The Success of Lampost Theatre

While I was working in retail, I was frequently asked by customers if I was a student. I would tell them that I was going to be a student at University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall and I would be studying Theatre Arts. Their response was almost always, “Ooh, have you seen anything done by Lampost? Their work is wonderful/excellent/terrific.”

I have seen two Lampost plays that were performed at the Cedar Falls McChurch Orchard Hill Reformed Church when I attended there. I wasn’t very impressed because the writing was cliched, forced, stale and the acting was rather unremarkable. This comes from someone that has been very critical of theater since she was five. I remember that one was a play about Your Crazy Relatives During the Holidays and another one was some weird pageant play. Again, I wasn’t very impressed but the other members seemed to be entertained.

People in Cedar Falls love Lampost.

It has won the KCRG A-List award for two years (This year, The Old Creamery was the winner) and clearly has a spot in a lot of local’s hearts. They don’t spend a lot of money on advertising and unless you know where their venue is located, you would have no clue where they perform. I wouldn’t be shocked that if you asked people in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area what they thought of when someone said theater that the Gallagher-Bluedorn came first to mind, then Lampost.

But while Cedar Falls Community Theatre and Waterloo Community Playhouse advertise on TV, Radio and billboards, Lampost uses simple posters on bright pieces of paper. From what I’ve seen at Cup of Joe, they’re very simple and let you know when the play is and the title. Their venue is almost hidden. I can’t even tell you how much tickets are, but I can’t tell you how much tickets are at other theaters in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.

How does Lampost manage to have the following it does?

Simple. The theater connects with their audience.

They know what the audience wants, but judging from Lampost’s website, they try to use their art to spread Christianity. People in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area have always struck me as being very religious. Religious drama is a niche that people will care to see. But Lampost will never do Everyman. They specialize in original works that are usually comedic.

People in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area don’t want to see serious dramas. They want to see something funny and light-hearted. Especially the old ladies that donate money to the theaters. And if it’s a musical, all the better! People love singing and dancing and light-hearted times.

Lampost made a connection with their audience and their audience went and told even lowly clerks at department stores about how utterly amazing a show at Lampost is because it manages to strike a chord with them. Lampost uses only local people, even to write their shows. In some years, CFCT went and brought in former residents of the area to be big celebrities involved.

It’s community theater. You bring in a celebrity and it loses the community feel. You bring in a choreographer from Los Angeles that most residents haven’t heard of and it stops feeling like community theater.

Lampost figured something out and it has worked for them. They’ve figured out how to program a season and how to work. It clearly isn’t that easy for all theaters to do.

Theater Passes for Summer Musicals in Iowa

The other (early) morning, I was talking/brainstorm with Zev Valancy via Google Chat. During this conversation, I remarked that it seems as though all of the theaters in Eastern Iowa have a musical that opens in July. Zev then suggested that the theaters cross-promote them as “Iowa Summer Sing” and have ticket passes called the SongBook.

As someone that has grown up in Iowa–although I proudly hail from the southwest–I can say that a lot of theaters do their annual musicals, if they do a musical, in the summertime. During this time, it is usually easier for families to go to the theater because of the lack of restrictions that school puts on them. Many theaters even do musicals that are a bit more family oriented, although some theaters don’t stick to this rule. (Theatre Cedar Rapids is doing Rent this summer.) Not all of the theaters have a musical that opens in July; Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s musical opens in June, which prevents it from competing with the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s annual musical. City Circle Acting Company’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown also will be opening in June.

But how would a pass work? Well, using the model of the Rogers Park Flex Pass, you buy a pass that is good for one admission to x amount of plays, like four. The pass could be $50, which would be less than buying the tickets separately. Then people just say, “I would like to get a ticket for Rent” and go and pick up their ticket at the Theatre Cedar Rapids box office.

My main thought is that this could either be all of the theaters that are members of the Iowa Association of Community Theatres or the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance. But that could also boost business because if people have to pay less, that will get more butts in the seats.

But this idea has worked and doesn’t have to be done this year. It’s just out there for anyone to pursue.

Plug: “Still Life With Iris” at Theatre Cedar Rapids

Time to plug the play I’m currently involved with. Theatre Cedar Rapids’ upcoming production is Steven Dietz’s Still Life With Iris, which is the first family show to be performed in the newly remodeled Iowa Theatre Building. It still smells like a new theater and they’ve had two shows run in that theater.

Dietz’s play is very beautiful and intelligently written; it is not the typical family show that decides to dumb things down for the kids. This manages to cleverly be accessible for children while being an enjoyable show for adults. The play is about a girl named Iris who lives with her mother in the land of Nocturno, but is taken away to live on the Great Island with the Greater Goods. Iris’ loses her memory, save for a memory that she gets when holding a button from her coat. The play follows her journey to remember who she is, her family and to try to get home.

This production, which is directed by Theatre Cedar Rapids artistic director Leslie Charipar, also has a great cast and a terrific set designed by Bret Goethe. I am stage managing the production and it is the first time that I’ve stage managed in as large of a space as the Iowa Theatre Building’s auditorium.

Come see this show, especially if you haven’t been to the renovated building. To get tickets, call (319) 366-8591 or visit