Des Moines Performing Arts (DMPA) has undergone many transformations over the years since first opening the doors of the Des Moines Civic Center in June of 1979. Throughout all of the changes, serving the creative arts community in central Iowa has remained the focus.
Operating as a nonprofit organization, DMPA coordinates and hosts theatrical performances and experiences at Stoner Theatre (located inside the Civic Center), Cowles Commons, and Temple Theatre. Since 1979, 10 million guests have been served in downtown Des Moines.
The Willis Broadway Series is a treasure to Central Iowa and attracts a steady fan-base of around 190 thousand attendees. It’s estimated that theatre-goers spend $30 million dollars on local dining, accommodations, and shopping each year.
However, broadway shows only make up a small percent of the DMPA schedule. Other educational programs focus on community growth and rely on donor subsidies including the Iowa High School Musical Theatre, student Applause Series, classes, and camps.
Fiscal responsibility and creativity have aided the organization in making wise choices. A small fee added to performance tickets gets set aside to help update the Civic Center with state-of-the-art technology. For example, DMPA was one of the first theatre houses in the country to install a telecoil system that allows hearing-impaired audience members to have a deeper and richer theatre experience by using the technology already inside of their own private hearing aid. This is one of the many examples of how DMPA strives for accessibility for all.
As a nonprofit, DMPA relies on generous donations for funding. Consider how you can get involved and support the efforts of Des Moines Performing Arts.
Recognizing a unique opportunity, the Des Moines Performing Arts opened up the Civic Center for small public group tours while performances were canceled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a typical week, the Civic Center is a busy hub of activity hosting national and international performers. Each live production consists of trained professionals, including local union works, who manage all of the technical details from rigging, lights and sound, carpentry and set assembly, wardrobe, makeup, and styling.
For a larger show, over 80 people are working behind-the-scenes and backstage to keep things running smoothly. When Disney’s Aladdin came to town, the musical production arrived in 30 semi-trucks which were all unloaded and managed by DMPA and local employees. The Lion King had a 22 semi-truck caravan. Guests can imagine how busy and full the Civic Center space becomes when hosting these large shows.
The mainstage theatre can accommodate over 2,000 guests at each performance. With no center aisle and no balconies, the theatre space feels intimate, and there really are no bad seats in the house.
DMPA sets aside around two-million dollars per year to maintain the integrity of the Des Moines Civic Center complex. One visit to this extraordinary building and you will recognize it as a statement of art in and of itself. After our tour, my teen son repeatedly commented about how impressed he was with the architecture and pondered the skill needed to design such a space.
Hidden away in the rigging and catwalk system is a unique addition to the house: a Phantom Beam. This specialty item allows the Civic Center to expand their hosting opportunities and invite specialty shows to Des Moines.
Another unique aspect of the Civic Center is the workshop in the basement. With the proper tools and space, set construction and maintenance are appreciated by the traveling productions. The workshop became known as the “puppet hospital” during the Lion King show when hand-made puppets were cared for daily in the tucked-away location.
Connect with your local community theatre or specialty performance venue in Iowa. All across our state are fabulous opportunities to introduce your students to the fine arts.
Our visit to the Des Moines Community Playhouse offers a contrasting perspective from the busyness of hosting touring productions to the local rotation of volunteer performers.