DES MOINES --- Farm and rural community issues will be at the forefront when five Democratic presidential candidates participate in a public forum this weekend in northwest Iowa.
The Heartland Forum, scheduled for Saturday at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, is being hosted by the Iowa Farmers Union and Open Markets Action, plus media partners the Storm Lake Times and Huffington Post.
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro and John Delaney accepted invitations and are scheduled to participate, as is Tim Ryan, who is considering a run.
Iowa Farmers Union president Aaron Lehman said the forum is crucial as rural Iowans consider which presidential candidate to support at a time when farm income and crop prices are down.
“Our farmers are anxious to hear the candidates and what their positions are on rural issues, and how they can connect with rural voters,” Lehman said. “We think it’s important to have events that concentrate on farm and rural issues.”
Lehman said farm incomes, corporate agriculture consolidation and climate change are among the topics Iowa Farmers Union members hope to hear the candidates discuss.
Each candidate will be interviewed separately, fielding questions from local and national reporters. Questions also will be taken from the audience, organizers said.
“The idea was to draw candidates and force candidates to talk about rural issues, which so often get ignored,” said Art Cullen, the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Storm Lake Times.
The challenge for the candidates is to make themselves stand out without taking policy positions that stray too far to the political left, said Brad Best, a political science professor at Buena Vista University.
Candidates also will attempt to show at the event how they can stand out among a crowded field, especially since all the scheduled participants trail front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in polls on the race in Iowa.
“People who will attend this from the community, they want to know something about what a candidate envisions the future of rural America being,” Best said. “So whoever can speak, I think, with the most specificity and most plausibly to those concerns is going to resonate well.”
SIOUX CITY -- Archival photos of a familiar face can be seen on a wall of the Sioux City Community Theatre.
People of a certain age will know that these are black-and-white pictures of longtime KCAU weather personality Tom Peterson, in the various plays he performed in at the Sioux City Community Theatre.
The photos showed Peterson, who eventually became the Community Theatre's executive director, during his shaggy-hair-and-mustache-days of the 1980s, as well as earlier photos taken shortly after he returned from the Vietnam War in the 1970s.
"I'd like to say these photos are from our '6 Rms Riv Vu' production, but Tom was involved in so many shows, it is hard to say," theater veteran Rick Myers said, glancing at images featuring a clean-shaven Peterson. "You see, the Sioux City Community Theatre truly was Tom's passion and he loved being here."
It is only fitting that the Community Theatre has named it's new Black Box Theatre -- an additional staging space located within the 1401 Riverside Blvd. facility -- to honor Peterson, who was killed in a car accident on Jan. 2, 1994.
"Tom was a very modest guy and I'm sure he'd be flattered by all of the attention," Myers said, in front of the door leading into the Tom Peterson Black Box Theatre. "But he was also someone who was always looking ahead, never backwards."
"Tom knew the future was bright for the Sioux City Community Theatre," Myers continued. "We agree."
The Black Box Theatre, a gift to the Sioux City Community Theatre from the nonprofit Tom Peterson Memorial Foundation, has been in the planning stages for the past two years.
Following a 6 p.m. grand opening reception, the Tom Peterson Black Box Theatre will be officially dedicated at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Its first production, an outrageous comedy entitled "Here We Sit," will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
The show, which puts theater-goers in the hot seat, will have 7:30 p.m. performances Friday, Saturday and Monday as well as a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee, is a perfect play for a black box setting, according to Myers, the production's director.
"'Here We Sit' is a show within a show," he explained. "The audience won't know where the stage begins and where it ends."
Myers said that the new theater space -- which, literally, has black walls, ceilings and floors -- lends itself to more experimental staging.
"Normally, the stage is in the front of the theater and the audience is in back," Myers said, inside a space that can sit between 60 - 100 audience members. "In a black box setting, we can move the seats around and stage a show in the middle, in the round, or in a way that better suits the play."
This versatility will allow the Community Theatre to stage edgier, more contemporary fare in the Black Box Theatre, while using the main stage for more traditional productions.
Myers said this will allow the Community Theatre to compete in a market that already has a surplus of entertainment options.
"Not only are we competing with Lamb Arts Regional Theatre (a professional Sioux City-based theater) but we're also competing with Broadway at the Orpheum (road company productions of contemporary stage musicals) as well as Hard Rock shows," he explained. "A black box concept will give us a chance to produce something truly unique."
That's important to Sioux City Community Theatre audiences who desire more cutting edge shows. It will also allow vets like Myers a chance to think outside of the (black) box.
A construction company owner by day, Myers became involved with the Sioux City Community Theatre more than 40 years ago.
"I was involved in theater in high school but hadn't given it much thought until my friend Rich Kleinberg got me involved in a play he was doing," Myers said. "I has so much fun, I've done it ever since."
Over the years, he's been in productions that run the gamut from "La Cage aux Folles" to "A Christmas Carol."
"When it comes to acting talent, I think Sioux City is comparable to Omaha, Sioux Falls and other cities with much larger theaters," Myers said.
Which is why he thinks the Tom Peterson Black Box Theatre is perfect for the Sioux City Community Theatre.
"I think Tom would be proud of what we're doing," Myers said. "He was always someone who wanted to keep moving forward."