After More Than a Year, Moline’s Spotlight Stages Its First Full Show
After more than a year dealing with Covid shutdowns, some much needed laughter may be the best medicine after all.
Thirteen months after its last mainstage production, Moline’s Spotlight Theatre is opening the madcap comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]” on Friday, March 19, at 7 p.m. Performances – featuring Spotlight co-owner Brent Tubbs with Jeremy Mahr and Amelia Fischer – will be this weekend and next, with seating limited to 50 audience members at most in the 500-plus seat theater.
The Spotlight, in the former Scottish Rite Cathedral at 1800 7th Ave., debuted with the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “All the Great Books (abridged)” in June 2018, which included Tubbs and Mahr. Tubbs is a former RSC member and improv comedy veteran who toured around the U.S. and Europe with the company from 2005 to 2011.
Despite the “Complete Works” of Shakespeare being the original RSC show (1987) and perhaps its most popular, Tubbs has never been in it before. All the Bard’s works (including 37 plays, plus sonnets) are referenced in just over 90 minutes by this fast-moving cast of three. Hilarity will ensue, props and costumes will fly, and sides will be split from laughter, Tubbs promises.
And you don’t have to know anything about Shakespeare (1564-1616) to have a great time – it’s kind of “Shakespeare for Dummies,” told by dummies.
“There’s highbrow humor, there’s lowbrow humor, and everything in between,” Tubbs said Monday. “You certainly do not need to know anything about Shakespeare in order to enjoy the show. There’s jokes in there for everybody, and really, the jokes are there for everybody. I mean, it’s not like we’re telling Shakespearean jokes and for the most part, people have a base understanding of what Shakespeare is — at the very
least, even if you have that, that’s gonna bump you up even more and have you understand even more. But you really do not need to know Shakespeare in and out to understand the show.
“And that’s kind of what these shows kinda do is that the premise is — we are here to teach you about it, to teach you about Shakespeare and to teach you all those plays and do all that stuff. And so it’s not centered around people that supposedly already know the stuff. It’s meant to be informative, but it’s just being told by three imbeciles that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Each of the silly, slapstick RSC “abridged” shows (there are now 11 altogether) is done with a cast of three – with the same archetypal characters as well, Tubbs said. “There’s always kind of the intellectual, the professor; the enforcer or the kind of brutish guy, and there’s the idiot savant or the man-child as we call them,” he said. “And it’s always the same kind of character type in all of their shows.” In this production, Mahr is the enforcer – the guy who says they have to keep it moving to its end; Fischer is the intellectual and Tubbs is the idiot savant. RSC usually doesn’t have any female cast members, so it’s unique to feature Fischer, who – like the guys — also has improv experience. “For this particular show, I think it works well to have Amelia as kind of the more intellectual, because then it’s like Jeremy and I are the two kind of dumb dudes that are stumbling through this, and she kinda brings us back to reality a lot,” Tubbs said. “It really kind of works well on this show, but she’s also just a phenomenal talent and super funny and I we knew she had the improv background as well, which always helps with these shows. It was just kind of a good fit.”
Both Tubbs and Mahr performed improv with ComedySportz Quad Cities, and they co-starred in the RSC “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)” at QC Theatre Workshop, Davenport, in 2016. Mahr has experience performing Shakespeare with Prenzie Players, including
playing King Henry in “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2,” and Don Armado in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
Fischer (who’s done ComedySportz) was part of the new Stolen Set improv company at the Spotlight, with Tubbs and Bob Kelly, which debuted briefly in February 2020.
She also co-starred in the last mainstage production at Spotlight that month (before Covid closures), the musical “The Wedding Singer,” and at the theater in the 2019 holiday season’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” playing Sawyer. Fischer played Lily for Quad-City Music Guild’s “The Secret Garden” for weeks of rehearsals, before it was canceled in March 2020, two weeks before opening.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company – whose motto is “Brevity is the soul of wit” — is well-known for taking big topics (like the Bible, history of America, and Hollywood) and scaling them down in farcical, condensed, easily accessible formats.
Tubbs – a graduate of Second City Conservatory in Los Angeles – first joined the RSC in 2005. He’s performed in RSC’s abridged “All the Great Books,” “The Bible,” “History of America” and “Completely Hollywood.”
The books show is always special for him, since it was his first RSC, and the first Reduced show he did at the Spotlight (which he owns with his wife Sara). “I also think I could do that show in my sleep forwards and backwards, I’ve done it so many times,” he said. “But I think as far as laughs per minute, I think the Bible show is – I hate saying it — but I think it’s the smartest. I think it’s the funniest show. I just think it has the most laughs jam packed into the show out of all of them.” Tubbs was in the Bible (abridged) show at QCTW in 2016 with Mahr and James Fairchild, and said he’d love to bring it back to the Spotlight – where he can’t do big musicals now because of their cost and size of casts during the pandemic. “With everything going on, we’ve definitely had to put our thinking caps on of what makes sense to do and all that,” Tubbs said.
After “Wedding Singer,” the theater had to shelve the remainder of its planned 2020 season (including “Oliver,” “Tarzan” and “Evita”), has hosted occasional small cabarets, movies, posted online interviews with theater and TV pros, and has run its children’s theater company in the interim.
The Spotlight launched a jazz lounge series last fall (with pianist Mason Moss and singer Sara Tubbs), which started back on a monthly basis in February 2021 in the new Blueprint Bar and Lounge in the building.
Touring Holland and Belgium
The RSC’s first three shows – Shakespeare, history of America and the Bible – ran for over nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London, the city’s longest-running comedies, according to the company.
One of the reviews of “Complete Works of William Shakespeare” said: “If you like Shakespeare, you’ll love this show. If you hate Shakespeare, you’ll love this show!”
Tubbs toured with RSC’s “Books” to Holland and Belgium in 2006, and then back again for four months in 2008 with “Hollywood.”
“We were in a new city every single day,” he recalled. “It was such an amazing experience, and a great way to see a country through their theaters. Some of the more outlying cities where their English wasn’t necessarily as strong, those were sometimes tougher shows. But for the most part, especially in the bigger cities, all their English was great. And we could always kind of gauge it by like we’ll give them 10 minutes.
“If by 10 minutes, we don’t have them laughing, then we know it’s gonna be a hard show,” Tubbs said. “But for the most part, it took about 10
minutes for them to kind of acclimate their ears to not only the English, but also to the speed at which we were going. Because it is a such a fast show.”
He also toured with RSC throughout the U.S. to 2011, before moving to the Quad-Cities in 2012 with Sara (he grew up in the Q-C). Tubbs performed with ComedySportz in L.A. and Sacramento, as well as the Q-C, and locally formed the improv groups “Tubbs and Kelly Presents…,” Wisenheimer” and “Stolen Set.”
“We put a ton of work into it and we were ready to go,” Tubbs said of “Stolen Set” at Spotlight.
“The idea being that we’re this improv group that will come in the week before opening weekend of all of our big musicals, and we would come in and basically steal the set for the show and we would use the set as inspiration for an improvised one-act play.”
They did a first invite-only show for free, in February 2020, the week before “The Wedding Singer,” and 100 people saw the 40-minute set, he said. “We had a blast and the audience had a blast. And then that was it,” Tubbs said. “We didn’t really get another chance to do the show again. That’s kind of where that went – we’re still anxiously waiting to do it again.”
Improv background helps
Though the “Complete Works” script isn’t necessarily improvised, it clearly helps for performers to have an improv background, he said.
“Because the show moves so fast and there’s so many, like quick costume changes and props and all that,” Tubbs said. “If something were to happen where you can, you don’t quite make the costume change or if somebody, because it moved so fast that somebody flubbed the line.
It’s just in those moments. The script kind of lends itself to improvise, and the format of it is that it’s just three kind of buffoons up there trying to get through this impossible task or doesn’t quite make the costume changes, we can point it out. And we can kind of break that fourth wall.
“And have fun with each other and kind of kind of poke each other and have fun with it,” he said. “So that’s where the improv definitely helps to kind of find those moments and have fun with it.”
For the Shakespeare show, audiences must wear face masks and due to Covid distancing requirements, Tubbs blocked the show so the actors are kept apart, and each has their part of
the stage where they always enter and exit.
“Then there’s a lot of sword fighting and stabbing and death and all that stuff that goes in Shakespeare,” he said. “The show kind of lends itself to the silliness, so we blocked it where the sword fights happened from opposite sides of the stage. So, they’re still doing the same movement as if they were staying right in front of each other. But they’re just on opposite sides of the stage.”
“For all of Shakespeare’s comedies, they reduce it down to one show because they say that Shakespeare basically rehashed the same idea for every one of his comedies,” Tubbs said of “The Complete Works” show.
“They all have a shipwreck. They all have identical twins, and they all have a big wedding at the end,” he said. “So what they what we do is condense it down to just one show, taking the elements of all the shows, all of the comedies. That’s
a really fun bit that they do to get all the comedies. And they’re in kind of one sweeping stroke, if you will.”
That section is summarized as “A Comedy of Two Well Measured Gentleman Lost in the Merry Wives of Venice on a Midsummer’s Twelfth Night in Winter,” or could call it “Cymbeline Painting Pericles in Merchant In the Tempest of Love, As Much as You Like It for Nothing.” To reduce it down even more, they call it “Four Weddings and a Drag King.”
In a way, it’s easier to make light of the tragedies during the show, Tubbs said. “When you have a serious subject like Hamlet, it’s much easier to make a joke of that sort of stuff than the comedies,” he said. “Because it’s just kind of unbelievable. The amount of misfortune or more horrible things that go wrong. I mean, all the death and beheadings and all of that stuff. It’s easier to heighten that stuff to a comedic level.”
The friendly trio of actors is super excited to just be back on the Spotlight stage after such a long time without a full production.
“It’s been incredible. Even early on in the rehearsal process, it felt weird at first — like, oh gosh, this feels weird,” Tubbs said. “Like, are we okay? After we kind of got over that, we’ve had masks on the whole time, so we knew we were safe. And it’s been incredible. Just getting back
into the theater and being around creative people again and being able to create and bounce ideas off of each other.”
“So, I mean, it definitely feels surreal to say that we’re actually having an opening night on Friday of any kind.”
“Obviously, we wish that it could be a much bigger event and we could have more than 50 people, but we’ll take what we can get at this point,” he said. “It’s the whole experience. Yeah, it’s just been great. And with these shows, particularly, too. I mean, they always hold such a special place in my heart.
“And this kind of format is just my favorite kind of performing to do because of the elements of improv but also having a script,” Tubbs said. There’s a point in the show where there’s always interaction with the audience, but here there will be no one in seats on the floor, and instead of bringing someone on the stage, actors will come out on the floor, he said. “It’s not as much pressure related as improv. But it still has that kind of fresh and exciting feel to it because you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Tubbs said.
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” will be performed at 7 p.m. March 19, 20, 26, and 27, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, March 21 and 28. All patrons are encouraged to reserve seats in advance ($20 each) at www.thespotlighttheatreqc.com, or by calling 309-912-7647.