Despite pandemic, ACTORS thrives, sees major renovation to theater

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Longtime ACTORS members Stan Rabe and Lynn Lloyd pose in the expanded main space in the theater, which now has a higher ceiling and twice as much square footage. It will be used for gathering before and after productions and will double as a second rehearsal space.

Ames Community Theater is the only community theater in central Iowa that didn’t go dark during the pandemic.

The group, better known as ACTORS, also moved forward the past several months with a $580,000 addition and renovation to its building, which will be complete in March.

ACTORS board president Stan Rabe will be the keynote speaker in the Ames Community Arts Council’s monthly Gathering of Artists, which will be held via Zoom on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

The Zoom event is free and open to everyone. Participants need to pre-register to attend; visit the ACAC website at or email for registration information.

Rabe will talk about ACTORS’ spring season, including plans to adjust performance dates due to the pandemic, upcoming audition opportunities and plans to begin using the new space at the theater this spring.

ACTORS involves performers from central Iowa, especially from Ames and Story County.

ACTORS has offered live theater performances for the past 64 years. In that time, the community theater group has staged about 300 productions — comedies, dramas and musicals — to more than 160,000 audience members. With shows for children, adults and families, ACTORS is a “true community theater, where anyone can audition,” Rabe said.

During the pandemic, ACTORS planned to continue to offer performances but planned to have smaller audiences so people could socially distance.

But then an amazing opportunity arose for the community theater group. Tammy Koolbeck, the executive director at Stephens Auditorium, offered to stage ACTORS productions there, providing a large space for audiences to social distance and a unique experience for the actors.

“The amazing thing is this all wouldn’t have happened so smoothly if it hadn’t been for the pandemic,” Rabe said.

Because of the pandemic, ACTORS was able to partner with Stephens Auditorium to stage its shows.

“Something would have gone by the wayside if we’d been performing here during construction,” Rabe said. “And instead, we’re so much better off, because we’re getting to do shows at Stephens. We’re not dark and Stephens isn’t dark.”

It’s a win-win that has also given the volunteers — actors, directors, stage crew — at ACTORS an incredible opportunity to perform on the Stephens Auditorium stage, Lloyd said.

“The pandemic was also a challenge,” said Lynn Lloyd said, who has been with ACTORS for 42 years, serving on the board for many of those years. “But it was a blessing and a challenge. We’re very proud of what’s been accomplished.”

“For ‘Spelling Bee,’ we even got to use the pit,” Rabe said. “It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s a big deal. And real dressing rooms and star dressing rooms.”

“Most of these people will never be on a stage that large again,” Lloyd said.

“And when you think about the other people who have performed on that stage, it’s incredible,” Rabe said.

In the past year, ACTORS has received a wealth of financial support for its performances, equipment and construction, totaling more than $60,000 with contributions from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, The Iowa Art Council Emergency Aid Grants, Iowa Nonprofit Recovery Fund, Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Story County Community Foundation. 

The Ames Commission on the Arts donated more than $32,000 of that total. The Story County Community Foundation's donation of $2,500 went toward equipment required to livestream shows. 

Last February, just weeks before the pandemic was declared, ACTORS announced its construction plans. The project includes the expansion of a gathering space, where audience members can meet before and after productions. That space is twice its original size with a soaring ceiling in half the room.

“This room is now larger than our stage, so we can even use this space as a second rehearsal area,” said Rabe, who is the project manager and director of the next show, “The Full Monty." “We’re even thinking it would be a fun place to do a readers’ theater.”

The gathering space is the area where ACTORS traditionally serves free hors d’oeuvres on its opening nights.

“It’s funny because this room used to feel like a cave,” Rabe said, looking around the bright spacious room as it now exists. “But tearing out the wall and expanding the room ended the cave.”

A larger entry space provides a vestibule and adequate space for coats. The expanded office and ticket window are now out of the normal stream of traffic. There’s a covered walkway to protect waiting audience members from the elements, and the parking lot will be paved and lighted at night. The lot is closer to the building, with a designated traffic route.

ACTORS theater was built in 1977 and for 21 years prior to that, the group rehearsed and performed at various wherever they could find room, for years in the upstairs of the JC Penney store in downtown Ames.

“We laugh at some of our old sets,” Rabe said. “But we don’t always appreciate the fact that those sets had to be moved.”

During the theater renovation, ACTORS lowered its stage by about 13 inches, so now it’s just one step up from the floor.

“We’re rearranging the season because of the pandemic, and we’re going to do ‘Twelve Angry Jurors’ in the month of July,” Rabe said. “Because we’ll be doing it in July, we expect to do it in this building, even if we have to spread audience members out.”

“And since now the stage is lower, we’re going to do it in the round,” he said, referring to an audience configuration on risers surrounding the stage. “We still expect to be social distancing, but I think it’ll give the show a very different feel.”

ACTORS will finish its 65th season in “socially-distanced splendor at Stephens Auditorium” and will launch its 66th season at its own enhanced venue.

Go to to buy tickets or learn more about how you can support the ACTORS.