraising, volunteer work and close to $500,000 in renovations.
The theater once called the Rex Mathes Elementary School on Vine Street its home, converting the auditorium into a theater. After the West Des Moines Community Schools made the space into a homeschool assistance program, the theater company found it needed a new venue, said Thomas Perrine, the artistic director for the community theater.
A performance of "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)," a comedy encapsulating myriad well-known classic Christmas tales and carols, marks the theater's 50th show since its creation and the first show in the new space.
“It’s three actors who are scheduled to put on a 'Christmas Carol,'" said Perrine, describing the story of the production. "When they start it one of the actors says, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve done this so many times. I hate this show.’ So instead they do every Christmas story ever told in 90 minutes. It’s crazy.”
The opening performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3, with additional shows through Dec. 19. Tickets start at $33 and are available through tallgrasstheatre.org.
The new dedicated space brings on-site storage, a scene shop, a green room for actors and a limited liquor license for beer and wine sales.
According, to Perrine, the average configuration of the venue's black box theater will seat roughly 80 people.
"It's a little smaller than we originally anticipated, but because the chairs we found are actually bigger... it did cut down on our seating a little bit," he said. "If we go to (theater) in the round, it'll go higher."
Perrine added that, as the company gets settled in the space, he wants to see it become more than just a theater, speculating that the lobby could double as a gallery.
“That’s something we put a lot of thought into," said Bob Baskerville, president of the Tallgrass board of directors, who also owns Frame Works, a custom framing company based out of Johnston, with Perrine. "It’s not just a theater for us, it’s a shared arts venue for the community.”
As the volunteers who make the theater possible look to the future with the new space, they hope to have at least one new piece for programing from this past year recur.
This past summer, the theater performed a concert iteration of "Bridges of Madison County" at the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater, 4100 Mills Civic Pkwy., in West Des Moines, partnering with the city's parks and rec department. That pay-what-you-want public show proved successful enough to solicit intentions for another production this coming summer.
"We haven't quite selected what we want to do for next summer, but it'll be that same idea: a Broadway production in a concert version," Perrine said.
The theater plans to keep going bigger. Instead of the typical three shows per season, it bumps the number up to five in the next few years and its kids' program, seedlings, will debut its first full, on-stage production.
But before any of that can happen, "Every Christmas Story Ever Told" needs to christen the space.
“Excited and terrified," said Baskerville, describing his feelings on Nov. 11 regarding the fast approaching opening. "But whenever I get that terrified feeling I remind myself that we did this all in less than a year during a pandemic with all volunteers.”
Already the theater announced the female-led comedy set during the French Revolution titled "The Revolutionists" will open on Feb. 4 and "Tiny Beautiful Things," based on the book by Cheryl Strayed following an advice columnist and the readers who write to her, will take the stage on April 29.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Tallgrass Theatre's new building and 'Every Christmas Story Ever Told'