The show that opened Tuesday night at the Des Moines Civic Center is Something Rotten!, a smash musical comedy on Broadway that’s now touring the country. But that title couldn’t be more of a misnomer for one lucky theatergoer on Opening Night with strong ties to DMPS.
Donna Britt started her teaching career in 1975 at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. In 2008 she moved to Jackson Elementary School.
Meanwhile, the Des Moines Civic Center opened for business in 1979 and has been packing ‘em in ever since, to the point that the folks at Des Moines Performing Arts realized a while back that they would soon welcome their 10 millionth patron, a milestone that called for some theatrics.
“We determined that more than 600,000 students have attended our Applause shows on school fieldtrips,” said Eric Olmscheid, the DMPA Programming and Education Director. “That’s a big chunk of the total audience, so when we calculated that number 10 million would be part of the audience on October 10th at Something Rotten!, we decided to honor an educator.”
The Applause Series launched in 1996, an annual lineup of shows aimed at matinee audiences of schoolchildren who get to attend live professional theater at ticket prices that public schools can afford – $1 per student, thanks to subsidies provided by DMPA partners and sponsors.
“I took a lot of fieldtrips to the Civic Center from Pleasant Hill,” Britt said, “so when I got to Jackson I asked who was in charge of coordinating the Applause events.” No one was, but she has been ever since.
In her years at Jackson alone, Britt arranged and chaperoned Civic Center fieldtrips that reached more than 6,000 Jackson students. Since she retired in 2014, she still substitutes at the school and still coordinates the theatrical excursions. In fact…
“Last year I subbed at Jackson 160 out of 180 days,” Britt said. “I just love teaching and I love the kids.”
Clearly. When Britt’s husband passed away the year after she (semi)retired, “One of the last things he said to me was ‘You need the kids and they need you.’ So I keep substituting, but only at Jackson.”
Where else would she be on the day after her big night?
Besides her free admission and moment at center stage before curtain time Tuesday night, Britt’s former and still favorite school was the beneficiary of a generous award from DMPA.
“Jackson will receive a $10,000 grant to fund arts education at the school,” said Olmscheid.
“We have a great new music teacher this year (Katelyn Stessman) and she wants to use some of the award for guitars,” Britt said, like a lottery winner fielding helpful suggestions on how to invest a windfall. “We will find so many great ways to use this money.”
When she went out for her latest night at the theater, Britt thought she was just one among a group of educators attending as invited guests of DMPA. Not until she was called up on stage by DMPA President & CEO Jeff Chelesvig right before the curtain rose for Something Rotten! did she realize that she was THE one – in ten million!
Jackson, in case you didn’t know, is the home of the Stars. One in particular, on Wednesday morning.