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“No Drama: A Role for Everyone”

Meredith Hines-Docterman
The Gazette
December 6, 2009, p. B10

It’s organized chaos at Iowa City High School’s Little Theater.

A dozen students stand on stage, reciting lines. Stagehands test the lights. Piano music can be heard from the hallway.

More than 40 students will be featured in Combined Efforts Community Drama’s winter performance of “2020 A Christmas Carol” [the working title at the time this news story was written]. The large cast symbolizes Janet Schlapkohl’s belief — every student with an interest in theater should have the opportunity to participate.

“A lot of the kids I know could do amazing things but didn’t have an outlet for their talents,” said Schlapkohl, a City High special education teacher currently on leave as she pursues her master’s degree from the University of Iowa’s M.F.A. program.

Schlapkohl founded Combined Efforts in 2001. The group involves students with and without special needs.

“You always get a boost in self-confidence when you are on stage and hear the applause,” said Mary Vasey, co-director for “2020 A Christmas Carol.”

“It gives everyone who wants to act the opportunity,” said City High junior Wyatt Betts, 16.

Combined Efforts turns no one away for lack of skills or other abilities. Alec Grubbe, a West High graduate, was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge despite having paralyzed vocal chords. Schlapkohl tailored the script for Grubbe. His Scrooge converses through notes and body language.

“There’s no tryouts, no pressure — eeryone gets a part,” said City High junior Caitlin Clougherty, 17.

The result is a group of students working together toward a common goal — the show.

“It’s an opportunity to have something that’s totally shared,” Schlapkohl said.

Schlapkohl received the Isabel Turner Award from the Iowa City Human Rights Commission last month for Combined Efforts. The honor affirms the value people have for theater and Combined Efforts concept, she said.

The theater group originally put on one production a year. As the group has grown, so has the help. “2020 A Christmas Carol” has student stage managers and adults from the community assisting with rehearsals, the writing, choreography and acting.

Combined Efforts performed a summer production this year, opening the troupe to others in Iowa City. There are talks of adding a third show this spring. Paperwork to make Combined a non-profit organization, making it eligible for grants, is in process.

Schlapkohl’s goal is to write a show that could tour regionally.

“I would love if people saw Combined Efforts as a possibility for their own community,” she said.

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