“New Beginnings” Online Cabaret Reveals Hope, Joy, “A Million Dreams”
When your dreams disappear, sometimes you’ve got to create your own.
That seems to be the inspiring, organizing principle behind Mockingbird on Main, a planned theater/cabaret space taking shape at 320 Main St., Davenport.
“New Beginnings” – a tantalizing teaser online cabaret – was released this past weekend to give us a glimpse behind that dream, led by Quad-Cities actor Tristan Tapscott and his girlfriend, Savannah Bay Strandin. Fittingly, they close out the wonderfully entertaining 76-minte video by singing “A Million Dreams” (from “The Greatest Showman”) and sharing scenes from the renovations underway at the former Blush Dress Shoppe.
“We could see the possibilities right away,” Tapscott said Sunday by e-mail, noting he and Strandin took over the lease Feb. 1 and have been working on it since. Mockingbird on Main will seat 40 with cabaret-style tables and chairs.
The timetable to open is still up in the air, as the area works through Covid, and Tapscott is
planning a major announcement soon. “We will offer a variety of streaming options until then (and after as we will keep that as part of our model),” he said, adding the theater won’t have a traditional “season” and is intended as a place for all.
“The Mockingbird is committed to supporting artists and providing a space for them to create,” its social media says. “We will produce projects as creators bring them to us.”
Tapscott and Strandin are Circa ’21 veterans, and have been very active during the pandemic as it’s offered a wide variety of alternate programming (in person and online) in the past year. Their performing livelihood – like for most artists – has been decimated, and rather than waiting for opportunities to become available, they are making their own, which takes incredible courage, tenacity, and a bit of insanity.
They lovingly produced this “New Beginnings” video collection, directed by their pal Khalil Hacker, a Circa lobby host and videographer.
Hacker filmed and edited Tapscott’s original bluegrass musical “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (at the Circa Speakeasy), streamed in February.
“New Beginnings” features 22 performers total – including 13 from the Quad-Cities, and the remainder from all over the U.S. Several in and outside the area are naturally Circa veterans as well.
The video begins with two very different songs, but very appropriate for today.
Lillian Cobert starts with the mesmerizing “Someday,” filmed primarily from the downtown Moline parking garage, as she gazes wistfully – and she blends her sweet voice in harmony with herself, and is shown at an electronic keyboard in an open field. The heartfelt lyrics include,
“Change will come one day, someday soon” (we fervently hope).
The second number is one of several showstoppers overall – Anthony Hendricks’ “King of the World.” It is so passionate and intense – with a constantly moving, rolling accompaniment – and Hendricks displays enviable, powerful self-confidence (“I will not be defeated”), which we all could use.
Among the great Circa ’21 alums in the cabaret are:
- Megan Opalinski, with a strong, defiant “Some People.”
- Brooke Myers, with a sympathetic “Times Are Hard for Dreamers” (also so true), and a beautiful, bright smile.
- Joseph Baez, with the soaring, aspirational “Corner of the Sky.”
- Brittany Church – who as a 20-year-old played Peter Pan at Circa in 2009 – fittingly does the gentle, childlike “Never Never Land.”
- Sarah Mae Banning, with a very energetic, animated and entertaining “Right Hand Man” (which she even carries a split screen, playing an expressive, mainly mute guy).
- Ashley and Bobby Becher, with an exuberant, super cute “Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight,” which includes dancing outside and a brief split screen.
There are a number of fresh-faced young performers, including:
- Joseph Lasher, who is perfect in the enthusiastic, wide-eyed “Giants in the Sky.”
- Katie Griswold and Stephie Benito from Augustana College, in an impressive medley from Green Day’s “American Idiot” (smooth harmonies), which the school never got to do last year.
- Erica Lee Bigelow, who’s in the current Circa ’21 Church Basement Ladies show, “You Smell Barn,” does “They Say It’s Wonderful.” She luxuriates in the simple, profound joy of love – though the character has never experienced it – and the simple song is truly wonderful.
- Ellerie Hurley, who is very outgoing and perky in “The Secret of Happiness,” also filmed outside.
- Kiera Lynn Martin, who stuns in the optimistic “Ready to be Loved,” which she sings into the bathroom mirror as she’s applying hair and makeup. It’s so upbeat and charming, and Martin even incorporates a costume change – after one spin, she’s in her date outfit, with hair and makeup done.
A graduate of the musical theater program at Western Illinois University, Martin (who lives in St. Louis and is a friend of Strandin) posted recently on Facebook:
“My goal for this video was simply to have fun. In this time where theatre opportunities have been few and far between, I’ve put a lot of pressure on the virtual projects that I’ve been a part of. Did I still nitpick? Absolutely, lol, but I do believe I accomplished my goal. Forcing myself to
dance around my bathroom certainly played a hand in that.”
Tapscott and Strandin certainly provided needed opportunities for musical theater performers in this cabaret, and plan to in their new venture. In the video, Doug Kutzli created a mini-play, as he is frustrated with watching Netflix and pulls out his guitar and a natty fedora, and cheers himself up (and by extension, us) by singing the Sinatra classic “That’s Life.”
After the momentary reverie, he returns back to his remote, muttering, “Wonder if there’s
anything on Disney Plus…”
Wendy Czekalski is also a standout in “The Ladies Who Lunch,” as she holds her drink, and unleashes the weary, bitter, cynical song. Czekalski plans to perform the role of Joanne (who sings it) in the landmark musical “Company,” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre, though dates haven’t been announced yet.
Tapscott and Strandin start their “Million Dreams” inside but soon step out to LeClaire Park and
downtown Davenport, as Tapscott turns the key to their dream Mockingbird space.
The ultimate show-bizzy song starts:
“I close my eyes and I can see
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home”
And in lines that could be applied to Tapscott:
“They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design”
The allure of the blank-slate dream also recalls an earlier “New Beginnings” song – “Audition” from “La La Land,” forcefully done by Shelley Cooper. Its wish-fulfilling lyrics sing:
“Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make”
It is exhilarating and so inspiring to see Tapscott and Strandin share their personal love and dreams on screen, and I pray everything works well, and this push for partnerships with the creative community is realized.
But with so many theaters in the Q-C already struggling to survive (battered by Covid), it will be an uphill battle. And Tapscott, in particularly, is a battle-hardened veteran of launching his own theater.
A frequent actor and director in the area, he co-founded his own company in 2008 — Harrison Hilltop Theatre at 1601 Harrison St., Davenport. In 2011, it moved to the former Green Room — at 1611 2nd Ave., Rock Island – becoming The District Theatre, before moving down the block in August 2014 to the tiny, long and narrow former Grape Life space at 1623 2nd Ave., and ending from 2015 to 2016 in the much larger space at the former Rock Island Argus, 1724 4th Ave., Rock Island.
I loved so much of what The District did, but it clearly couldn’t make money. The Mockingbird on Main seems to have a new model in mind, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds, and hope it can soar.