Want To Learn More About Quad-Cities Creators? Welcome To Artists In Conversation!
Artists in Conversation is a weekly column running Wednesdays on QuadCities.com. It features a conversation with a local creator going into their artistic process, projects and more. Get to know your local arts scene and local creators better on QuadCities.com with Artists In Conversation! If you’re a local creator and would like to be featured, please email us at Sean@QuadCities.com or Tristan@QuadCities.com!
THIS WEEK: Tristan Tapscott and Savannah Bay Strandin, talking about The Mockingbird On Main.
The Mockingbird on Main burst onto the scene earlier this month with NEW BEGINNINGS, a virtual cabaret presented by QuadCities.com, and followed that with BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN, a reprise of the bluegrass-themed musical.
With its combination of live theater and video and streaming presentations, Mockingbird on Main is certain to be a force of nature in the vibrant Quad-Cities arts community in years to come.
Enjoy this week’s ARTISTS IN CONVERSATION!
When did the spark hit you?
There was day in February 2020 when Savannah and I were in a coffee shop across the street from where the Harrison Hilltop Theatre sat on 16th and Harrison in Davenport. I happened to run into Scott Tunnicliff – Executive Director of the Hilltop Campus Village – and we started waxing poetic about the good old days of making magic in that old bank building. I started thinking of what we did and what I could still do. I let my mind wander and do some day dreaming and then let the idea go. The rest of my year was so booked solid with work and I didn’t really want to deal with the fallout of “The Insane Tristan Tapscott Creating Again” saga and I was dealing with some other personal issues… so… the timing was not right but the seed was planted. Fast forward a month and everything gets shut down and my year of work that was lined up turns into… well… nothing. It kept crossing my mind: the idea of creating for yourself and making your own magic. I think we all found that, you know? After months of creating for Circa ‘21 and working with QuadCities.com, I let the idea grow a little and last summer really started to take a deeper dive into what could be. I guess things started to pick up steam in September and after initially looking at the old bank building, and looking at several other locations, the developer showed me a space in a new building he had just purchased. I really kind of hated it because whereas in the other buildings I was able to talk myself out of it pretty quickly, this new option had an IT factor to it. It wasn’t an immediate YES but the NO was harder to say.
How long did it take you to a say YES?
I feel like I said yes the entire time. Tristan had been talking about wanting to produce again for a WHILE. As Tristan started looking at spaces, I told him I’m on board either way. I’ll support him if he decides against it but I’ll be there every step of the way if he decides it’s time to create again.
I said NO about 8 times.
The owner and developer of the property really insisted we keep talking and figure out a deal. I kept throwing out “I-Know-He-Will-Say-No” figures and he just kept yes-anding me. It got a point where I knew I would never see this deal again in that location and figured why not? People will be craving entertainment when we finally come out of this pandemic and I’ll be there opening the doors.
Did you worry about your past failure overshadowing the news?
I’m getting this a lot and I knew I would. I’ll probably never live that down… but… let me say this loud and clear: This isn’t the District. Not even close. I could leave it at that and let it go, right? I can but can others? I am well aware of how some people feel about me. Some of it is justified. Absolutely. Look, I wasn’t a fantastic human being in many ways back then. I think it’s important to acknowledge that, you know? I definitely disappointed a lot of people but no one more than myself. And further more, no one really suffered as much as I did. It’s the truth. I went down with this ship and took all responsibility. No one really knows that side of it because… well… no one really asked? Some did, and they really know. Most didn’t. They just judged from afar without knowing the fallout. I remember everything. I lived it all. Was I awful at times? Yes. Did I make some big mistakes? Yes. Am I same person? No. I have evolved. I have grown. I know that’s a less dramatic and interesting story but it’s the truth.
Tristan learned a lot from running the theater in the past and since then he’s grown and learned even more. I’m not worried that his past experiences are going to overshadow this new adventure because things are different this time around. He’s not the person he was 5 years ago (I’d be concerned if a human didn’t grow or change over the course of 5 years) and we’re working together, as a team.
Could you see what it could be from the start or did it take some time?
Unfortunately – or fortunately – I can’t decide – yes, I could. My own “super power” as a creator is I can usually see the product long before anyone else. I can usually see what’s possible without really knowing the HOW. It’s good. It’s bad. But it makes me a little fearless. Maybe to a fault? Either way, I could see what could be right away.
For me, it took a little bit of time. I couldn’t really see the possibilities in any of the other spaces we looked at, but once we saw our current space, I could see the potential a little easier! I couldn’t quite see the full vision yet, but I knew that space would work perfectly for us.
How long has the renovation been going on in secret?
We have been working in the shadow of nightfall since early February. Sounds cool when I say it like that, doesn’t it? We made the deal in early January, began the lease on February 1 and have been working on it since then. The space was in amazing shape already; it was really about us adding the elements – the stage, a small box office/bar, a tech booth… that kind of thing.
How have you funded this?
It’s us and only us. True entrepreneurs.
I say that because there are many entrepreneurs that started with a massive amount of capital and yes, they are entrepreneurs but it’s a little easier when someone writes you a check to make some magic.
We didn’t have that. We still don’t have that. This is all us and it’s not really part of our model to beg for cash, you know? We just want you to come and enjoy the work.
What’s that journey been like?
Expensive. But really worth it.
We have problem solved along the way and come with cool solutions. That’s always a fun part of the adventure!
Yes it’s been a lot of expenses up front, but we’ve tried to find the best deals for what we needed! We repurposed a few things from when the space was a wedding dress boutique and have had to get creative with the overall design and finishing touches.
What’s been the most difficult thing?
Overall it’s been pretty easy getting everything together. But one of the most difficult (and expensive) things to figure out was the seating. It’s so difficult finding affordable chairs. Our quote for 40 new chairs was going to be $1600+. We really lucked out and found 56 used restaurant chairs that are in great shape for an incredibly reasonable price. They need some work, but it’s nothing we can’t handle!
We have MacGyvered our way through it and it’s been fairly smooth.
How are you feeling about it?
There’s a great scene in Armageddon with Owen Wilson and when asked how he’s feeling, he says something along the lines of “98% scared or 2% excited, or maybe it’s the other way around… it’s so intense!” It’s that. All of that.
I’m feeling pretty nervous, mostly because I’ve never done something like this. But luckily I have a pretty amazing partner who has a good idea of what to do. I have a lot to learn from him.
What are some of your plans?
We want this to be a space where artists can bring us ideas and we can help get these ideas on stage, whether it’s a new work or something that already exists! We would really love to fill the calendar with productions, cabarets, comedians, one night only performances, etc. We
want there to be something going on almost every night!
Do you have any more virtual plans? Will this be part of the model going forward?
Yes, absolutely! We believe that virtual productions are going to be the new trend in theater alongside live productions. We may be the only ones offering that in the Quad Cities when we open but we won’t be the last.
When can we expect to visit The Mockingbird in person?
We are still trying to figure out an exact plan of action for in person events but we anticipate a July grand opening with some soft opening events planned well before that. The pieces are starting to come together and hopefully we will know more soon. For now, we will keep
Building momentum and intrigue…
What’s going to be the most fulfilling thing for you?
It’s really about providing a safe space to create for the talented artists we know and love and for the new friends we can’t wait to make along the way. This is not a vanity project for me and Tristan to star in shows we’ve always wanted to do. Sure, we may do something here and there but it’s more about the people around us and it always will be.
Giving old friends and new a place to create. At many places it’s the old “that well, you need to this before you can do that” model of moving up the ladder to be able to do what you want. I’ve never cared for that. If you want to act, come on over and give it a try. If you want to write, let’s get something going. If you want to direct, rock and roll.. what piece do you have in mind? I understand why those methods are in place but sometimes unless you’re already “in the family” or the “right friend group” it doesn’t matter what RIGHT steps you supposedly take you still may not get the next level. We don’t have a staircase; we have a door and it’s wide open.