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Arts & Culture

Circa 21 Mainstage Reopens

Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse

After being closed for nearly six months, the mainstage at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island will again spring to life on September 9th, with the opening of the saucy Southern comedy, “Savannah Sipping Society.” 

Because of the Phase 4 rules of Restore Illinois, seating capacity for each show is limited to only 50 people. For the safety of staff and guests, temperatures will be taken and masks must be worn to enter and exit the theater. Anyone over 100.4 degrees will not be able to work or attend a show.

Brett Hitchcock, Director of Audience Development says life under Covid-19 will be much different for Circa staff and patrons, as all wait staff will wear masks and gloves, and no buffets will be available, only table service. They will use every other table in each row, and stagger the seating by rows.

Credit Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse

"I think we’ve done a really good job in making sure that we are going to allow for plenty of distance for everybody between tables.”

Guests also must wear masks when they move around the theater. Diners can choose two of four entrees, with a starch and vegetable, with the new option of an appetizer of shrimp cocktail ($8.50) or stuffed mushrooms ($6.25). Salad or cottage cheese will come with each meal (discontinuing the soup choice).

“That’s a first; that’s something we’ve been talking about for several years, and to some degree have implemented for our concerts, where we don’t do the meal but offer sandwiches and appetizers. So we’ve been talking about that for a few years and that is one of those things that Covid has just caused us to reconsider and go ahead and implement. There’s a lot of ideas we had, even things like our Music on the Marquee show. These last six months, we’ve had to think outside the box like you’ve never had to before – on ways to be creative and do anything you can to try and entertain people and make some money.”

Overall, ticket prices are going up $1.50 per person, to cover increased costs of doing business, such as expenses for food and the higher minimum wage. New prices will be $56.55 for evening shows, $49.73 for Wednesday matinees, $35.55 for students (11-18), and $2 off for seniors (age 60+). 

Hitchcock says Circa has asked the Illinois governor’s office to re-classify the 43-year-old dinner theater as a restaurant, so it doesn’t have to be limited to the 50-seat capacity for Illinois indoor theaters.

“They haven’t reclassified us, even though the city of Rock Island has reclassified us, and our liquor license is classified as a restaurant license. We still haven’t gotten word back from the state, so we’re operating under the theater umbrella -- which basically lumps us in with movie theaters and with places like the Adler, that bring in road shows.

“Which is very frustrating, because we’re not like those places at all. We have the whole food component. Half of our ticket price is food, half is show. There’s so many examples of ways that we are not just a theater. We’re a theater/restaurant.”

They’ve worked with Illinois State Senator Mike Halpin to get re-classified as a restaurant, which would allow Circa to operate at 50-percent capacity, not justs 50 seats. 

“Savannah Sipping Society” has a cast of just four – Kim Kurtenbach, Shelley Walljasper, Sherry Konjura and Sarah Hayes.

“That’s one of the reasons why we are able to reopen. With the big shows we had to cancel this year – that being “Saturday Night Fever,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Guys and Dolls” – those were all big, big shows, with casts of at least 20. It was big royalties, big sets and lots of costumes. Those are the kinds of shows, we would have been upside down before we even opened the doors, with just 50 people.”

For the 44 th season, which starts in November, five of the six shows feature small casts – of six or fewer – and Circa plans to do “Saturday Night Fever,” with a cast of 20, next summer. It was on the verge of opening in mid-March when COVID closed the theater.

Veteran Circa director Warner Crocker, who directed “Shear Madness” and “Diamonds and  Divas” last year, will direct “Savannah Sipping Society,” and may stage the actors farther apart than normal, and farther from the front row of the audience. Actors will wear masks when off-stage, but not on. 
Circa will spray disinfectant throughout the building, which lasts for 90 days and is supposed to kill 99.9 percent of all germs. And the s  taff has a comprehensive sanitation plan, including cleaning before, during, and after each show.

“We’re really taking this very seriously and even in some respects, going above and beyond what the CDC is requiring.”

For tickets and a full season schedule, visit circa21.com.