By Tommy Iafrate
Special to the Herald
As a transplant from Rhode Island, I am relatively new to the Midwest. I came to Western Illinois University in 2009 to begin a master’s program in directing.
In order to fulfill a professional summer requirement for school, I found myself at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre in 2010.
I was immediately enchanted with so many aspects of the company. I loved that early-career professional performers and community members worked side-by-side to create strong theatrical productions. I was impressed at the excellent training given to young artists through the intern program. More than anything, however, I was impressed by the incredible level of support given to the Showboat by the Clinton community, and especially by Al King.
Al King was a founding father of the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre. His expertise and his love of theater drove him to serve on the National Community Theatre Board and as president of Iowa Community Theatre — and, after founding Clinton’s own professional theater company, as the president and the treasurer of the Board of Directors at the Clinton Showboat. He served on the Board for decades, working tirelessly to help ensure that the productions were exceptional. His contributions to theater in the Clinton community cannot be overstated.
I have worked for many companies in the theatrical world. Many of them hire large staffs of individuals to promote productions throughout their target area. Many companies are so targeted on growth and on financial success that they bring employees in from other areas, thereby overlooking the importance of the devoted, passionate and theatrically knowledgeable members of their own communities. I admire the strong relationship that the Showboat has maintained with its community. Having evaded the trend to become more corporate, the Showboat is still a small company with an active Board of Directors. They have relied upon Al’s presence for decades. Even in recent years, as Al’s health began failing him, he was so frequently a friendly face in the lobby, a dependable patron in seat J 1, and an appreciative audience member after the show. Two years ago, the Showboat included Jerome Kern’s “Showboat” in the season as a special thank you to Al; since the company’s inception, Al has been looking forward to seeing this production, his favorite, realized on the Showboat stage.
When Al passed away last fall, the Showboat lost one of its angels. This summer will be the first in the Boat’s existence without Al, and many members of the Showboat family, myself included, have difficulty imagining what things will be like without him.
In order to help honor the loss of this Showboat treasure and to pay homage to Al’s countless contributions to the company over the years, the company has decided to dedicate our Opening Follies to Al. This annual event has always been used to introduce the Clinton community to our summer performers, and to entertain them with a smattering of musical theater selections. While still doing so, this year’s Follies will also celebrate Al King and all he has done for the Showboat. We will be including several selections from Showboat in faith that he is still watching, still enjoying the delight that musical theater brings to the spirit. The Showboat’s Opening Follies will be held on Tuesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Lillian Russell Theatre at the City of Clinton Showboat on Riverview Drive. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through the Showboat box office at 242-6760.
Tommy Iafrate is the Producing Artistic Director with the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.