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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Tent Theatre Resumes This Summer--Without A Tent

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(Poster design courtesy MSU Tent Theatre)
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After cancelling their entire live-performance season last summer due to COVID-19, Missouri State University Tent Theatre returns to action for their 59th season starting June 16—albeit indoors in Craig Hall Theatre, as the patio behind Craig Hall, where the tent has been erected all those years, is undergoing construction for the new John Goodman Amphitheater. Mark Templeton, Managing Director of Tent, visited KSMU’s “Arts News” to talk about the current season.                                                                       

“We are thrilled to be back,” said Templeton. The season includes the 1960s-influenced musical “Beehive;” the comedy stage parody of Hitchcock’s film “The 39 Steps;” and, presented exclusively as an online stream, an encore of MSU Theatre and Dance’s video-recorded production of “The Secret Garden” from the fall of 2020.

First on Templeton’s agenda was to announce the “great news for us” that all performances of the first production, “Beehive,” scheduled for June 16-19, are sold out. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t see it. We are live streaming ‘Beehive.’ People can go online and purchase a live streaming ticket, and you can bring in a whole family and see it for one low price.” MSU Tent Theatre streaming video access costs $34, no matter how many people are watching the stream. “And if somebody wants to make a whole season of that, there is a whole-season streaming pass for $90 for all three shows this year,” said Templeton. He said Tent Theatre officials have been “pleasantly surprised” by the ticket sales so far—like everyone else, they were unsure how much interest there would be among theater patrons to gather together and attend live performances again. That said, it should be kept in mind that Tent is only giving four performances of each show this summer—one weekend for each: “Beehive” June 16 through 19, “39 Steps” June 23 through 26, and the live stream of “Secret Garden June 29 through July 3.

And Templeton said MSU will continue somewhat socially-distanced seating in Coger Theatre, what he called “pod seating,” where groups can be seated together, with distance between groups. “We're not seating the entire house, but we are very close to it.” There will be around 350 audience members each night, which is actually “a little bit more than what we were seating in the tent. So our numbers are really good.”

Mark Templeton says his office overlooks the John Goodman Amphitheater construction site behind Craig Hall. Of course, with all the recent rain he said “it’s looked more like a pool than a theatre! But it’s just like, ‘yeah—it’s really happening!’ It’s going to be spectacular, and will hopefully come to fruition in June of 2022.”

Since “Beehive” is sold out, how many patrons can MSU Tent Theatre accommodate for the online streams? “Right now we are limited to 30 per performance,” Templeton said. But as of right now they “plenty of room.” And he said experience with streaming other attractions during the school year has taught him that, seemingly, “everybody tends to be last minute decision makers on those types of things!” He said they will try to accommodate everyone who wants to buy a streaming pass, and that they will seek permission to add more streaming access if needed.

MSU Theatre and Dance has acquired good practical experience in multi-camera video production during the past year, with help from Springfield Little Theatre—who have practically made a TV studio out of the Landers Theatre—and the MSU Media, Journalism and Film Department. “It’s one of those times where we've had to rethink and re-envision everything, and where we need to put our money and resources to best help our organizations.”

Mark Templeton noted that they have “viable understudies” for each cast member in “Beehive”, “which is something that we haven't done in the past. But considering what's been going on, we thought that that would be a good thing to have. So, in case something were to happen to one of our performers, we're ready to go.” Performers will not be masked this summer. (“Secret Garden,” which was video-recorded last fall, does show performers wearing masks.) But our guidelines for our theater are the same as anywhere else, you know, which is that we recommend masks, but they're not required. And whatever people are most comfortable with, that's what they should do.”

As for “The 39 Steps,” Mark Templeton called it “a fun piece. We have talked about doing that for years. The (actors) in that show, they play dozens of different characters. It's just a romp of a good time. I visited a rehearsal the other day and they were just having a blast.”

Like “Beehive,” in-person tickets for “39 Steps” have also sold “very well,” said Templeton. “Our Wednesday and Thursday performances (June 23 and 24) are full, but we do have availability for live seating on Friday and Saturday (June 25 and 26).” But even for those dates, he added, seating “is very limited. So if people were in the planning stages, I would recommend that they call today to get their tickets for that particular show.”

The streaming broadcasts of “The Secret Garden” June 29 through July 3 will all be at the regular Tent Theatre curtain time of 8:00pm. “We are so excited to bring that back,” Templeton said. “I know there's a lot of people that did not get to see it (last fall). We had some national press that hit right after we closed that show--and then we were getting calls from people about wanting to see it and view it.”

As has been pointed out before, acquiring video-stream rights from show producers and/or script publishers can be tricky. In fact, the producers of “The Secret Garden” normally require theater companies offering streaming videos of the show to delete the master file once they’ve completed their run. “And we had intended to do that, and then we discovered that there was one (copy) that we did not (delete). We explained our situation and told them we were willing to do this immediately, but they were very giving and allowed us to do an encore (this summer).

“And this actually has become a fundraiser for our musical theater program. So it's supporting Tent Theatre, but it's also supporting our musical theater program.As one can imagine, most arts organizations during the last year have just taken massive hits financially. And anything we can do to help that, we're going to be open to suggestions. And in this case, we're going to do an encore performance of a show that was very popular. I hope people will kind of search through our website and find the way that they can stream that to their living room and have an enjoyable experience for their family.”

Visit https://tenttheatre.missouristate.edu to find information on Tent’s 2021 season, or call 836-7678 (toll-free 1-888-476-8749), to order in-person tickets for “The 39 Steps” or a video stream of that show or “The Secret Garden.” In-person tickets range from $19 to $32, and each online stream costs $34.