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COVID & the Arts: Live Theater Resumes ?

The first indoor live theater in the Quad-Cities since the coronavirus shutdown will be the spooky ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw,” opening Thursday (July 16) at downtown Moline’s Black Box Theatre.

The 60-seat theater (1623 5th Ave.) will open at half capacity this weekend, and close on Sunday. Director Lora Adams says the actors’ schedules have changed since the original March opening date so they’re only able to do the four-day weekend. Matt Walsh and Kayla Jo Pulliam will bring the creepy tale to life with Walsh playing four different characters.

The theater will abide by the state of Illinois Phase 4 restrictions, which went into effect June 26th. Patrons will be required to wear a mask when they enter the theater, and only certain seats will be available in order to conform to social distancing guidelines.

Adams says patrons can remove their mask during the show once they are seated. The theater will have to keep six feet distance between performers and audience, will have hand sanitizer available, and will disinfect every seat before each show. Advance purchase of tickets is highly recommended in order to avoid handling money.

The state re-opening rules say indoor theaters must operate at the lesser of 50 guests or 50% of performance space capacity. This does not include cast, crew,  or theater staff. 

Adams says closures have decimated revenue sources for all theaters.

“But for any entertainment venue – I don’t care who it is, whether the TaxSlayer, to Circa, to us – we rely on ticket sales. It’s just that simple. Happily, we ended last year well, so we were able to get through April monetarily. But with two shows canceled, that kinda killed us.”

“Turn of the Screw” was in rehearsal for about three weeks before the state lockdown, and the set was almost finished.

The next Black Box show scheduled in the spring was the children’s musical “Frog and Toad,” which was postponed until next year. And she's still deciding on the remainder of the 2020 season.

“We don’t know how it’s all going to shake out – are the numbers going to go up again, and they’re going to put us all on lockdown again? No one really knows, and I don’t want to over-promise something and be told by the government you can’t.”

Earlier this spring, Quad City Music Guild in Moline, and Genesius Guild and Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island decided to cancel their entire summer seasons, out of coronavirus concerns. The Spotlight Theatre in Moline has canceled all its major productions for 2020, and hopes to perform the postponed shows in 2021.

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island had to cancel “Saturday Night Fever” and “Beauty and the Beast,” postpone "Guys & Dolls" to next year, and is planning to re-open this fall with the small comedy, “Savannah Sipping Society.” Last month, performers from “Saturday Night Fever” did a special show on top of the Circa marquee, with an audience of 140 in the blocked-off street.

Richmond Hill Barn Theatre in Geneseo canceled the rest of its 2020 season, and Playcrafters Barn Theatre in Moline is still trying to salvage some shows for the remainder of this year.

Playcrafters board president Bruce Duling said 2020 shows that have been postponed to next year are “Whistleblower’s Dilemma,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Dogfight” and “You Can’t Take It With You.” The next live production will be in September, with “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a two-person play originally scheduled for June, and the Barn Owl show “Four Stories” in October.

"We’re still taking it month by month, since this pandemic is so bewildering. It’s a pretty emotional type of experience; it hits hard emotionally first and financially second, since we rely on ticket sales to keep the lights on.”


A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.