Theater group sets stage for new season
It's been an eventful few months for the Nodaway Community Theater Company, which recently expanded its plans to expand what it hopes will become a dual-stage performance space being carved out of a row of storefronts in the 100 block of West Third Street downtown.
Back in December the group, which has a half-dozen active volunteers, purchased a large, upstairs space that, decades ago, used to house the Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge.
The suite of cavernous, high-ceilinged rooms sits above NCT's existing Rose Theater, and both spaces were heavily damaged last summer after high-velocity, straight-line winds peeled back the roof, exposing the structure to heavy rainfall.
The plan at the time, which is still in place, was to restore the Odd Fellows hall for use as a 175-seat theater. This summer, however, the company decided to enlarge that vision by purchasing a second ground-level storefront next door to the Rose at 120 W. Third St.
A former military surplus store, the new space has a partially raised concrete floor ideally suited for use as a stage and set storage area. There's even a double overhead door at the back that will come in handy for "loading in" sets and scenery flats.
NCT's Nina Dewhirst, a North Nodaway School District language arts teacher, financed the company's latest acquisition with what she smilingly referred to as a "loan."
She is hoping to turn the space into a new Rose Theater and transform the current 75-seat auditorium into a lobby. The complex could also house a small museum for numerous artifacts discovered in the old lodge hall.
But all of that is likely to take a few years. In the meantime, Dewhirst and other NCT members are working to repair remaining water damage and get the existing Rose Theater in shape for another season. The company's next production, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog," opens at the Rose Sept. 14. Auditions are scheduled for Aug. 11. The space will also host a Halloween "haunted house" in October.
In addition to cleaning up the seating and stage areas, a lot of work has taken place at the Rose in recent months.
There's a newly painted and floored green room complete with mirror-lined walls where actors can check their costumes and makeup. Backstage also contains a good-sized costume storage area and shelves full of properties — everything from old medicine bottles and ladies' hats to vintage radios. Toward the rear of the building is another room stacked with flats and scenery. Though there is still a lot of work to do, the place is beginning to look, feel and smell very much like a theater again.
Dewhirst, who runs the drama program at North Nodaway, holds a degree in theater and has has been directing plays for nearly 40 years. She has a simple answer for why she is investing hundreds of hours of her time and thousands of dollars of her money into making a going concern out of live theater in northwest Missouri.
"Because I want to," she said, adding that growing the Rose into a full-fledged performing arts center feeds her twin passions: theater and preserving old buildings.
The single structure that contains the three spaces now owned by NCT was built in 1870, said Dewhirst, who added that the company has engaged retired architect Richard Ross of Barnard to put its dreams down on paper as an early step toward transforming them into reality.
She and her husband, Northwest Missouri State University history Professor Robert Dewhirst, just returned from a European vacation, which Nina Dewhirst said reinforced her desire to save and restore the physical past.
"Many of their old buildings are preserved," she said of the European towns and cities she visited. "I wish we did more of that here."