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‘Falling Awake’

Iowa Central features a show written by a graduate

By TERESA JACKSON

I am incredibly excited about the play I have selected for our Iowa Central Community College fall production. What makes this year’s selection even more exciting for me, though, is that it is the first show I’ve ever directed which has been written by a former student.

”Falling Awake” was written by Iowa Central graduate — and former performer on the Iowa Central stage — Aaron Westrum. He graciously allowed me to add several of my visions and revisions to his original script, and we’ve enjoyed a collaboration which spanned the summer months.

Regular audience members who have supported our music and theater departments through the decades will very likely remember Westrum. He is among the most talented students I’ve ever directed — it is a list that continues to grow with every decade — but I was privileged to work with him very early in my Iowa Central career. In fact, he and our current director of vocal music, Will Lopes, were cast members together in ”How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Westrum also starred in ”Hello, Dolly” and held leading roles in ”The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch” and ”Clockwork.”

When Westrum returned to Fort Dodge after graduation, he also made guest appearances in ”Brighton Beach Memoirs” and perhaps his most stunning moment onstage came as the father in our production of ”Footloose.” To this day, his performance of “I Confess” resides among those perfect moments for me.

He has sent me numerous scripts over the years to read, and they are all stellar. The only reason I haven’t chosen one earlier is that I’m always driven by the talent I desire to feature onstage — and many terrific plays are just not good fits for the students I might have coming to campus. This summer, I was delighted when I realized that I could visualize a variety of my students who could merge beautifully with the ones Westrum had created. As always, I was surprised in auditions by which ones fit — but it’s how I start my creative process.

”Falling Awake” is an incredibly moving and thought-provoking script. It tells a unique story of Alison, a young woman in a coma who awakens to find herself in Numa — an ethereal holding place filled with colorful characters and two guardians — Goldie and Argen — who are to balance the healing with enough cheerfulness to comfort … yet enough practicality to tether them to the reality of their lives. The premise sets up both light-hearted moments of comedy and serious conflicts about the pain and heartache that comes with living in an imperfect world. In addition to the residents of Numa, we also see the hospital space with Alison’s doctors and family — a father who is running for governor and shadowed by a pushy campaign manager, a mother who clings to hope and a sister who has always lived in her sister’s shadow.

I’m so excited to feature an Iowa Central playwright in a performance which will bring so many current students onstage. The script is very much an ensemble show which calls for 10 women, 12 men, six of either gender plus additional ensemble as desired — which is what I always add. This script of 26 will be more like 40. As always, I’m looking to add moments of music and possibly dance whenever possible — those are the details I’m now in the process of brainstorming as I begin the arduous staging component that brings a script to life.

I asked Westrum to send some thoughts about what it means to him, seeing a creation of his featured on the Iowa Central stage. So far, he alone has directed the original version of this script when he was working at Camanche High School in 2015. Here’s what he shared:

”I am excited to have Iowa Central performing one of my plays. My first play was originally conceived with Iowa Central in mind. I’ve always wanted to see my words come to life under Teresa’s direction. I was privileged to perform as a lead in four of her productions during my time at ICCC and then twice more after graduation, she asked me to come back–that stage always felt like home to me.

”It was Teresa’s recommendation that convinced my first principal to hire me at Camanche. I spent nine years there directing plays and musicals, and when I wasn’t satisfied with the selection of plays for larger casts, I decided that necessity must play the mother of invention — I wrote my own for the kids I had.

“‘Falling Awake’ was the second of four plays that I’ve written thus far. I first conceived of the idea, believe it or not, when the title came to me. I loved the title so much, everything else fell into place. I loosely based some of the premise on Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical world of Alice in Wonderland. Getting to revise my original script and collaborate with Teresa on new ideas and expand on old ones has been super rewarding.”

Performances will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Decker Auditorium. Tickets will be $10 for adults and $5 for students with Iowa Central students attending for free. Tickets will be on sale at the Iowa Central bookstore, online and at the door. We will open with a matinee on Wednesday for area schools.