by Connie Cherba

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the performing arts. Fortunately, Dubuque’s Bell Tower Theater, a not-for-profit community theater, found a way to successfully navigate the ins and outs of social distancing for an August live performance as well as the technology necessary for several virtual plays. Now the Bell Tower is ready to announce more live and virtual performances for 2020 and five new comedies for 2021 which will be performed before a live audience.

The Bell Tower had started rehearsals for Exit Laughing in March when the pandemic hit. “Then we had to go down, and then we started rehearsing again in July,” explained Artistic Director and Theater Manager Sue Riedel. “We had to start all over. And rehearsing with masks, one had to be good at projection and diction in order to be understood. Being very careful and sanitizing our hands before starting, the show was done without masks – didn’t know what a couple of the characters looked like since we’d never seen them without masks.”

Live performances of Exit Laughing were presented in August. “We did the play for thirteen performances,” said Miki Robinson, Operations and Marketing Manager. “The normal capacity of the theater is 174. We did it with 62 seats. Tickets were eliminated and the programs were all digital. Volunteers were severely limited. The theater was cleaned every night as soon as the show [ended]. It was scary, but it went well. We were the first performing arts organization [to perform live].”

Sue added, “Lot of research was completed before we set all this up. We took things from different performing groups and movie theaters, condensed it to fit our situation.”

The live performances went well and attendance was good – ended up with a total of about 680 people. They couldn’t have accommodated more than 800 with social distancing. Along with social distancing, the audience was required to wear masks, and sanitizing stations were made available.

In addition to the live performance, three virtual plays have been presented over the past several months, all of which were incredibly successful. “We did Pets in Quarantine back in May and June, Stuck at Home in July, and Nothing Good Happens After Midnight in September. Audiences were very receptive to the performances which were presented on our Facebook page for free, with a suggested donation. It’s always been our mission to focus on new plays, and these plays were extremely new, written specifically to be performed online. It was important because there are still a large number of people who don’t feel comfortable coming to the theater. We wanted to bring something to them even though we were back to doing live.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious financial impact on the Bell Tower Theater. “It was fortunate that we were in good financial position before COVID started,” said Miki. “The local, state, and federal assistance has been imperative. We couldn’t have made it without the payroll protection program money and a loan from the SBA, Small Business Administration. We’re only doing three shows this year instead of seven – it’s a huge impact on us both artistically and financially. Help is still needed. Donations from individuals make a huge difference.”

Plans for the future include both virtual and live performances. “Social distance seating will continue for our February and April 2021 shows. We are being optimistic and offering a full seating chart for the show in August 2021, but that can be reverted to social distancing if necessary.”

“Our philosophy is ‘The Show Must Go On,’ and there’s nothing like live theater,” said Sue. “People need this right now. They need to laugh. Comedy is a wonderful healer. I think we have funny shows that make people laugh. They need to do that.”

Bell Tower Theater Announces Plans for the Remainder of the 2020 and for next year’s 2021 Season

The Bell Tower Theater, your hometown theater, is pleased to announce that more in-person live theater will be performed in 2020. However, the schedule has changed significantly.

The Church of Diminishing Marginal Returns
November 6 – 22, 2020
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday @ 7:30 PM
Sunday afternoon @ 2:00 PM
Saturday, November 14 & 21: Two added 2:00 PM performances

The production of The Church of Diminishing Marginal Returns, a comedy by Jay Hauling, originally scheduled for October has been moved to November 6 to 22, 2020. The performance will be directed by the Bell Tower Theater’s Artistic Director Sue Riedel.

When “not-entirely-honest” entrepreneur Josh finds himself in financial trouble, he cons his evangelical brother Jon into starting their own church. Josh and Jon raise so much money they’re able to pay off most of their debts. Then the IRS shows up! The laughs are non-stop as the boys try to solve one comic complication after another.

The cast features Bell Tower veterans CJ Burroughs, Scott Schneider and Angela Schwarte alongside newcomers to the Bell Tower Stage, Dakota Vaassen and Benjy Miller.

Tickets for all performances are $22.

A Doublewide, Texas Christmas
The production of A Doublewide, Texas Christmas, originally scheduled for December has been cancelled.

GIT Improv (formerly Guys in Ties)
Saturday, December 5, 2020 @ 7:30 PM

Bell Tower favorites, Guys in Ties offers improv comedy at its best. Every performance is a brand new adventure as these talented comedians create a unique show right before your very eyes using suggestions from you and your fellow audience members. Tickets are $20.

Due to the current public health crisis, these shows will be performed with social distance seating and a variety of other precautions. Some examples include:

  • The capacity of the Bell Tower Theater has been reduced from 174 seats to 62 seats.
  • All patrons will be required to wear a mask while in the theater.
  • The shows will be performed without an intermission.
  • Strict cleaning protocols have been put into place.

Details about these and other changes can be found at belltowertheater.net.

Because of the severely limited capacity, current ticket holders are being given an opportunity to claim their seats first: Season ticket holders only from now until October 2 and single ticket buyers from October 2 to 16. On October 19 any remaining seats will be opened to the public.

The Bell Tower Theater Announces 2021 Season!
Next year will feature five brand new comedies. Season Tickets are on sale now.

The Dangers of VD (Valentine’s Day)
February 12-28, 2021

The season begins with the US Premiere of the uproariously funny The Dangers of VD (Valentine’s Day). Love, particularly at Valentine’s Day, can be a dangerous sport. This uproarious multi-generational comedy will have you rolling in the aisles. From Gran and Gramps to married couple Henry and Paulette to young Jacqui, you will laugh at the hazards of romance for young and old alike.

The Numbers Game
April 16-May 2, 2021

She was the most popular girl in high school; he was on the math team. They couldn’t be more different. Thirty-seven years later, Phil is an actuary, looking for a place to live. Bernadette needs a roommate, preferably a female. The only thing they have in common is that they’ve both just been dumped. Does misery really love company? Find out in this new comedy.

The Last (Potluck) Supper
August 13-29, 2021

The Church Basement Ladies are back in their fifth show. It’s 1979, and the parishioners are celebrating the Centennial of First Cornucopia Lutheran Church. It’s 100 years of history in toe-tapping song and dance served up with a healthy portion of laughs and a side of hot dish and egg coffee.

Nobody’s Perfect
October 8-24, 2021

Celebrate Arts & Humanities month with the hilarious Nobody’s Perfect. Leonard Loftus wrote a book, a steamy romance novel to be precise. He enters it, under a pseudonym, in a contest for new female writers. When Lulabelle Latiffa wins the first prize, Leonard has a major problem. This hilarious, feel-good comedy follows Leonard as he tries to not get caught in his own tangled web. Too bad his smart-aleck daughter and rascally old father, think it’s more fun to sabotage his plans than it is to help.

The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular
December 3-19, 2021

This holiday season, we are looking in on the Charitable Sisterhood of the Second Trinity Victory Church. Christmas is only three weeks away, and the ladies of the Charitable Sisterhood are preparing for the annual Christmas Spectacular … but they’re having trouble focusing because there’s a criminal on the loose – someone has stolen the baby Jesus from the nativity scene. The fun doesn’t let up until the hilarious climax, which will leave you filled with the very best spirit of the Christmas season.

The shows in February and April/May will be initially offered with social distance seating and other COVID-19 protocols in place while the August, October, and December shows will be offered with full theater seating. Depending on the state of the public health crisis at the time of the show, these measures are subject to change.

Evening performances will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and afternoon performances will be Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are just $22 with discounts available for groups of 20 or more. The popular Early Bird Special performances will continue in 2021. On select days in the opening weekend of each show, tickets are half-price. That’s just $11!

Season subscriptions are on sale now. For just $90 subscribers to the Bell Tower Theater will receive one ticket to each of the five subscription series plays and musicals: The Dangers of VD (Valentine’s Day), The Numbers Game, The Last (Potluck) Supper, Nobody’s Perfect, and The Charitable Sisterhood Christmas Spectacular, $10 in Bell Tower Bucks to spend at the concession stand; free ticket exchanges; and the opportunity to reserve tickets before they go on sale to the general public on October 19.

Information on youth programs and special events for 2021 will be released at a later date.

Three virtual plays are coming over the next four months. While we are thrilled to be producing live theater again, we understand and that some of our friends and patrons aren’t ready to attend live performances yet. So we’ve put together a series of virtual plays all directed by the Bell Tower Theater’s Artistic Associate Sue Flogel. These productions will each take place on Facebook on two separate occasions.

The Magic of Zoom
October 22 @ 7:00 PM & Saturday, October 24 @ 7:00 PM

It’s Hogwarts meets Zoom! The students of Dogwarts have their first day in Professor Snope’s virtual classroom. How are they supposed to practice the magical arts of wizardry on a computer? What’s in Plotter’s closet? And what about this year’s prom?

Santa’s Workshop’s Got Talent
Thursday, December 10 @ 7:00 PM & Saturday, December 12 @ 7:00 PM

It’s just days before Christmas at Santa’s Workshop and a big blizzard has snowed everybody in! But there’s still work to be done – like getting the elves and reindeer in the proper holiday spirit with song, dance, and big belly laughs. So, elf hosts Holly Daze and Mistletoe Merryman decide the North Pole’s annual talent show must go on… line! Mrs. Claus, the pun-loving Ruby the Red-Lipped Reindeer, and Old St. Nick himself join the hosts online to help judge this reality TV spoof. Bitterly cold Jack Frost and Snow Queen hack their way into the contest, but even they can’t take the warmth and good spirit out of this friendly competition!

Tech Support and Still 29
Thursday, January 14 at 7:00 PM & Saturday, January 16 @ 7:00 PM

Enjoy two short plays in one hilarious performance. In Tech Support, when a senior citizen calls tech support to get their new computer and printer working, tech support is anything but helpful! In Still Twenty-Nine, life is quiet, simple and routine for stodgy retiree, Earl, until Aileen, his fun-loving wife, joins a motorcycle club!

Due to copyright restrictions, the videos of these performances will not remain online. To view a performance, you must log into Facebook at the scheduled times. All performances are free, but goodwill donations will be accepted. For information, call 563-588-3377, visit belltowertheater.net, or @Bell Tower Theater on Facebook.

This featured article was published online in its entirety thanks to Premier Bank. Help support the arts by visiting PremierBanking.bank.

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