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COVID & the Arts: Circa 21 Moves Outside

Since Circa ’21 can’t bring people into the theater, it’s taking the show outside for a special weekend.

The dinner playhouse – which just marked its 43rd anniversary – at 1828 3rd Avenue in downtown Rock Island, and The Speakeasy next door, will seat audiences in the blocked-off street Friday and Saturday, June 19 and 20, for “Burlesque Under The Stars” and Sunday, June 21, for “Music on the Marquee.”

Performers from Bottoms Up Quad City Burlesque will do 9 pm shows from The Speakeasy stage, which will be simulcast on two 9-foot-by-16-foot screens set up outside. Cast members from “Saturday Night Fever” – which never got to open in mid-March, because of Covid-19 – will do select numbers atop the Circa marquee starting at 6 p.m. on the 21st.

Theater owner and producer Denny Hitchcock says it’s been hard not being open for three months, and they wanted to find an outlet for their performers.

“We had these two ideas, which I think are great. Neither one was mine, so I can brag about other people and not something I came up with.”

“We had been looking for things to do, and various options. Most of them weren’t terribly practical. I was hoping to do a live stream of ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ because some of the companies are permitting that, so I checked into it. I thought a live stream was something we videotaped and played and people paid to watch it. It has to be live; we cannot videotape anything for a production of ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”

“We’ll be doing music on the marquee, which we’ve never done. We have our marquee that was re-done in 2000. It’s a replication of the original marquee, with these enormous chains holding it up, and we’ll be doing several numbers with cast members from ‘Saturday Night Fever’.”

Instead of choreographed group numbers, the performers on the 21st will just be doing solo or duets from the show, preceded by some solos by the Bootleggers, Circa’s performing wait staff. Like most shows, prerecorded music will accompany singers, according to Brett Hitchcock, director of audience development. And he says there’s no worry about the 12-by-44 marquee roof supporting people’s weight.

“We know structurally, it’s good. We’ve had four or five people on that thing before, doing things, like when we do our garland every year for Christmas, that weighs a couple hundred pounds. So, we know it can hold a lot of weight, much more than it’s going to be. And the fact that there’s not going to be a band up there either.”

The marquee concept came from frequent Circa performer Tristan Tapscott, who’s in the 20-person “Fever” cast, which was in tech week and two days from opening before they made the call March 16 to cancel.

Because of Covid rules, no mixed tables outside will be reserved; each has to be for members of the same family, with parties of four or six. Tables will be six feet apart, and everyone should bring a mask to wear. Bar service will be available for all shows. 

Denny Hitchcock says depending on what Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces late this month, the theater may not reopen until early August, maybe at 50 percent capacity and with no buffet service. Tickets are $18 in advance for the burlesque shows, and you must be 18 or older to attend. Reservations are only available from Circa’s website, at circa21.com.

The marquee cabaret on Sunday June 21 is already sold out.

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.
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