Pot pourri: The NEA, tax credits (more) and other stuff

March 9, 2012

Seems as if I just finished reporting the Congressional stupidities over 2012 funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (after 10 months of delays and dithering, Congress approved precisely what President Obama had requested) and now here we are again, with the White House budget proposals for Fiscal 2013.

The President has proposed $154 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which would be a badly-needed increase of $8 million from the Fiscal 2012 figure of $146 million. Both years' figures are substantially below the $168 million of FY 2010, which was the biggest NEA budget in over 20 years (but not an all-time high). If approved at $154 million, Federal funding for the arts would be just fifty cents per capita, among the lowest rates of support in the developed world. The White House also has requested $154 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Last year, in what has become an annual event, Congressional conservatives proposed various amendments to drastically slash the NEA budget or eliminate the agency altogether. What was a different is that Republicans in the House joined most Democrats in defeating such proposals after an outpouring of public support. As this year is both a Congressional and a Presidential election year, we might actually have a budget sooner rather than later, so that members of the House and Senate can get out and politick about who's to blame for it.

Last week I wrote about the new Illinois law providing tax credits for Broadway shows playing here, each of which must receive "an accredited theater production certificate" from the state. A few of you asked, "What the hell is that?" And I wondered myself. So, here's the deal.

The live theater program is run through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and has an annual cap of $2 million in tax credits it may award (that is, $2 million in taxes that aren't collected). A production company may use this credit against its state income tax liability equal to 20% of the production's Illinois labor costs and 20% of the company's Illinois production spending. The production must spend a minimum of $100,000 in Chicago, it must play a venue of at least 1,200 seats and it must be a show that either will appear on Broadway within 12 months of its Chicago run, or will play Chicago for more than eight weeks. No doubt the State of Illinois will have some mid-level DCEO bureaucrat earning a six-figure salary overseeing the rules and granting the accredited production certificates.

Several shows coming this calendar year are taking advantage of the program. Jersey Boys, returning to Chicago for the third time, will play the Bank of America Theatre for nine weeks (April 5-June 2). In October, the same theater will host the pre-Broadway try-out of Kinky Boots, a musical based on the Brit film, featuring Cyndi Lauper hit songs and starring Lauper herself. Finally, the Tony Award winning musical, The Book of Mormon, will open at the Bank of American Theatre for a run of at least three months. Next year probably will see double that number, including at least one other pre-Broadway show.

Every now-and-then a brave theater troupe in town takes a crack at producing two or more shows in rotating rep. We have three such examples in the coming weeks, or two-and-a-half depending on whether you count the two parts of Tony Kushner's Angels in America as one play or two. Whichever, Court Theatre is offering Part I, Millennium Approaches, and Part II, Perestroika, in rep March 30-June 3. On select days you'll be able to see both parts. FYI: this will be the first production of Kushner's newly-revised version of Perestroika.

Days later, the Striding Lion Performance Group offers two world premiere dance theater works in rep, both featuring "historically and geographically inspired choreography" by company artistic director Anne Beserra. The two works are The Jenkins Farm Project, based on Besarra's own family's rural history, and Remember the . . . (Alamo), the resonance of which should be obvious. Striding Lion performs at The Viaduct, April 19-29.

Finally, Chicago Folks Operetta offers new translations of two forgotten operettas from the Viennese tradition, Emmerich Kalman's The Circus Princess (not seen locally in 85 years) and Eduard Kunneke's The Cousin from Nowhere. Although just a few years old, Chicago Folks Operetta has been receiving high marks from critics for its enterprising repertory and solid musical values. The two schlag-acious works will be performed June 8-July 1 at the Chopin Theatre.

"The time has come, the Walrus said, "to speak of many things; Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings; And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings."