Pyramid Theatre: Preparing for season three of storytelling

With so much technology used to keep the seven co-founders of Pyramid Theatre in touch during the winter, they can’t wait to see each other each summer because the phones go off.

And the stage lights go on.

Pyramid Theatre was founded as a nonprofit organization in August of 2015 and offers two shows each summer—a new play and a classic work from black playwrights. The organization has seven founders—sprinkled throughout the country—who work with local and aspiring artists as well as bringing in professionals each summer.

2018 will be the third summer of Pyramid Theatre.

“People have this conception of theatre that it’s a very stuffy situation where you go in and don’t interact with the show, that you just watch,” artistic director Tiffany Johnson says. “We’re changing the social norm of the theatre environment to where we are actually encouraging the audience to interact with the play, be vocal. And that brings a new enthusiasm for being part of the audience. You are part of the story.”

Johnson—one of three founders based in Des Moines—says Pyramid Theatre tries to make theatre relevant for younger people, to keep the industry going.

“We are doing a great job of starting that in our own culture, the black culture,” Johnson says. “Grassroots marketing and initiatives are very important, where you are visible in the community as opposed to trying to market to the community. Try to integrate with it.”

Johnson said the productions this summer will be challenging and more technical work.

“It’s kind of a jump for us but we do have aspirations as a company of being a regional theatre company at the very minimal,” Johnson says. “God willing a national company.”

The startup

Pyramid Theatre
Pyramid Theatre Co-Founder Ken-Matt Martin. Courtesy of Pyramid Theatre

Johnson worked with Ken-Matt Martin—now the Executive Director of Pyramid Theatre—on a project in 2013 that formed a connection that hasn’t separated.

Johnson and Martin would work together on Fences in 2014—which Martin produced and directed—with the Des Moines Social Club and again on A Soldiers Play.

“We received great feedback,” Johnson said. “Everybody loves seeing the diversity in art here, so we decided this is a thing and something we should try to do on a more regular basis to offer people in this city more options.”

Martin is one of four co-founders who doesn’t live in Des Moines full-time. He’s currently finishing his graduate degree at Brown University.

“I’d put the Des Moines theatre community up against any and the reason being is there’s a true hunger in Des Moines for new and different stories,” Martin says. “Des Moines has a smart audience. They listen harder.”

Season Three

Pyramid Theatre announced its third season earlier this month. Prowess will open at 7:30 p.m. on June 8 and Intimate Apparel will open at 7:30 p.m. on August 17 at the Stoner Theatre in the Des Moines Performing Arts building.

Prowess is about a group of friends who decide they want to become superheroes and is filled with fight choreography.

Martin said he’s directing that play in Providence—where the Brown University campus is located—then moving the entire show to Des Moines in June. He said they could possibly be taking it to California after.

“It’s cool because you get to bring unique things to Des Moines,” Martin says.

In August, Johnson will direct, Intimate Apparel with an all-local cast.

“We’re doing new plays as well as older plays, working with great local artists and local talent but also bringing in really high-grade, well-trained professionals to work as well,” Martin says.

Johnson said each of the co-founders will discuss various scripts, the impact they will have on the community and the audience.

“This season is really focused on women and the strengths they have,” Johnson said. “We thought it would be nice to compliment what’s happening in our world with some art that fits into it.”