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Everything Tapscott does is for the success of The District Theatre
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Photo: John Greenwood
Tristan Tapscott is the artistic director for The District Theatre (formerly Hilltop Theatre) in Rock Island.
Photo: Submitted
The crowd sings to Jesus (Tristan Tapscott, left) in a scene from 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' presented in the summer of 2011 at The District Theatre, Rock Island.
ROCK ISLAND -- Ask Tristan Tapscott how he is doing, and his answer is sincere.

"Living the dream," the 28-year-old artistic director of The District Theatre said. "There is nothing I'd rather be doing than what I am doing now."

He is also an actor and producer of the productions at his Rock Island theater -- and he sweeps the floors, builds the sets and sells the tickets.

He pays all expenses and fronts the money for each production and is the last to get paid, he said.



That is why Mr. Tapscott also works as a freelance director, designer, performer at Circa '21 and, last fall, was a member of the producing team, People of Godspell, of the first Broadway revival of "Godspell" in New York.

"Everything I do is to make sure this place is successful, survives and has a future," Mr. Tapscott said while sitting in a chair in the Rock Island theater at 1611 2nd Ave. "I really like all of the work because, at the end of the day, I know it is for the greater good."

Mr. Tapscott's work week varies between 60 and 80 hours. "I don't know a lot of people who make a full-time living in the arts," he said, adding that he can, and does, because the Quad-Cities is supportive of the performing arts.

Two things led Mr. Tapscott into performing arts. He spent a lot of time on the road with his father, who was a professional musician in the '80s and '90s. Also, as a child Mr. Tapscott saw the movie "Backdraft" and was so inspired he began pretending he was a firefighter from the movie. His mother eventually told him the firefighters were just actors pretending to be firefighters.

It was then that it clicked for Mr. Tapscott.

"That is when I decided this is what I wanted to do forever," he said.

The native Quad-Citian went to Black Hawk College and Western Illinois University. After graduation he became a performer, and in 2004, he started producing shows and films.

In 2008, Mr. Tapscott and Chris Walljasper opened the Harrison Hilltop Theatre in Davenport. Over two years, they produced more than 30 productions.

Mr. Walljasper left the company in October 2010. In the summer of 2011, Mr. Tapscott moved the theater to The District of Rock Island. In August, the Hilltop formally became The District Theatre.

Over the course of his career to date, Mr. Tapscott has been involved in more than 200 theatrical productions and a dozen films. He said people can learn much in a classroom, but in his business, one learns more from experience.

"You learn a lot doing what I do," he said. "I make mistakes, but I realize those and say, 'Let's not make those again.' There is no playbook for what I do."

Mr. Tapscott approaches theater differently than others in the area typically do, he said. The small stage within the Rock Island theater leaves little room for elaborate sets and frills. While the sets are minimal, the primary focus is on the actors and their talent, he said.

"It is about the artists, not about the scenery. It is about the performance," Mr. Tapscott said.

The theater offers seating for about 70, a number perfect for Mr. Tapscott. "I always want to make it seem the walls are ready to burst from the seams during a production," he said.

Mr. Tapscott likes to spark teamwork among the performers and see the energy that comes when all are allowed to offer creative input and share their opinions. He said it took awhile to become the type of leader who encourages that level of participation. "I am still learning, too," he said.

He said some people say he cannot do or achieve certain things, and there are others who do not support the type of performances the theater offers. He said he needs those people in his life, as they challenge him and push him to achieve even more.

"I want to show them I can," he said. "You have to have naysayers. What they think they are doing is discouraging me. They are not. What they are doing is adding fuel to my fire."

Mr. Tapscott is proud of how far he has come and where he is in life, but he won't sit still.

"I am always moving forward," he said. "I do not want to settle. When you settle, you are not moving forward."





Living the dream

Who: Tristan Tapscott, actor, producer and artistic director of The District Theatre

Quote: "I make mistakes, but I realize those and say, 'Let's not make those again.'"


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