Michael Morain, firstname.lastname@example.org 7:37 p.m. CDT April 25, 2014
After at least seven months of behind-the-scenes shuffling, StageWest is ready for its next act. The local theater company announced Friday that it will leave its longtime home at the Des Moines Civic Center’s Stoner Theater for new digs at the Des Moines Social Club, starting with the 2014-15 season.
The company also announced the hire of a new producing artistic director, Todd Buchacker, who will start the full-time job at the end of next month. He was already filling in for founding director Ron Lambert, who stepped down after a bout of health troubles last August.
Buchacker (pronounced BYOO-acker) beat out 59 applicants in a nationwide search, which included two other finalists who flew in earlier this month from both coasts. He has worked for the last dozen years as a Des Moines-based consultant for Planned Parenthood, helping the national organization improve its affiliated clinics across the country.
“I don’t have many letters behind my name, and those that do exist don’t have anything to do with theater,” said the 47-year-old graduate of the Iowa Methodist School of Nursing. “But I’ve learned a great deal about the nonprofit world and how nonprofit organizations work.”
He’s also learned a lot about theater. Since his first role in the 1979 run of “Oliver” at the Des Moines Community Playhouse, Buchacker has had a hand in scores of shows around town. He’s directed productions at the Playhouse, StageWest and the long-gone Drama Workshop.
The president of StageWest’s board, Keith Snow, said the board was excited about Buchacker’s vision for “StageWest 2.0,” which would help the 18-year-old company draw audiences from as far as Omaha, Kansas City and Minneapolis. StageWest hopes to team up with companies in those cities to co-produce shows, organize playwright workshops, and commission new works for “rolling” world premieres that would move from one regional theater to the next.
In the meantime, StageWest leaders hope the move to the Kum & Go Theater at the Social Club will attract new audiences here in town. Buchacker’s new office will bump up next to the Social Club’s other nonprofit tenants, and StageWest will share the theater with Repertory Theater of Iowa, Des Moines Onstage, 3X Wrestling and the in-house Des Moines Social Club Theater Co.
“The arts community in Des Moines has always been a little bit segregated,” Buchacker said, “but the Social Club has helped break down some of those barriers, which I think is fantastic. I’d like to continue to break down some of those walls.”
StageWest plans to announce its 2014-15 season at the company’s annual Fools’ Ball, slated for April 4 at West End Architectural Salvage. And it’s the programming, after all, that drew Buchacker to StageWest in the first place. He helped line up the shows for next season.
“I’m attracted to plays that are new and slightly edgy,” he said, “but I’m not somebody who wants to assault the audience all the time. Not every play needs to raise us to some higher level of being or thinking. It’s OK to just be entertained.
“However, even those times when we’re just entertained, it’s nice when you get a little nugget out of it,” he added. “StageWest has always been conscious of the broader issues in the community.”
Buchacker also praised his predecessor. “What Ron Lambert did for the state of theater in central Iowa is remarkable and should never go unheralded or forgotten,” he said. “He raised the bar for local theaters, he really did.”
Lambert has a lifetime pass to company shows and looks forward to its future.
“Todd’s a perfect fit,” he said. “He knows the Des Moines theater community, and the theater community knows him and appreciates all he does. I couldn’t be happier.”