Stephens Auditorium, ACTORS win award for collaboration during COVID-19

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Ruthellen Cunnally, Tammy Sposeto, Jenn Peter and Barbara Gerlock perform a scene on stage at Stephens Auditorium in ACTORS's production of "The Savannah Sipping Society." ACTORS and Stephens Auditorium received an Iowa Tourism award for their collaboration during the pandemic.

While theaters across the country were going dark because of COVID-19, Stephens Auditorium and Ames Community Theater (ACTORS) teamed up to help one another keep going. Both entities have recently been recognized for that collaboration with an award from Iowa tourism organizations.

The Outstanding Marketing Collaboration award was presented to ACTORS and Stephens Auditorium by the Iowa Tourism Office and Travel Federation of Iowa on April 28 during the 2021 Iowa Tourism Conference in Des Moines.

Teaming up was good in many ways for both Ames organizations.

ACTORS benefited from having a grand stage for performances while its theater in west Ames was undergoing a $580,000 addition and renovation.

The larger venue at Stephens Auditorium allowed ACTORS’s audiences to enjoy “socially-distanced splendor” as ACTORS closed out its 65th season and began its 66th, said Stan Rabe, ACTORS board president.

“The opportunity to partner with Stephens and promote our season has been great for ACTORS,” Rabe said.

More:With a record number of vendors, Ames Main Street Farmers' Market starts Saturday

It allowed ACTORS cast and crew to work in a venue that has seen world renowned talent and Broadway touring productions. ACTORS enjoyed using the pit for live music, and performers were treated to star dressing rooms, Rabe said.

ACTORS planned to continue to offer performances during the pandemic but they knew they’d have to have smaller audiences so people could socially distance.

“Working with other local arts organizations is important to our organization,” said Tammy Koolbeck, executive director of Stephens Auditorium. “When it became apparent in late summer 2020 that our Stephens Performing Arts Series would be postponed at least until January 2021, our staff began looking at other opportunities to keep our doors open with events that could be safely produced for both artists and audiences.”

More:Octagon hopes to draw community of emerging artists to add vibrancy to downtown Ames

Cast members in ACTORS's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" perform on the stage at Stephens Auditorium. The collaboration between the two organizations during the pandemic earned them an award from Iowa tourism groups.

When Koolbeck saw a news article that ACTORS was moving ahead with its 65th season with a very limited capacity, she called Rabe. Would it be possible to bring ACTORS’s two fall performances to Stephens Auditorium? 

“The rest, as they say, is history,” Koolbeck said. “We were able to work out a partnership that allowed for an audience capacity of 200 physically distanced seats with both of us finding grant and donor funding to offset expenses. 

“The fall shows worked out so well that we added the spring shows.”

More:Iowa State singers will compete in Cyclone Voice contest hosted by pop musician Gnash

ACTORS’s next production is “The Full Monty,” which will be staged at Stephens Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on May 20, 21 and 22 and 2 p.m. on May 23. Tickets are available at

“‘The Full Monty’ would not have been possible without the people at VenuWorks (which manages the venue) and Stephens,” Rabe said. “Tammy Koolbeck and her staff has been exceptional in all aspects to allow a small community theater to do shows on a famous professional stage.

“Our collaboration has been so much fun because of all of the opportunities it gives everyone involved.”