Moline’s Spotlight Theatre Enjoying a Rare Commodity – Happiness
Happiness is…opening your first main show in over a year; starting a new jazz duo in a new intimate bar, planning for your first musical in far too long, and a new film series in the soaring theater space…
The super talented husband-and-wife pair of Sara and Brent Tubbs – who own Moline’s Spotlight Theatre are pretty giddy at their recent good fortune. Last month, Sara (a veteran singer and actress) brought her new jazz lounge act with pianist/singer Mason Moss to christen the opening of the new Blueprint Bar and Lounge, in a previously unused (and totally renovated) room off the Spotlight foyer.
Last weekend, Brent (an improv comedy veteran) directed and co-starred in the supremely silly “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised),” with Jeremy Mahr and Amelia Fischer. At first limited to 50 audience members in the cavernous cathedral (of nearly 600 seats), the slapstick comedy was the first mainstage Spotlight show since “The Wedding Singer” in February 2020, and will be repeated this weekend, for allowed audiences of up to 150.
Brent Tubbs will direct and Moss will music direct a new production of the beloved family musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Video audition submissions will be due April 2 and planned performances are June 4-13. Sara Tubbs played Sally in the Black Box Theatre production of the show in March 2017, for which Spotlight choreographer Becca Johnson also played Lucy.
The first weekend of the Reduced Shakespeare Company classic didn’t quite hit 50 people per performance, Sara said Sunday.
“It’s gonna take time for people to feel comfortable coming back out, but we definitely have more hope now than we have had in over a year.”
Last week, the state of Illinois relaxed Covid-19 restrictions for a variety of entertainment-related businesses, including indoor theaters. Those with seating capacity under 200 must remain operating at the lesser of 50 audience members or 50-percent capacity, while those over 200 can have 25-percent capacity – meaning the Spotlight could seat about 150 people now.
“We can still easily spread 150 people out within our theater easily,” Tubbs said. “You know, with 600 seats in there, it’s pretty easy to do that.”
“I’m sure a lot of the theaters are pretty happy about that,” she said of the 25-percent capacity. “We just gotta keep going — as long as these vaccine rates go as planned that, you know, things should be able to open up more and more, and hopefully we can have some sort of normalcy in the near future.”
“They anticipate that in another three weeks, we could be able to go up to 60% which is, like, just incredible,” Sara said. “So we’ll see. You know, we’re gonna continue to do things in a safe way, of course, and have people wearing their masks and keeping people spread out and everything, but we’re pretty excited about that.”
Last weekend’s Spotlight audiences were pumped to get back to live theater, she said. “Just over the moon. I had so many conversations with many of our audience members and how excited they were to be back and be at a show again. and I announced that,” Tubbs said. “You know, before every show, I told the audience, you know, there’s three shows going on in the Quad-Cities right now.”
In addition to the new Church Basement Ladies show at Circa ’21 (which goes through mid-May), last weekend had the last performances of
“Dick Tracy: A Live Radio Play” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.
The Spotlight Jazz Lounge – which debuted briefly this past fall in the main theater as a Thursday series with Sara and pianist Mason Moss – relaunched on Feb. 20 in the Blueprint, named for the original blueprints of the 1930 former Scottish Rite Cathedral, displayed in the space.
“They completely transformed it. It’s gorgeous,” Sara said of building owners Adam Bain and Blake Humphrey, who partnered with East Moline-based Streamline Architects on the renovation. The Spotlight opened its theater and event center in 2018 in the historic building at 1800 7th Ave., Moline.
“There are original blueprints hung up around the bar; it’s so cool, they’re amazing to look at,” she said. “The intricacies and detail that went into the structure of the building, it’s incredible.”
The new Blueprint Bar at the Spotlight opened in February, and in addition to the monthly jazz series (the last live music was March 13), the bar will be open an hour before and after the mainstage shows, Tubbs said.
“People can come and enjoy that before the show, during intermission and hang out with the cast and everybody after the show as well,” she said. “That’s been really fun, having a spot right there. To be able to hang out with everybody right after the show is pretty cool. And they have windows in there. So they’ve been opening them up because the weather is so nice and having a nice cross breeze in there.”
She’s been having a blast singing in the new space, limited to 50 people at tables spaced six feet apart.
“We want people to feel comfortable and have places to sit, so there will always be a cap on,” Tubbs said. “We’ll probably be able to have a little more than 50 coming up here pretty soon. But, you know, we want everybody to be able to have a table and sit and relax and enjoy so it won’t ever be something we want people to have to stand and enjoy, So there will always be a
little bit of a an audience cap.”
Tubbs and Moss specialize in classic songs, jazz standards, like Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and last time they jazzed up some pop hits, like Billy Joel, she said.
“We told everybody in the audience to send us some requests for next month, and we’ll probably, set on Facebook as well. But we’re always open to learn new songs. And if there’s anything anybody wants to hear to message us, we have our Facebook page.”
Tubbs & Moss are also marketing themselves for weddings and other private parties. “So we’re just kind of getting our start with reaching out to different places to see if they’d be interested in having a jazz duo come and perform,” Tubbs said.
Songs in the key of joy
Moss, a 26-year-old Rock Island High School and Western Illinois alum, is thrilled with the new opportunities in the Spotlight.
“It’s such a beautiful little space,” he said Monday of the Blueprint Bar. “ It’s a really nice intimate space, in my opinion. It’s really perfect for
what we’re doing down there, a cocktail sort of vibe.”
Last fall, they performed the jazz lounge on stage, with candlelit tables spaced out on the floor. “We found a lot better success just with the model that we have now,” Moss said. “I think it’s a proximity thing. Personally, I think having the drinks close by, having an environment where everybody can sort of congregate and get together within a safe and friendly environment. It’s just something that people right now we’re really looking forward to and wanting to get out and experience, too, after this past year.”
“I don’t know if it’s gonna be, you know, become known as a jazz club, specifically, but there really hasn’t been a jazz club in the Quad-Cities for a long time,” he said. Tubbs met Moss in 2017 when he accompanied the Black Box musical she was in, “I Love You Because,” and he’s played for some Spotlight auditions.
“I’m a big proponent of I think we need to have one in this area — something in this area that’s doing active jazz performances,” Moss said. “We have small venues, like the Grape Life and other places that I’ve played before, but something that is more of a Hunter’s sort of style of
supper club with, you know, live music happening regularly, and stuff like that would be fabulous.”
“We would love to find another venue, possibly over on the Iowa side, to do another once a month engagement,” he said. “And to do this more regularly and kind of maybe engage the local venues in the area and sort of bring this act around. It’s nice because it’s small. It’s intimate. It’s a very unique sort of setup.
“There’s not too many people in the area doing these sort of old Great American Songbook tunes, doing like the vocal duo,” Moss said. “We have the personalities, too, where you know we do the interaction. It’s not just I’m playing piano, she’s singing. It’s very duet back and forth.” Compared to the less than 20 in audiences for two Thursdays last fall, they had about 50 this month in the new Blueprint Bar.
“We kept the ticket sales out at 50 right now because of the Covid protocols and everything else,” Moss said. “But it sounds like Illinois is going to be moving towards slightly more open occupancy, which means that we will be discussing opening more reservations and availability. So getting more bodies and that would be great.”
Tubbs and Moss are distanced from the audience while singing unmasked, but they wear masks when they get up and interact with the
“We do disinfect things. We have a tip jar. Obviously, it’s separate from us,” he said. “We’re not taking the money from you and handling it. Um, but yeah, we’ve engaged and kept plenty of space, and I will commend the Tubbs, especially because they’ve been very, very adamant on making sure that the safety aspect is just as important as the performance aspect.”
Moss studied music education at Western and has played keyboards professionally for several years in theater, jazz ensembles, and as a solo musician – including playing and conducting for the national “Book of Mormon” tours in 2019.
His credits include music directing and keyboard for “Catch Me If You Can” (Music Guild) in spring 2018 and Guild’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” in spring 2019, as well as assistant music directing, on keyboard, “Little Shop of Horrors” (spring 2017) and “A Chorus Line” (summer 2018) at Guild.
Moss co-music directed “Hairspray” in fall 2018 at Alleman High School, Rock Island, and also played for Alleman’s fall 2017 show, “Grease.” Before the “Mormon” tour, he was choir accompanist at Wilson Middle School, Moline, and he returned to that job last fall.
This past September, he arranged and accompanied Shelley Cooper’s one-woman show at The Speakeasy, “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing.” It was a tribute to the Broadway stars Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, performed Sept. 12 and 19, and plans to return in an updated version this summer for Mississippi Bend Players’ season at Augustana College.
A divine experience with “Mormon”
Moss played keyboard for the nine-person touring orchestra for the Tony-winning “Book of Mormon” on and off for six months between
January 2019 and January 2020, including conducting about 20 total performances (while playing the first keyboard part, of two keys players).
“When that show got canceled, I lost that. I was actually intended to come out and be the assistant music director for the closing of the show,” into 2020, he said. “I didn’t really have any other shows planned on the docket. I spent the majority of 2020 sort of like working, practicing, getting better at what I do. Sort of investing in my own personal business, Moss Music Services — doing like tracks for people, doing production work and that sort of stuff.”
Through his side business, Moss provides piano backing tracks for choirs, some for Circa ’21, and has edited audio for virtual choirs, including at Wilson. He said he had an incredible time across the country with “Book of Mormon,” which also included a month in Mexico.
The last tour he played for “Mormon” was January 2020 at the Peoria Civic Center, for a week where he also conducted the shows.
“They were very, very generous about making sure that I was trained in making sure that I was capable and giving me the opportunity to do it,” Moss said of conducting and playing simultaneously.
“I will say with a lot of the newer shows, they do make it very manageable. It’s not crazy to have to conduct the vocal cues and play piano,” he said. “The hard part with that is managing because you also have to manage the software and make sure you know you’re on the right sound, because even the keyboard one part has very specific sounds through the whole show.
“You have to make sure there’s other things within the music director position for ‘Book of Mormon’ that are unique, too, like you also have a foot switch for the clap effect in ‘Turn It Off,’” Moss said. “You have a foot switch that you actually have to kick off as the music director, which kicks off all the pit lights, so that they can achieve that full blackout moment.
“So it’s all very coordinated chaos,” he said.
“I think that the experience that I had out there was really vital,” Moss said of “Mormon.” “It gave me, like a really good perspective, not only what it’s like to be just a musician or an assistant music director within an ensemble. It also gave me a really good idea of what it’s like to be music director-conductor. If I had to pick a preference, I think in my heart I’m a music director. So I definitely loved being up on the podium. I loved conducting and knowing that, like, it’s a lot of pressure, but there’s tools that make it easier. You know that things are set to click tracks. Your band has your back in terms of like they’re all really quality musicians. But at the end of the day, it’s a pretty awesome and powerful feeling to be up in the conductor’s podium.”
“These actors are taking cues off of me there. These musicians are taking their cues off of me. If I screw up here, it’s painfully obvious,” he said. “But I lived for that, to be honest, because I did four years of drum corps, and that really taught me about performance at a high level and it’s an adrenaline rush when you have to engage yourself for, like, a two-hour show and really make sure you’re on the ball in that you’re thinking through things 100% — but I live for that.”
For the summers during college, Moss played in a touring drum corps based in Dubuque, which mainly traveled the Midwest, but also other parts of the country.
“That was actually one of my first real touring experiences, because drum corps is pretty involved in riding on a bus, staying on gym floors, performing, rehearsing a lot, and competing,” he said. “And so it taught me a lot of life skills which benefited me, so much when I got the opportunity with ‘Book of Mormon’ and everything else in terms of preparedness for the music, and understanding what it’s like to live on the road and all sorts of things — how to deal with challenges in new situations you’ve never dealt before — that I feel like drum corps really prepared me for that really well.”
As choir accompanist at Wilson Middle School, Moss works with director Ben Holmes, and have rehearsed with students wearing masks, spread apart in the auditorium. They’ve only had choirs up to 12 kids at a time, and next week after spring break, that will increase to about 20, Moss said. With new CDC guidelines, the school doesn’t have to have them spaced out six feet apart anymore, he said, but they’ll still practice in the auditorium, and they’re not doing in-person concerts.
Future jazz shows, films and Charlie Brown
The Tubbs & Moss jazz series continues select Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., on April 17, May 15, June 18, and July 17, with a $10 cover charge.
For the jazz series, reservations are available at www.thespotlighttheatreqc.com/jazz-lounge, online ticketing will end one hour prior to event start time.
In marketing themselves, Tubbs & Moss have the capability to expand to a trio or quartet (possibly with bass and drums), Moss said.
“We’re looking to do weddings, corporate events, parties. You know, if you just want a nice, relaxing concert and invite a few friends at your house for, you know, still not wanting to go out. We’re open for anything.”
The Spotlight also plans to start a new “Brew & View” series of films, partnering with the Blueprint, Sara said. Last year, they had a couple more family-focused movies – “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Hocus Pocus,” and the new ones will be geared to an adult crowd, she said. The name Brew & View recalls the small, independent movie theater that operated from 2002 to 2005 at 1611 2nd Ave., Rock Island, which later became home to the now-defunct Green Room and District Theatre companies.
The Spotlight children’s theater company will be performing a “Peter Pan” musical (with kids 3rd to 8th grades) April 23 and 24.
“It’s really exciting. I think it just kind of shows that you just have to persevere,” Tubbs said. “You know, we’re like, if anything, this last year hopefully just made us stronger.”
If you are interested in auditioning for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” email a 16-32 bar video of a song of your choice to email@example.com with the subject line “Charlie Brown audition.” Deadline date for videos is April 2nd at 5 p.m.; rehearsals start on April 19th and will run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., with a read-through beforehand (TBA). Performance dates will be June 4-13.
The Spotlight is looking to fill the role for a stage manager. If interested, please send submission to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Shakespeare show will be performed this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 and patrons must wear masks.