SIOUX CITY | This summer will feature the 10th annual Betty Ling Tsang Summer Fine Arts Series, a program that brings live theatrical and musical performances to Sioux City free of charge. The shows are held on campus at Morningside College, at the Buhler Outdoor Performance Center.
This year, the series will consist of "Songs for a New World," an all-singing show, on June 9 and 10; a July 4 performance by the United States Air Force Heartland of America Band; "Uh-Oh!," a family-friendly rendition of Little Red Riding Hood, on July 14 and 15; and "The Robber Bridegroom," a Robin Hood-style musical that takes place in the Old South, on Aug. 4 and 5.
Randy Peters, the artistic director of the series since its beginning, said the audiences have grown quite a bit over the years.
"We started kind of small, when we first started that very first year in 2008, where we maybe had 200 people there," Peters said. "And now we've had 850, 1,000 people here for different events. It's averaging about 800 people per show, so it's really grown quite a bit."
Nationally recognized theater people have come in previous years to take part in the Betty Ling Tsang series, including Tony award-nominated lyricist Bill Russell, as well as people from Broadway.
Sioux City actors have also taken part in the performances.
"We get people from all around the country come and audition," Peters said. "We bring in professionals from the East Coast and the West Coast, and they come work with our local talent, so it's not just college students, although there's a lot of college students involved and high school kids."
One of the local performers is Bill McKenny, a Sioux City resident and former school teacher at Maple Valley-Anthon Oto. He's been involved in about seven of the Betty Ling Tsang productions and will act this summer in "The Robber Bridegroom."
McKenny, who has performed in other plays in Sioux City, said the Betty Ling Tsang shows are unique in town, partly because of the two-week rehearsal time frame.
"It's different than the other theaters, because the rehearsal period is so short," he said.
The kind of performers who are involved in these shows also sets it apart, McKenny said.
"You get to work with really quality people; Randy does a very good job of selecting directors, music directors," he said.
Most summers, the series consists of popular, well-known musicals, instrumental music performances and children's plays. There have also been some non-musical plays and comedies.
The series has not focused on avant-garde plays, but on more accessible and beloved works like "Fiddler On the Roof" and "Guys and Dolls."
"We don't generally do a bunch of contemporary things," Peters said. "We do a little more recognizable (plays)."
The series provides unique opportunities for area performers, like being able to perform a musical with a full pit orchestra before a big, outdoor crowd.
Having the performances outside does mean a risk that weather will be an issue, Peters said, and the shows have been forced indoors in past years because of rain. Of course, the show must go on.
"They are rain or shine," he said.
Despite the ever-present risk of being rained out, Peters said there's nothing like having a show outdoors.
"Outdoor theater is absolutely awesome, and it is totally different than doing theater indoors," he said. "The facility is wonderful, the campus is beautiful, and it's now got trees big enough to cast shade on most of the area so people aren't sitting in the sun. It's just a really fun, casual entertainment option for people."