Quad-Cities Groups Find Ways To Educate, Entertain Online
As many musical artists and other performers are sharing their talents online during the coronavirus crisis, some Q-C music and theater groups are also finding new ways to be creative.
The Spotlight Theatre in Moline was to open its latest musical, “Oliver,” last weekend. But during the closing, co-owners Brent and Sara Tubbs have used some of the time to record video interviews with friends and colleagues who’ve gone onto big things.
Since late March, the husband-and-wife team have individually done six Facebook Live talks (inviting visitors to post questions), including actors who have co-starred in Broadway’s “Lion King,” “A Chorus Line” and television’s “The Good Place” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The Q&A series can be seen on YouTube, the Spotlight’s Facebook page and thespotlighttheatreqc.com.
“We were itching to do something to keep busy, and also to fulfill the mission of the theater, to educate, to inspire, and entertain,” Brent Tubbs said Monday.
He and Sara connected with people they’ve met and worked with over the years, from their time in the Los Angeles area. Sara is a musical theater grad from California State-Fullerton; met Brent (an improv veteran who trained with Second City) in L.A. in 2005, and he toured worldwide with the Reduced Shakespeare Company from 2006-2011, before moving to the Q-C in 2012.
“So far, nobody has said no, which is good,” Brent said of the recent interviews.
Those done so far are:
** Austin Tichenor, artistic director of The Reduced Shakespeare Company and co-author of nine “Complete” (abridged) scripts.
** Hal Lublin, actor/comedian and co-host of “Good Morning Night Vale,” “We Got This with Mark and Hal” and “Tights and Fights” on the Maximum Fun Network.
** Kristin Hensley, writer/actress and the co-star and co-creator of the popular web series #IMOMSOHARD. With Jen Smedley, she’s a New York Times best-selling author of the book by the same name.
** Mara Davi, who played Maggie in the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line” in 2006, joined “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway in 2007, succeeding Sutton Foster in the lead role, and was star of the Broadway revival of “Dames at Sea.”
** Marc Evan Jackson, an actor best known for his roles on “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Jumanji.”
** Dashaun Young, whose theater credits include “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” (Broadway and 1st National Tour), “Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (US Premiere), “Motown The Musical” (Broadway), “Sister Act” (1st National Tour), and “The Lion King” (Broadway, West End, Vegas, National and International tours).
Sara Tubbs went to college with Young and Davi, and Brent studied improv with Jackson at Second City.
“It’s really fun to catch up with these people we haven’t seen in so many years,” Sara said. “They’re all down-to-earth, which is so funny. They’re all just awesome people.”
“All these people that are so successful, are down-to-earth, really nice people,” she said. “All of them we’ve asked, what is your number-one piece of advice and it’s just be a good person, be nice. Don’t be a jerk.”
“I think you have to be a good person — somebody that other people want to work with,” Brent agreed. “That’s true with anything — community theater, the workplace,” Sara said.
“They’ve all been super supportive to support a friend and a small business, and that’s been really great,” she said.
Before Spotlight opened in 2018, Sara messaged Davi to get her advice, since she’s been involved in the Broadway Green Alliance, and wanted ideas about how to be more green. Sara saw Young perform as Simba “Lion King” in New York in fall 2008.
In his video interview with her, Young recalled how he was discovered. “Oh my gosh, it’s so cool,” Sara said. “He was basically singing in his apartment in New York, practicing for auditions, and he was leaving his apartment complex one day and this lady stopped him and asked, ‘Are you the one I keep hearing singing?'”
She was an agent and invited him to her office and that’s how he got discovered. “Before he knew it, he was Simba in ‘Lion King’,” Sara marveled.
“We’ve all followed their stories, and knew the path they were on,” Brent said. “It’s so cool to see our friends from L.A. — we’ll see them in commercials all the time. It’s fun to catch up with them, see what they’re up to, how they got there, and their biggest piece of advice for other people.”
Brent bumped into Jackson at a Detroit improv festival a few years ago and caught up. He was Brent’s director at Second City in L.A., and stayed together as a sketch group.
“That time I was there at Second City, there was kind of a blurred line of teacher and student — like everybody was friends, and respected everybody so much. It was a great time,” Brent said.
The Spotlight also has added new online content from its friends singing their favorite showtunes, through a “Spotlight on Spotlight Challenge,” and a new weekly podcast – “Double Threat” – from choreographer Steph DeLacy and music director Megan Warren, and the first episode of the Stolen Set, a four-person improv group that launched at the Spotlight in February.
Including Brent, Megan Warren, Bob Kelly, and Amelia Fischer, they do improv based on the set of their current main production (the first was “The Wedding Singer”), and during this interim, they plan to record on Zoom.
“It’s something for people to do to exercise their creativity from their homes right now,” Sara said of these online outlets. “It’s so hard for creative people; it’s hard for everybody. To be able to create, everybody’s had to get very creative to be doing it.”
“Stolen Set” and the Q&A series are on their website, thespotlighttheatreqc.com.
Brent was also inspired by his friend Greg Hipskind, director of the QC Rock Academy, who’s also done a new series of video chats with musicians who are in big-name bands.
Rockers talk with Rock Academy
Hipskind, who’s drummer for the Q-C band Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls, started his music school in Davenport in late 2011, and has often hosted members of famous bands to meet QCRA students for clinics. And many students have won free seats to see their Q-C shows.
After schools shut down last month, Hipskind kept up those connections, and did his first video chat with Kent Slucher, drummer for country star Luke Bryan, in late March. All the videos are on the QCRA Facebook page, and most feature artists who’ve been in the Q-C – such as the drummer for Darius Rucker, guitarist for Miranda Lambert, and guitarist for Tim McGraw.
One who hadn’t been in the area was David Ellefson, bass player for Megadeth whom Hipskind interviewed April 6. He had connections with him since Ellefson was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago, and the QCRA band Been There Done That was there, after winning the statewide Battle of the Bands, and he was one of the judges.
“My whole thing was, I wanted to think of new things to keep the kids engaged during this whole time,” Hipskind said of offering the series during the current crisis, and on Facebook Live, anyone can ask a question.
“Some of ’em are like, why would I want to hear what that person has to say? Because they’re professionals at the top of their game, that’s why,” Hipskind said. “They are doing what we all have dreamed about — playing on the biggest stages, and touring around the world, seeing everything, and making a good living at it.”
During the interviews (averaging two a week), the artists talk about what they’re doing now, their early influences, what got them started, and their careers, Hipskind said.
A big question mark for the world is when life will get back to normal, post-Covid.
“Nobody knows,” the academy boss said. “One thing, when I was talking with David Ellefson, he said the whole premise of a concert is to fit as many people as you can into one building. He’s like, that’s totally against what’s going on right now. He’s like, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no big tours the rest of this year.”
“Most of ’em are salaried and the artists are still gonna pay them, no matter what, for the year, but I don’t know when I’m gonna get back on the road again,” Hipskind said of the musicians. “That’s what they do, all the time. Now, they’re just sitting at home for a month or two, or who knows how much longer.”
His biggest video thrill was seeing Troy Luccketta, drummer for Tesla, who came to the academy when Tesla played the Mississippi Valley Fair last year.
“I had a poster of him right behind my drum kit, for years, so me and him have gotten to know each other over the last 8 or 9 months,” Hipskind said. “It’s been so cool to actually get to know one of your idols.”
Tesla shared the video on their social media, and it had about 10,000 views. “That was a lot of fun,” Hipskind said.
Others join the online fun
Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, and River Music Experience, Davenport, are among other Q-C cultural groups that have expanded performances online.
On April 19, Circa aired its second “Virtual Cabaret,” hosted by actor Janos Horvath and featuring solo musical numbers from the Bootleggers. While most were recorded at their individual homes, the collection included some excerpts from formal pre-shows on the Circa stage. The videos are available on Circa’s Facebook and circa21.com.
The RME, in addition to Bret Dale’s daily Music Lab at 10 a.m. on Facebook, has compiled local performers in a series called “Solitary Sessions” on Facebook. Executive director Tyson Danner said the organization is working to add a page for those videos at rivermusicexperience.org.
While live music in public has been missing from the Q-C, RME also is filling that void
with a new series called “Curbside Concerts.” You can contact RME to have local musicians come to set up on your street or sidewalk and play some tunes, and sessions start at $40. Some of the local artists participating include Mo Carter, Alan Sweet, Jordan Danielsen Music, and Jason Carl.