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.