Pyramid Theatre’s Bold New Plays

Above: Posters for the new season’s shows reflect the dramatic nature of Pyramid Theatre Company’s productions.

By Christine Riccelli 

“This is where it gets crazy, so buckle up.” When Ken-Matt Martin tells you that, you do it. That’s because  Pyramid Theatre Company’s dynamic executive director has a way of sweeping you along with him on his journey to bring innovative theater to Des Moines.

In this case, he’s referring to the Iowa premiere of Ike Holter’s “Prowess,” which will open Pyramid’s third season on June 8 at Stoner Theater. The “crazy” part is that, thanks to Martin, the show is an unusual endeavor for a local theater company: It will be co-produced with Brown University, where Martin is currently earning an MFA, and will open in Providence, R.I., before arriving in Des Moines.

“It’s exciting that we’ll be able to bring highly trained professionals out of New York to Des Moines,” says Martin, the show’s director. “It’s a step toward our long-term goal of establishing Pyramid as a national organization with local ties and roots.” Part of the local link with “Prowess” is that it will include Karla Kash, a former Drake University professor who last fall joined the State University of New York at Albany.

“Prowess” follows a group of four Chicago friends who, as a result of being crime victims, join forces to become makeshift superheroes and vigilantes. Featuring fight scenes directed by Kash as well and dance and musical numbers, the show “fits our mission of doing a new work each year,” Martin says. “It’s a unique opportunity for us as a professional regional theater to push the envelope.” The show runs through June 17.

In addition to “Prowess,” Pyramid will present “Intimate Apparel” Aug. 17-26. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and directed by Pyramid artistic director Tiffany Johnson, the show is set in New York in 1905 and focuses on the story of Esther, a seamstress who lives in a boarding house and sews undergarments for wealthy white patrons. Longing for a husband and a future, Esther plans to use the money she’s saved to open a beauty parlor where black women will be treated as royally as her white clients.

For the show, Pyramid is collaborating with Drake University on set and technical design. “Drake has a little-known jewel of a [theater] program,” says Martin, who earned his undergraduate degree there. “This is an opportunity for students to get experience and employment.”

Martin adds that “both shows are centered around women. In the times we’re living in now, we wanted to [present] works that feature women who take control of their own destinies.”

Something else to look for: Sometime when “Hamilton” is in town (June 27-July 15), the cast will host a benefit for Pyramid. “When I was in New York recently, I was catching up with Oskar Eustis—the lead producer of ‘Hamilton’ who also founded the Brown/Trinity Repertory theater training [program]—and started joking around” about the possibility of a fundraiser, Martin says. That casual conversation led to more serious conversations—and soon an event was in the works. When details are available, they’ll be on the Pyramid website.

It’s that kind of innovation, creativity and collaboration that earned Pyramid, which Martin and Jareh Breon Holder founded in 1915, the Standing Ovation Award at the Bravo gala last Saturday night.

2018 season tickets are $40 and go on sale March 1. Individual tickets are $15-$25 and will be available starting May 1. To learn more about Pyramid and the people involved with it, read “Leading Ladies” and “Pyramid Power”from the dsm archives.

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