About Tallgrass

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Our Mission: Tallgrass Theatre Company strives to enrich the greater Des Moines community by providing a venue for new and unique performance work that is both entertaining and evocative.

TTC reaches for these goals by:

  • Performing original collaborative works as well as the works of established playwrights
  • Reaching out to community members who may not normally patronize the theatre
  • Providing an outlet for local talent to explore and develop
  • Encouraging company members to become involved in multiple aspects of productions

Tallgrass Theatre is the brainchild of two post-graduate theatre students who found themselves without a venue for their collective artistic vision.  The two had discussed the idea of a local theatre company that, like the tall grass prairie, had deep roots within the state. Another appealing metaphor that the thespians agreed fit their ideals was the rebirth of the prairie from year to year, which allows them to stay fresh with constant change, yet with firm and steady bases from which to spring.

Jessie Phillips, Executive Director/Co-Founder
A native of the Des Moines area, Jessie graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Theatre in 2000. While at Theatre UNI, she was active in many productions and in various capacities including director, stage manager, costume designer and technical assistant. She has been a member of Theta Alpha Phi, the national honorary fraternity for theatre artists, since 1997. Jessie co-founded Tallgrass Theatre Company in 2002, served as its Artistic Director until 2013 and currently serves as Executive Director, working with the Board of Directors to ensure that Tallgrass’ business needs are met. Jessie has also directed a number of productions for Tallgrass (Rounding Third, Newsroom, Steel Magnolias, Einstein and the Polar Bear, Eating Raoul) and designed costumes for several shows.

James Stephenson, Technical Director/Co-Founder
James has lived in the Des Moines area for over a decade, during which he co-founded Tallgrass Theatre Company in 2002. He’s held several roles within the company, including Artistic Director, Technical Director, and Production Manager, as well as being a consultant to the Board of Directors. James also co-founded the Iowa Playwrights Workshop under the umbrella of Tallgrass Theatre in 2006, where the annual program continues to bring the fresh work of Iowa writers to the stage. James’ design and occasional performance work can be found gracing the Rex Mathes stage where Tallgrass presents its season productions. James graduated from UNI with a BA in Theatre in 1999.

Thomas D. Perrine, Artistic Director
Tom joined Tallgrass as Artistic Director in 2013. He oversees the artistic/production side of Tallgrass operations and heads the season selection committee. Tom has also directed a number of shows at Tallgrass, including Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, The Odd Couple, True West and The Elephant Man. Prior to joining Tallgrass, Tom directed numerous productions in the Des Moines area, including The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, Souvenir, Bash: The Latterday Plays, Urinetown: The Musical, A New Brain, Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage, Dirty Blonde, TopDog/Under Dog, The Laramie Project, Wit, As Bees in Honey Drown and The Vagina Monologues. Tom was the head writer and creator of the play VOICES. He directed The Central Iowa Players (“Stigma Busters”), a theater troupe of people with mental illnesses who performed original skits designed to promote awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness for over 12 years. He was awarded a Heroes in the Fight Award from Eli Lilly in 2008 for his work in the mental health field. Tom is a proud member of Local Stagehand Union 67 (IATSE).

Kelly Mayhew, Production Manager
Kelly joined Tallgrass as a volunteer in the spring of 2009 and has been a part of every show since. A fixture at work days and rehearsals, Kelly formerly served on the Board of Directors and has stage managed a number of shows at Tallgrass, including Einstein and the Polar Bear, Three Changes, Eating Raoul, True West and Extremities. In her current role as Production Manager (which she has held since 2013), Kelly is responsible for managing communication between production casts, crews, designers and artistic staff, as well as overseeing production meetings and helping to manage show budgets. She has a degree in Theatre from Coe College.

Board of Directors

(Clockwise from top left) Lauren Hardison, Erin Bishop, Mark Mayhew, Jeff Phillips, Sarah Lepert, Robin Boelkes, Caitrin Wheeler, Kelly Mayhew, Liz Stephenson