From the pages of

The play's the thing in Quad-Cities

(February 2, 1998)


The Quad-City Music Guild, which performs in Prospect Park Theater In Moline, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. It will perform three plays this summer.

Everything from Shakespeare in the park to modern plays in a barn is available to people who like live theater.

The Quad-Cities area is rich in local theater groups -- Genesius Guild, Playcrafters Barn Theater, Quad-City Music Guild, Richmond Hill, Countryside, Riverfront Shakespeare and Ghostlight Theater, Inc.

``There is a real good selection of theater venues, between professional and amateur,'' Kevin Pieper, president of Quad-City Music Guild, said. ``There should be something that fits all styles.''

``The cool thing is that it's almost niche marketing,'' Jeff Ashcraft, a founding member of Ghostlight, said. ``Each group has found their own little market. It's like going to the library. You find whatever book you want. Here, you pick whatever theater you want.''

Playcrafters, founded in 1929, is one of the oldest theater groups in the Midwest, general manager Stephanie Naab, said. Playcrafters focuses on non-musical plays, but has done three musicals.

Although the group has been around a long time, it tries to do newer shows that haven't been done in the area, she said. ``People have a tendency to like what's safe. Some shows will draw people because they know what it is, but that can get stagnant.''

Playcrafters offers six shows a season and auditions every other month, Mrs. Naab said.

Music Guild started 50 years ago, with a goal of filling the musical niche. Although it prefers the old standards, there's an audience that wants to see the shows they grew up on, with a big stage, beautiful costumes and large cast.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Music Guild plans to present ``Music Man,'' ``West Side Story'' and ``Oklahoma'' this year.

For free Shakespeare in the park, Genesius Guild is perfect on cool summer nights. There's something romantic about Shakespearean language wafting to the stars from Lincoln Park's amphitheater.

The Guild puts on two Shakespearean productions and one Greek theater production each summer.

Ghostlight and Riverfront Shakespeare are the new kids on the block. Theater representatives said they formed to offer more opportunities for serious actors.

``It's hard for a serious actor to step into the realism of a musical and get something out of it,'' Mike King, founder of Riverfront Shakespeare, said. ``We want to do something actors can sink their teeth into.''

An example might be Ghostlight's recent production of ``Sweeney Todd,'' an atypical Stephen Sondheim play involving murder and gore. ``Sweeney's not something you want to eat your cheesecake over,'' Mr. Ashcraft said. ``It wouldn't be very business wise.''

In offering non-standard fare like Riverfront Shakespeare's first production, ``Reservior Dogs,'' Mr. King hopes to create a new theater audience in the Quad-Cities.

``We definitely want to attract a young audience, people out there every day making noise,'' he said. ``If they are out there making noise about us, all the better.''

``What makes a difference is our facility,'' Mrs. Naab said. ``With the thrust stage and audience on three sides, you get a close and intimate atmosphere...Once you get on this stage, you never want to go anywhere else. The reaction is right at your elbow.''

``We're not limited in what we do,'' Mr. Ashcraft said. ``If we choose to, we can do a big Broadway musical, or common straight shows, or we can do French farces, or rock operas, or `Hair' with full frontal nudity.''

Riverfront Shakespeare wants to offer plays other groups won't touch, Mr. King said. This summer they plan to do ``The Connection'' a show about jazz musicians, in conjunction with the Bix Fest.

True to his company's name, Mr. King also plans to put on Shakespeare with a cast that understands it.

Countryside Community Theater in Eldridge also offers inexpensive musical fun each summer, with a production of ``Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'' in the works.

``I think it's all special in its own way for the community and the cultural aspects of our community,'' Mr. Ashcraft said. ``It's all necessary and it makes the Quad-Cities what it is. It's a great place.''

By Kristen Foht

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