Quad-Cities Theaters Take Different Approaches To Re-Opening
During this unprecedented, scary time of Covid-19, it seems apropos that the first indoor live theater in the Quad-Cities since the shutdown will be the spooky ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw,” next month at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.
The 60-seat theater (1623 5th Ave.) will open at half capacity on July 16 and close the 19th. “It is a short run,” said director Lora Adams, “but the set was almost completed and the actors’ schedules have changed since March, so we are only able to do the four-day weekend.”
Actor Matt Walsh and Kayla Jo Pulliam will bring the creepy tale to life with Walsh playing four different characters. Lighting design by David Miller, direction/costuming and set design by Lora Adams and set construction by Michael Kopriva.
The theater (which originally planned to open “Turn of the Screw” in late March) will be abiding by the state of Illinois Phase 4 restrictions, which went into effect June 26. Patrons will be required to wear a mask upon entry and only certain seats will be available in order to conform to social distancing guidelines.
“It is our understanding that patrons can remove their mask during the show once they are seated,” Adams said. The theater will have to keep six feet distance between performers and audience; will also have hand sanitizer available and be disinfecting every seat before each show. Advance purchase of tickets is highly recommended in order to avoid handling money.
The state re-opening rules say indoor theaters must operate at the lesser of 50 guests or 50% overall theater or performance space capacity. This does not include cast, crew or theater staff. Outdoor seated venues should operate at 20% of overall theater or space capacity.
Capacity restrictions and group sizes will be reassessed based on the latest science and public health metrics on an ongoing basis throughout Phase 4. Cases of Covid have been rising in the Quad-Cities in recent weeks – just since June 26, Rock Island County has seen a jump from 861 positive cases to 924 on June 29, and Scott County has risen from 545 to 598 cases. Thirty-eight people have died from the disease in the two counties.
Under Phase 4 rules, venues should ensure at least 6 feet between seats occupied by patrons that are not members of the same household or party. If seats cannot be moved, venue operators should limit number of open seats to ensure social distancing.
For live performances, all individuals should maintain 6 feet of social distancing unless job duty cannot be performed without proximity (e.g. actors performing, hair, make-up, costumes) and should wear face coverings if practical (e.g., string instrument performers in orchestra).
If the first row of seating is within 6 feet of the stage (like at Black Box), then any seating within 6 feet of stage should be closed or an impermeable barrier should be installed between stage and patrons.
Patrons should wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, except while seated within a venue (exceptions can be made for people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a face covering).
If practical, venue operators should take patron temperature using thermometer (infrared / thermal cameras preferred, touchless thermometers permitted), and implement touchless transactions/registration for patrons upon arrival to the event (e.g. mobile ticketing/check-in).
If applicable, patrons are encouraged to purchase online tickets in advance of the show or performance.
Q-C shows canceled or postponed
On Sept. 12, the Spotlight (1800 7th Ave.) will host a trivia night to raise funds for its Children’s Company Scholarship Fund. All proceeds from the tables, silent auction, and raffle will go towards scholarships for students to attend Children’s Company classes.
For the 6:30 p.m. event, admission is $100 per table, 8 seats per table. Bring your own snacks; drinks must be purchased at a cash bar. Bad Boyz Pizza will also be available for purchase.
Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island postponed its “Saturday Night Fever” and “Beauty and the Beast” performances and has not yet announced a reopening date. On June 21, performers from “Saturday Night Fever” (which never got to open) did a special show on top of the
Circa marquee, with an audience of 140 in the blocked-off street (which sold out within 24 hours).
Playcrafters Barn Theatre in Moline and Richmond Hill Barn Theatre in Geneseo are still trying to salvage some shows for the remainder of 2020. The Playcrafters board met on June 28 and RHP’s board will meet July 4th to determine the fate of the October and November shows, said Richmond Hill board president Jonathan Grafft.
“With the 50-person limitation and the extra cleaning that would be required to support being open, I am not sure that it is worth attempting to put the shows on this season or look to 2021,” he said recently.
Richmond Hill (which has a 162-person capacity) canceled its June, July and August shows, and directors had submitted for the 2021 season in January 2020, so that a play-reading committee would have time to review all of the plays and propose a 2021 season.
All but one of the impacted 2020 directors had submitted for the 2021 season, so they were given two options: Move their 2020 show to 2021 or have the 2020 show included in their submissions for the 2021 season, Grafft said.
This left two plays, “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play,” directed by him and “Stone Cold Murder,” that was supposed to be directed in October by John VanDeWoestyne, who died this past March 25.
“Vintage Hitchcock” will move to the 2021 season and RHP will select from a non-2020 director slot for what would have been John’s show, Grafft said.
Playcrafters board president Bruce Duling said their 2020 shows that have been postponed to next year are “Whistleblower’s Dilemma,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Dogfight” and “You Can’t Take It With You.”
The next live production is scheduled to be September, with “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” (another two-person play which was scheduled for June) and the Barn Owl show “Four Stories” in October.
“This pandemic is so bewildering,” he said. “We’re taking it month by month.”
The board typically picks shows for the following year by August, Duling said. “We’ll probably start to talk about that in the next board meeting on July (the last Sunday). Now, we’re spending our efforts on fundraising as opposed to show preparation.”
Playcrafters is using GoFundMe and Birdies for Charity to raise money, and has applied for grants. The $5,000 GoFundMe effort, started at the end of May, has brought in about $1,200 so far.
The theater (4950 35th Ave., Moline) has a seating capacity of 240.
“We don’t think we will have a problem with that, because of the limited number of people that will come into the theater,” Duling said. “We’ll adhere to all rules, that we printed out from the state of Illinois. We’ll limit concession sales as well (likely just selling bottled water and cans of pop).
“Obviously, it’s a pretty emotional type of experience, and it hits hard emotionally first and financially second,” said Duling (whose daughter Madison is a frequent performer). “We rely on ticket sales to keep the lights on.”
“It’s hard asking for money, since everybody is out of work, too,” he said. They’re also considering having another sale, in items from the theater, and renting space for a community garage sale. In February, Playcrafters had a two-day barn sale of costumes, selling about $2,000 worth.
They’re shooting for the second half of July, outdoors, for another sale.
The tentative 2021 schedule is:
- “The Piano Lesson” – April
- “Princeton’s Rage” (Barn Owl) – May
- “You Can’t Take It With You” – June
- “Dogfight” — August
- “Whistleblowers Dilemma” — no date yet
Live entertainment devastated by closings
Black Box was in rehearsal for the 1996 Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of “The Turn of The Screw” (based on the 19th-century Henry James novella) when Covid-19 shut everything down.
“Of all the businesses out there, restaurants had the opportunity to do curbside pickup and outdoor dining, but for any entertainment venue – I don’t care who it is, whether the TaxSlayer, to Circa, to us – we rely on ticket sales,” Adams, co-owner of Black Box, said. “It’s just that simple.”
“Happily, we ended last year well, so we were able to get through April monetarily,” she said. “But with two shows canceled, that killed us.”
“Turn of the Screw” was in rehearsal for about three weeks, the set was almost finished, before closing down. In the beginning, no one said how long we would be closed.”
“We’ve been waiting for Phase 4, and it works well enough for us because we’re so small,” Adams said, noting they’re just allowed an audience of 30.
The next show scheduled was the children’s musical “Frog and Toad,” which also was postponed to next year.
They’re still deciding on the remainder of the 2020 season. “We don’t know how it’s all gonna shake out – are the numbers going to go up again?” she said of Covid cases. “Are they going to put us all on lockdown again? No one really knows, and I don’t want to over-promise something and be told by the government you can’t.”
Organized by Chelsea Ward and Victoria House, six local actresses will be performing a special Black Box benefit of the Broadway musical “Six,” about the wives of England’s King Henry VIII.
A one-night-only performance, it will be filmed on the Black Box stage, and streamed on Facebook on Aug. 1, with a virtual donation jar for both the Black Box and the nonprofit organization Initiatives of Change, USA (which works on peace building).
“It’s a charity event,” Adams said. “It will be taped at our facility on July 25th.”
“Six” (including Pleasant Valley High alum Samantha Pauly in the original Broadway cast) began previews Feb. 13 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City. But on the day of its scheduled Broadway premiere, March 12, all Broadway theaters were closed due to the pandemic.
“It’s like anything; everybody is thinking out of the box,” Adams said of area theaters. “The bottom line is, no ticket revenue means no rent, and no rent means closing theater. So far, everything’s been going pretty well for me, but I also don’t want to take advantage. Right now, what I’m trying to do is think of what we can do immediately after this.”
Adams plans to do another radio play, so it can be staged quickly, and may bring another two-person show, “Thrill Me,” which she has directed at The Speakeasy, Rock Island.
The Black Box building landlord has not required rent payments while closed, but it will come due eventually. “It’s tough,” she said. “My heart goes out to the larger theaters, because I know darn well that 50 seats for the really big places – what’s the TaxSlayer going to do with 50 seats, or Circa for that matter? It’s not easy for anybody.”
“I think more than anything, it’s not the waiting, it’s the not knowing if there’s gonna be another shoe dropping,” Adams said.
“We’re going to keep it as safe as we possibly can for everybody,” she said, noting there are even changes in blocking so the actors aren’t very close to each other. “I’m not going to put the actors in an uncomfortable position. It has a kiss in it, which is now not going to happen. Just things like that, you just have to be really aware of the situation they’re in.”
“The other thing that’s really interesting, if the actors are just speaking, it’s fine, but if they’re singers, you have to be farther away from the audience,” Adams said, “You expel more out into the universe when you’re singing. There are a lot of things that play into it.”
As for the first row of seats, they will be measuring everything to make sure they’re in compliance, she said, noting all patrons will have their temp taken, must wear masks, and will have hand sanitizer upon entry.
“Obviously, the entire theater will have been cleaned and sanitized,” Adams said. The remainder of their season (or until further notice) will be small casts to accommodate regulations.
“I’m hoping people are chomping at the bit to see something, but we’ll just have to see how that shakes out,” Adams said. “Illinois has been working very hard and I certainly don’t want to do anything that will change that for anybody. I just want to make sure, when people come in, they have a great experience and enjoy the show.”
“Over the last four months, Illinoisans have pulled together with the common mission of keeping each other safe. By staying home and practicing social distancing, the rate of new Covid-19 cases continues to drop and each region throughout the state is prepared to move to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan,” Gov. JB Pritzker said last week.
“Science and data are the overarching guardrails for how Illinois will keep moving forward. By continuing to wear face coverings and following the guidance from health experts we can continue to safely reopen our economy and move forward together.
Phase 4 also includes these guidelines for other activities —
Indoor Dining: Indoor dining can reopen with groups of 10 or less, with tables spaced six feet apart in seated areas and with standing areas at no more than 25% of capacity.
Museums: Can reopen with no more than 25% occupancy, and with interactive exhibits and rides closed; guided tours should be limited to 50 people or fewer per group; museums should have a plan to limit congregation via advance ticket sales and timed ticketing; concessions permitted with restrictions.
Zoos: Can reopen with no more than 25% occupancy, and with interactive exhibits, indoor exhibits, and rides closed; guided tours should be limited to 50 people or fewer per group; zoos should have a plan to limit congregation via advance ticket sales and timed ticketing; concessions permitted with restrictions.
Broadway will not reopen until 2021
On Monday, the Broadway League announced a further delay to the reopening of shows on the Great White Way. Initially set to be shut down through April 12, then through June 7 and then through Sept. 6, all Broadway productions will now stay on hold—and will offer refunds and exchanges—through Jan. 3, 2021.
An official return date still has not yet been announced.
“The Broadway experience can be deeply personal but it is also, crucially, communal,” Broadway League board chairman Thomas Schumacher said in a release. “The alchemy of 1,000 strangers bonding into a single audience fueling each performer on stage and behind the scenes will be possible again when Broadway theatres can safely host full houses.
“Every single member of our community is eager to get back to work sharing stories that inspire our audience through the transformative power of a shared live experience. The safety of our cast, crew, orchestra and audience is our highest priority and we look forward to returning to our stages only when it’s safe to do so.”
The new Michael Jackson musical “MJ,” which was originally scheduled to begin previews on July 6, is now set to begin performances on March 8, 2021. The eagerly anticipated revival of “The Music Man,” starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, will now begin performances on April 7, 2021.
A date for the postponed Tony Awards, which had been initially scheduled for June 7, has not yet been announced.
Tickets for “Turn of the Screw” in Moline are $13 on Thursday and $16 for the remaining performances. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. More information can be found at theblackboxtheatre.com.
Hatcher’s adaptation follows the book’s lead in never actually presenting the ghosts. Like Henry James, he leaves it to the audience to decide whether the ectoplasmic visitors actually exist or whether they are the creations of the governess’s imagination.
For more info on Illinois’ reopening regulations, visit Illinois.gov/businessguidelines.
The state of Iowa (which never had a formal stay-at-home order) reopened businesses and other activities earlier than Illinois did. Effective June 12, businesses could operate at full capacity with social distancing, hygiene and public health measures. Swimming pools, indoor playgrounds, theaters and performance venues, senior citizen centers and adult day care facilities could reopen then in compliance with state guidance.
New Ground Theatre in the Village of East Davenport remains temporarily closed.
To learn more about Iowa and Illinois guidelines, among other Midwest states, click HERE.