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Arts and Entertainment

The Show Must (And Will) Go On: SLT's "Deep In The Heart of Tuna"

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(Poster design courtesy Springfield Little Theatre)
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This week on “Arts News” I talked to Mark Gideon, one of the two actors, along with Beth Domann, performing in Springfield Little Theatre's “Deep in the Heart of Tuna” before limited live crowds at the Landers Theatre, and via online streaming.                    

Gideon explained that “’Deep in the Heart of Tuna’ is actually a compilation of some of the best scenes from the first four ‘Tuna’ productions: ‘Greater Tuna,’ ‘A Tuna Christmas,’ ‘Red, White and Tuna,’ and ‘Tuna Does Vegas.’ It’s focused on the love story between Bertha Bumiller and Arlis Struvie. Arlis Struvie is one of the radio announcers on the radio station. OKKK. And that's kind of their love story. And it's just delightful.”

Beth Domann and Mark Gideon have a long relationship with these characters, having acted in the previous four “Tuna” shows at SLT.  Keep in mind that they didn’t just play Bertha and Arlis… these wild comedies by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams are designed around two actors playing ALL the roles—as many as 11 characters apiece.

It’s not quite as hectic for Beth and Mark this time. “I think I play five and she plays six. It's still 60 pages of dialogue, but it is all scenes we have done before.” The two actually started rehearsals back in May, in the hope that the show, already postponed once due to the COVID-19 shutdown, would actually reach the stage. “So we are really ready for an audience, and are so excited to be able to give this production both live, and then also online,” said Gideon. 

We’ll get back to the online portion in a moment. First, Gideon talked about the live shows at the Landers.  Scheduled performances are Friday and Saturday July 17 and 18 at 7:30pm, Sunday the 19th at 2:00pm, and then next Thursday through Saturday July 23-25 at 7:30, and a final 2:00pm matinee on Sunday July 26.  He said seating in the Landers would be held down to about 150 persons, who will “be required to wear masks once they enter the building and the entire time they're there.” If more than one person come together in a party they will be seated together, but with three feet separation between groups. “And there won’t be anybody seated behind you or in front of you.”  There will be no concessions served during performances, so audience members will not have any reason to go out into the lobby.  If you need to use the restroom, you won’t need to wait for intermission—“just get up and go, that’s fine,” said Gideon.  “And then at the end of the show, after the curtain calls, we’ll dismiss (the audience) by row--the back row will be first. And we’re even contemplating, on the side sections, we may have them go out a side door” so they will leave the theater without going through the lobby.  These and other protocols and precautions are in place because, as Gideon said, Little Theatre had “a choice of doing this… versus not doing anything at all.” And considering that the Landers has been closed since mid-Mach due to the coronavirus, they have had no income from ticket sales or concessions all that time—which is a problem since salaries, utilities, building upkeep, etc. have continued to drain the company’s budget.  

In a further effort to keep people safe who may not be able (or willing) to attend in person, they came up with the streaming option. “And of course, that's a legal process of getting permission from the licensing agent and all that kind of thing,” said Gideon. “And so far, the virtual tickets have been very popular. People that either had tickets purchased previously for the (originally scheduled) May production have now chosen to see it online. And the wonderful thing about it is literally people from across the world can see this show.” As Mark Gideon explained it, the streaming versions offered each evening would NOT be live, but rather a video recording of the previous night’s live-on-stage performance. “So if you were to buy a ticket for the Saturday night (online streaming) show, you would be seeing a recording of the Friday night performance.” 

Purchasers of streaming versions of “Tuna” would receive a link to what Gideon called a “hidden” YouTube channel; the link would be sent to those patrons by email or fax by 5:00pm the day of the show for which they bought their ticket. “So they can watch it more than once; they can start and stop it if they need to go get some more snacks. And the best part about it is, they could invite other members of their family to watch it together or even friends and neighbors that they've been in contact with, as long as they stay safe in their own home. More than one person can see the live streaming for the price of one ticket.” That is, purchasers of the video stream will be allowed to share the link with others, which Mark Gideon and I agreed was a really good deal.” The purpose of the streaming videos is to accommodate “people who want to support the theater but just don't feel safe getting out in crowds. We totally understand that. And so that's why we wanted to do the live streaming option.”

During the live performances in the Landers, the audience members won’t be the only ones required to wear masks at all times—the backstage crew must wear masks as well, according to Gideon. To facilitate rapid costume changes, there will be four dressers backstage, two for Mark and two for Beth. In fact, said Gideon, “the only people that are in the theater who won't have masks on will be Beth and I!”

While the streams have sold a lot of tickets, so have the live performances, considering that seating in the Landers will be limited to 150. “The first Sunday matinee (July 19) is already all sold out. Every performance so far has sold over a hundred tickets” out of the 150-per-night maximum. “And a couple of them, like the Thursday of the second week (July 23), that evening is almost sold out too. So I think we're going to have a really, really good response.”

Tickets range from $20 to $30, and tickets are required for both the live performances and the online streams.  The links to the online streams will each be good for 24 hours.  Call the Landers box office at (417) 869-1334, or visit https://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org to purchase either variety of ticket.