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COVID & the Arts: Live Theater

Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse

Already the coronavirus has been crippling for many local businesses, including theaters in the Quad Cities. Two are handling it in different ways.

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in downtown Rock Island has closed, delaying opening of its next musical production, “Saturday Night Fever,” to April 11th. Owner and producer Denny Hitchcock says the first two weeks of “Saturday Night Fever” had about 2,200 reservations, and guests were given the option of re-scheduling or getting a credit for a future show.  

Last week, Hitchcock had to lay off almost all his hourly staff so they could apply for unemployment. 

 "We have lots and lots of guests who have already planned to come see the show. We have 87 people on our staff who are like family - they don't know what's going on, we don't know what's going on, and we can't help them or we help them as best we can and still we just keep in touch."

Since Circa attracts motorcoach tours from out of town, the shutdown hurts that business as well. Circa lost nine tour groups alone on one day, or about 450 people, and some exchanged tickets for a credit for future shows.

Credit Spotlight Theater
Spotlight Theater in Moline

For Moline’s Spotlight Theatre, less than two years old, its next show “Oliver” - to open April 17 – also is up in the air. Co-owner Sara Tubbs said they hope to move it to May, but if they can't start rehearsing by March 30, they'll have to cancel the show.  

"Because people truly need music in their life right now, we need hope, and we need positivity in the light of this turmoil that we're all experiencing right now. In some way or another every single person in the world is affected."

Oliver has a cast of 39, including 18 kids, and Tubbs says it was hard to explain this global crisis to the cast, but the kids are just so incredible, you sit down, have this conversation with them, and they truly do understand. If need be, “Oliver” could be rescheduled for the spring of next year, as Richmond Hill in Geneseo is doing with its April play, “Becky’s New Car.”

As a fairly new theater, the postponement or cancellation for Spotlight is even harder. Everything they earn on one show goes into the next one. As she says, "We’re gonna do everything in our power to make sure we’re still here when all this is over." 

Formerly the arts and entertainment reporter for The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus and Quad-City Times, Jonathan Turner now writes freelance for WVIK and QuadCities.com. He has experience writing for daily newspapers for 32 years and has expertise across a wide range of subject areas, including government, politics, education, the arts, economic development, historic preservation, business, and tourism. He loves writing about music and the arts, as well as a multitude of other topics including features on interesting people, places, and organizations. He has a passion for accompanying musicals, singers, choirs, and instrumentalists. He even wrote his own musical based on The Book of Job, which premiered at Playcrafters in 2010. He wrote a 175-page history book about downtown Davenport, which was published by The History Press in 2016. Turner was honored in 2009 to be among 24 arts journalists nationwide to take part in a 10-day fellowship offered by the National Endowment for the Arts in New York City on classical music and opera, based at Columbia University’s journalism school.