A new performing arts festival is coming to town this summer.
The American Gothic Performing Arts Festival, born from a board of directors and focus groups that started in 2011, is an education-based festival celebrating the performing arts, specifically musical theater.
Board president Dennis Willhoit — former director of music at St. Mary of the Visitation — said he and board secretary Miriam Kenning gathered the focus groups in 2011 to discuss the timing of this kind of event.
“We saw that really, things sort of slow down a bit in the performing arts calendar in the summer,” he said. “Also around July 4, there’s not a lot of activity going on in Ottumwa, it seems. It’s a good time to celebrate the performing arts.”
The focus of the festival began with musical theater but was eventually expanded to include all performing arts.
“As it grows we’d like to include a large variety of different performing arts opportunities and events people can attend, with the core of it being that little subscription series with one show in Eldon and the other two in Ottumwa,” he said.
So far, three performances have been secured in the festival’s “Come Fly With Us!” musical theater series:
• The series will open with performances of “Smoke on the Mountain” on June 7-9 at the McHaffey Opera House in Eldon.
• The main stage production will be “Peter Pan” on June 29 and July 4, 6-7 at Bridge View Center.
• “Go, Dog, Go!” will be performed by area high school students on July 2-3 and 5 at Bridge View Center.
The three shows currently planned are not the only events on the schedule, though, Willhoit said.
“We have some other events in the planning stages, which will be released as things are finalized,” he said.
Either this season or in future seasons, Willhoit said the board would like to invite indie bands, bluegrass and many other different styles of performing arts, as well as collaborating with area performing arts organizations.
“I think that performing arts are a reflection of the cultural life of a community, and with so many good resources in our immediate area and in the extended area, I think it’s vital for the quality of life,” Willhoit said.
It’s also a matter of creating destination events for tourism.
“We have some wonderful venues,” he said. “Bridge View is our crown jewel. It’s a new facility with a modern-equipped theater, so there’s lots of possibilities there.”
But he said there are several great outdoor venues, churches and synagogues as well that have outstanding acoustics. And there’s the McHaffey Opera House in Eldon, which is nearing the end of its restoration.
This summer’s performance will be the first live performance at the opera house in around 100 years, he said.
“They’ve worked so diligently on the bones and the skeleton,” Willhoit said of the committee that has worked for the last 18 years on restoring the 120-year-old opera house. “They’ve restored the structure of the building with a new roof, heating and cooling, made it handicapped accessible — all those things which are the really big-ticket items and take so much time and effort.”
And now that the seats have been installed, he said they can focus on the “prettier stuff,” such as restoring the paintings on the walls and other aesthetic qualities.
“We’re looking forward to being part of that and sharing box office receipts so they have some proceeds to help with their continued restoration and preservation,” he said. “I grew up in Wapello County and had never been in it until a couple months ago, and I think it’s just a gem.”
The festival will also include area youth, encouraging them to get involved in the arts.
“We want to have them involved in the production in Eldon, everything from the crew and house responsibilities to the cast,” he said.
Specifically for that performance, Willhoit said he’d like to reach out to the Cardinal school district since they’re so close.
But he said students from across Wapello County and other nearby districts will be urged to join in on the “Go, Dog, Go!” production. High school students will perform in that production since it’s aimed toward a younger audience.
“Peter Pan” will be the first time actors will “fly” at Bridge View Center, he said.
“It’s not every day you put actors in harnesses and swing them around the stage,” he said. “This idea of flying, whether it’s in ‘Peter Pan’ or some of the gospel tunes, lended itself to this idea that we’re taking flight on a new project.”
The show at the opera house was chosen for its style.
“It’s not your typical Broadway musical sound,” he said. “It’s a bluegrass, gospel-y sound, and it captures the nostalgia of the opera house.”
Season ticket subscription brochures will be mailed to area residents beginning Feb. 25. If individuals have not received a copy by March 1, they can contact Dennis Willhoit at 515-418-5692. Season ticket subscriptions may also be ordered online beginning March 1 at www.americangothicfest.org. Season ticket subscribers will save 15-20 percent off single tickets, which will go on sale May 1.
The festival’s website and Facebook page will launch March 1.
Those wanting to volunteer can call Willhoit at 515-418-5692 or Miriam Kenning at 641-680-1409.
New festival coming to Wapello County, featuring three musical theater performances this summer
A new performing arts festival is coming to town this summer.
- Local News
- Partnership could boost economy OTTUMWA — Seeing a vibrant economy here is going to take a team; and while that team may or may not contain certain members, it must have the community’s high school. That was the message from Tom Rubel at Monday's meeting of the Ottumwa school board
- New home for SIEDA OTTUMWA — Most people getting services at the Southern Iowa Economic Development Agency's newly renovated Community Action building won't have far to go from the current SIEDA location. "It's just one building over," said Brian Dunn, executive direct
- OEDC director taking new position OTTUMWA — After nearly three years as the executive director of the Ottumwa Economic Development Corp., David Barajas Jr. announced Monday that he will be stepping down at the end of the year and that he has accepted a new position in Marshalltown. H
- Cooler trend finally brings significant snow OTTUMWA — While this weekend brought the first significant snowfall of the year, it has felt like winter for quite some time in southeast Iowa. Since mid-November, Ottumwa’s daily high has averaged 8.6 degrees below normal, and the daily low has aver
- Check your online security in one easy step OTTUMWA — It happens with alarming regularity: there’s a report of a massive breach of security on social media or a shopping website, but you have no way to know whether your information was part of the breach. There’s a solution that’s as simple as
Two in custody after stabbings
OTTUMWA — Ottumwa police say one person is in custody after a teenager was stabbed over the weekend. Officers responded to 209 W. Fifth Street shortly after midnight Sunday on a report of a stabbing. A 16-year-old male had been stabbed once in the ab
Barajas leaving OEDC
OTTUMWA — David Barajas, executive director of the Ottumwa Economic Development Corp., is leaving to take a new position economic development position in Marshalltown.
- Brighton man charged with illegally taking deer BRIGHTON — Thomas Charest, 55, of Brighton, was charged Thursday with two counts of illegal possession of whitetail deer, one count of taking a buck deer over bait, one count of taking deer out of season and one count of hunting deer without a licens
- Kids chat with Santa OTTUMWA — Santa's job will be a lot easier if he just listens to the children. Though some were shy during his recent visit to Wilson Elementary School in Ottumwa, others had very specific instructions. "I said I want Barbies and I want makeup, red a
- Court rejects Albia-area hunters' case DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled three men with Albia ties were not unconstitutionally denied Iowa resident hunting permits. At issue was the question of whether land ownership in Iowa confers a right to hunt on the land as a resident of
- More Local News Headlines