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Mississippi Bend Players Announce Summer Season


The fourth full season of the Mississippi Bend Players will feature a total of five performers, and three productions, this summer at Augustana College’s Brunner Theatre Center.

After it was forced to cancel its 2020 in-person season, the 2021 lineup will be:

- “Red” (June 17-20), by John Logan, directed by Catherine Bodenbender and featuring MBP favorites Mike Schulz and Tristan Odenkirk. 

- “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” (June 24-27), conceived and performed by Shelley Cooper, with musical arrangements and accompaniment by Mason Moss. 

- “No Child…” (July 8-11), by Nilaja Sun, directed by Sydney Chatman and starring Maya Vinice Prentiss.

Unlike a typical season, over two weekends, the new productions will be limited to one weekend each, with a likely maximum of 50 patrons in the theater. Jackie McCall, Brunner’s outreach coordinator and Mississippi Bend Players' producing artistic director, says she plans to have eight paid student interns for the truncated six-week season.

Credit Mississippi Bend Players
Jackie McCall

“We're just so desperate for theater, aren't we? We just want some live entertainment.”

“I wanted to keep our bubble intact as long as possible, because all of our interns are going to be Augustana students or recent graduates. Because I know they already understand our Covid protocols and what’s going to be expected of them. And the other folks that are coming in, we have a really limited number of people that are going to be coming in from off-campus, because we’ve gotten so used to having the Augustana campus bubble intact to try to keep the threat of spreading Covid down.”

McCall says Augustana students haven’t had a true break since Christmas, since the school didn’t want them to travel during a spring break and possibly bring the virus back to campus.

“I wanted to make sure that our students had an opportunity to have a really wonderful, intense learning experience, but then still have time to go home to their families before they came back for next semester.”

Rather than livestreaming the shows, each production will be filmed, edited, and then shown online following the end of the season.

McCall has been friends with Cait Bodenbender for years, and Schulz and Odenkirk have a strong history together. They co-starred in MBP’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Beginner’s Luck,” and Schulz directed Odenkirk in “Waiting for Godot” last October at Moline’s Black Box Theatre. Schulz also participated in a virtual reading last August for Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70 th Birthday,” hosted by MBP, for which Odenkirk read the stage directions. She says the Tony-winning “Red” is a passion project for the two men and director.

“When they kind of approached me as a team and said we would love to do this show – this was even like last year when we were trying to decide if we could do something outside for 2020, it just seemed like a no-brainer that I would love to work with all of them and on this show in particular. So when we had to let 2020 go, it was always in the back of my mind I wanted to make this happen in 2021.”

In “Red,” Schulz previously starred as artist Mark Rothko in the 2012 QC Theatre Workshop production in Davenport, with Tom Taylor as Ken.

Cooper originally performed “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” twice last September at Circa ‘21’s Speakeasy in Rock Island.

“We're thrilled that she was able to fit it into her schedule, because she's going to be going to The Fringe Festival in Florida to do her other one-woman show just before this. So the fact that she could fit into her schedule is just awesome. We’re thrilled and we hope to be able to give it a little more of a theatrical touch than it had in the past.”

“No Child…” is also a one-woman show, and the actress and director are professionals from Chicago. McCall says it follows Miss Sun, a visiting teacher who uses theater as a means of connecting with students in the New York City public school system.

“The actor plays 16 different characters, and it’s really rapid succession. The story-telling in this play is just amazing to me and I just cannot wait to see it come to life on our stage.”

The MBP season this summer coalesced around an arts theme – visual art, musical theater, and a teaching theater artist.

“It all tied everything together with the importance that the arts has to us as audience members, and as artists. So that's our theme, that art matters to all of us. And when I realized that sort of crystallized in my head, I was like, I can't not see this show on the season.”

In the last full season of the Mississippi Bend Players, in 2019, the three plays all had a military theme – “A Green River,” “Biloxi Blues,” and the musical “Dames at Sea.”

For more information, visit www.mississippibendplayers.com.

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.