WBEZ | Off-Loop Theater http://www.wbez.org/tags/loop-theater-0 Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en New theaters in Edgewater, Evanston, Uptown (and Navy Pier?) http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/new-theaters-edgewater-evanston-uptown-and-navy-pier-96054 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-02/BET_Rendering[1].jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We call it a bricks-and-mortar story when a theater company buys its own building and takes on a mortgage to have its own, permanent home. Sometimes it’s not a purchase but a long-term lease, one which requires the company to shoulder the costs of renovating or retrofitting a space into a suitable playhouse.</p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-02-03/dueling-critics-punk-rock-griffin-theatre-96086">Listen to the Dueling Critics discuss this and review <em>Punk Rock</em> at the Griffin Theatre on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></a></div></div><p>Such stories are the stock-in-trade for an arts business reporter, which is a part of what I do in addition to being a theater reviewer. But bricks-and-mortar stories fluctuate with the times and often can be seen as an economic indicator of sorts. The last few years have been relatively quiet with regard to bricks-and-mortar commitments; no surprise there. Just now, however, there are a handful of new projects percolating quietly, if not exactly boiling over.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/BET_Rendering%5B1%5D.jpg" style="width: 548px; height: 342px; margin: 7px;" title="A rendering of the Black Ensemble Cultural Center"></p><p>Certainly, the biggest bricks-and-mortar story of the last year was the opening of the new Black Ensemble Cultural Center on Clark Street at Sunnyside, a new construction project with a price tag of between $16 million and $19 million. It’s just the sort of thing you <em>don’t</em> do when the economy is bad. In this case, however, the planning goes back to 2005 with the purchase of the property and the backstage fundraising one must do long before making a public announcement. Black Ensemble founder/executive director Jackie Taylor and her board already had lined up a lot of ducks before the economy collapsed, which allowed planning and construction to proceed.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/capital-campaign-banner%5B1%5D.jpg" title="A rendering of Griffin Theatre's plans" height="250" width="525"></p><p>In another case, the Griffin Theatre Company secured the property before it secured the money. Griffin, which has been an itinerant troupe for several years, originally was headquartered in Andersonville and the company founders liked the idea of returning to the old ‘hood.&nbsp; A few years ago, Griffin set its sights on a vacant police station on Foster Avenue just east of Damen. All they needed to do was convince the City of Chicago to sell the space to them for a nominal $1 (as the city is wont to do from time to time). Griffin figured they’d need about $1 million to retrofit the station (of course, the jail cells would be perfect just the way they are as actors’ dressing rooms) but couldn’t really begin raising money until the City made up its mind about the property. Alas, the City dithered for about three years before, finally, awarding the property to Griffin in 2011. Griffin, which is not a large troupe, now has begun the arduous task of fundraising, and the price tag has gone up a bit (of course). The company now is on a two-year timetable and hopes to have the old precinct house in operation in 2014.</p><p><strong>Rent and Improve</strong></p><p>The rent-and-improve model takes far less cash, and any loans taken out tend to be far shorter term than a mortgage. The downside, however, is that if you disenchant the landlord you can be out at the end of your three-year or five-year or even ten-year lease; and even if the landlord loves you, he/she/they/it may increase your rent at lease renewal time. Also, landlords can (and frequently have) let <em>you</em> make all necessary capital improvements to the space.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/IMG_2208%5B1%5D.JPG" style="width: 236px; height: 157px; float: left; margin: 7px;" title="The Rivendell space during rehab. (Rivendell/Joe Mazza/Bravelux.com)">Still, rent-and-improve can be the way to go if conditions are right, as they were in 2011 for Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, which now has its first-ever permanent home after 15 years of gypsy life. The new Rivendell space at 5779 Ridge Avenue in Edgewater opens March 8 with <em>Falling: A Wake</em> after about six months of gut rehab and build-out of the interior space, reportedly achieved for a mid-six figure sum. One hopes the troupe, guided by co-founder Tara Mallen, has a good, iron-clad ten-year lease!</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/newspace%5B1%5D.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 200px; margin: 7px; float: right;" title="The National Pastime Theater space during rehab. (NPT/Warren Winter/PSG)">Not too far south, on Lawrence Avenue, National Pastime Theater soon will unveil its new home on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center (The People’s Church) in Uptown. With over 6,000 square feet, the spacious quarters prominently feature a classically columned Masonic Hall, easily being converted into a 300-seat theater. James Cappleman, alderman of the 46<sup>th</sup> Ward, helped broker the arrangement so, presumably, it’s a solid one with a multi-year lease. National Pastime previously had occupied the Old Speakeasy in a large commercial and apartment building on Broadway at Buena; a building which also houses Profiles Theatre. But National Pastime ran afoul of the landlord and had to choose between a large rent increase or finding new quarters. Not so the companion Profiles, which quickly snapped up the Old Speakeasy as its second leased space in the building. Apparently perfectly happy paying rent, Profiles also operates the Second Stage, a storefront theater on Sheffield at Roscoe.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/4_NEWBLDG_westview%5B1%5D.png" style="width: 300px; height: 179px; margin: 7px; float: left;" title="A rendering of Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University">At least two very large new performing arts venues now are on the horizon as well. Last week, Northwestern University announced plans for a $117 million, five-story building for the Bienen School of Music, which will adjoin the existing theater and music venues facing the lakefront. The hall will include classrooms, rehearsal rooms, offices and studios as well as a black box theater and a 400-seat recital hall. Groundbreaking is to be in May with a three-year construction schedule.</p><p>Navy Pier also has plans to dig more deeply into the theater biz with its current principal partner, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Earlier this week, the media revealed that three finalists are competing for a redesign of the outdoors public portions of the Pier; a series of projects slated to cost $155 million and be completed in time for the Navy Pier centenary in 2016. But the Pier’s centenary plan includes much more than an exterior make-over: it also features a plan to replace the Skyline Stage with a large, indoor flexible theater that can seat 500-1000 depending on configuration and will have proscenium arch capabilities. At present, there is no start date or price tag for this project, which certainly will be in eight-figures. Folks at Chicago Shakes began talking about it a good five years ago before running into the roadblock of a sour economy. Don’t rule out the possibility, however, that this addition to the Pier might, somehow, see the light of day in 2016.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/20120126mylove.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 375px; margin: 7px;" title="Skyline Stage (Flickr/Christopher.F)"></p><p>Skyline stage has a wonderful, iconic shape (the permanent parabolic tent) but is limited to seasonal use as a concert venue and—for the last several years—home to the summer-long Cirque Shanghai. Moving from the 1500-seat Skyline Stage into a 1,000-seat indoor house doesn’t seem to make good business sense, even supposing Chicago Shakes would want an all-summer tenant. So what, one wonders, will the Pier do with Cirque Shanghai? It’s a bridge that may need to be crossed a few years down the road, but not just yet.</p></p> Thu, 02 Feb 2012 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/new-theaters-edgewater-evanston-uptown-and-navy-pier-96054 Douglas resignation: lessons to be learned? http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-25/douglas-resignation-lessons-be-learned-95780 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-25/mourning becomes electra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On Monday, January 23 at the Goodman Theatre opening of David Mamet’s <em>Race</em>, the new artistic director of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, Nick Sandys, stood side-by-side with his predecessor, Timothy Douglas, both tall and trim and obviously with warm regards towards each other. Sandys, a longtime member of the Remy Bumppo ensemble, succeeded to the artistic director job just days before, following Douglas’s sudden resignation.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-25/mourning becomes electra.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 398px;" title="Remy Bumppo's 'Mourning Becomes Electra' (Photo by Johnny Knight Photography)"></p><p>The change in leadership at Remy Bumppo was the big performing arts news story of last week, magnified by the fact that Douglas had been on the job at Remy Bumppo for only eight months and also by the fact that he is the first African-American to lead a mainstream, mid-sized Chicago theater company. In this context (and perhaps in many others), “mainstream” means non-ethnic specific, which is another way of saying majority white in its audience make-up and roster of artists.</p><p>My colleague, Kelly Kleiman, and I both are writing about Douglas’s resignation this week (<em>Editor's note: Kelly's piece can be read <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-26/black-and-white-and-read-all-over-95836">here</a></em>) because his decision has many aspects to explore and several possible lessons for other theater companies. In keeping with the Mamet play now at the Goodman Theatre, Kelly will explore the presence (or not) of racial aspects to his decision which, it needs to be noted, was not coerced or requested by the Remy Bumppo board or ensemble.</p><p>In fact, Douglas laid his resignation on the table last November, and the company refused to accept it, working to overcome what Douglas called artistic and cultural differences. Do his words, “artistic” and “cultural,” imply racial nuances? Should readers infer such nuances? See what Kelly has to say.</p><p>For my part, I’ve chosen to write about a different range of issues and problems, those that can come about with any change in leadership in an organization.</p><p>The first circumstance is that Douglas was hired to succeed the founding artistic director of Remy Bumppo who guided the troupe for 15 years and built its distinctive esthetic. It’s always a particular challenge to replace the founder of a company because often the esthetic has evolved organically, rather than in the form of a written mission or statements of policy. Whenever a troupe must replace a longtime leader, whether the founder or not, it needs to question itself first and ask the basics: who are we? What are we? Why are we the way we are? Is this what we wish to continue to be? How do we work? What sort of change (if any) do we want? Who or what is our base of support? Will they/it stay with us? Where do we want to be in “x” years? What do we seek in a new leader?</p><p>I have heard reports that Remy Bumppo has engaged a consultant to help address precisely such questions now, but it’s unclear whether or not the company conducted a critical self-examination <em>before</em> it began sifting through resumes.</p><p>What came as much bigger surprise, however, was Douglas’s observation (in his resignation letter) that he had been hired without ever having seen a Remy Bumppo production, and without anyone from Remy Bumppo having seen anything he directed. He was hired on the basis of his resume and several interviews. I find this more than a little surprising and a&nbsp;<em>lot</em> absurd. You mustn’t hire a superior resume and a good talker (or even a noble talker or a visionary talker); you need to hire a person to select repertory, interpret it and work with a wide range of artists to create a product for a paying public. Ya’ can’t do that sight unseen.</p><p>I’ve been told by a knowledgeable source that Remy Bumppo brought eight candidates to Chicago for interviews with its search committee. It’s an almost-impossible dereliction of duty to think that&nbsp;<em>none</em> of those eight saw a Remy Bumppo production, so perhaps Timothy Douglas was the odd man out in this regard. But perhaps not. Especially with an ensemble-based company such as Remy Bumppo, it seems obligatory that the final two or three candidates (if not all eight who were interviewed) would be brought in to see a production or at least sit in on a few rehearsals to see how the ensemble worked under its founding director. I’d think it equally obligatory that the head of the search committee, and a representative of the acting ensemble, would have traveled to see productions put up by the finalists.</p><p>There are other decisions that, in hindsight, might be questioned. Douglas, in his very first season, chose to direct all three Remy Bumppo productions himself. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps it would have been better to bring in another director for, say, the middle show of the season so that he, Douglas, could observe how the ensemble might work differently under someone else. It also would have given him greater freedom to see the work of other Chicago-area theater companies and deepen his knowledge of the local artistic community. Even more, if you do it all yourself, there’s nowhere to hide if the critics and audiences don’t cozy up to your efforts. A change of face, a change of pace can be the pause that refreshes.</p><p>Another observer pointed out that Douglas, despite an extraordinary record as a director and theater educator, never had run a theater company before coming to Remy Bumppo. Perhaps surprisingly to some readers, this really isn’t an issue. Douglas had more than enough substantial experience in senior artistic leadership positions to assume the role of Remy Bumppo artistic director. It’s not as if he didn’t know what to do or how to do it. The real question, going back several paragraphs, is this: did he know what the company expected of him in an esthetic or abstract sense? Did the company know what it expected of him in an abstract or esthetic sense?</p><p>At least on some levels, the answers appear to have been “no” and “no.”</p><p>Timothy Douglas has exceptional experience to bring to the table. His separation from Remy Bumppo seems to be a no-fault divorce. Moving forward, it would be a shame not to have his presence in Chicago at least from time to time as a director or theater educator. My conversations with him lead me to think he’d be a damn fine theater critic, too, but he’s gonna’ have to fight Kelly if he wants her job.</p></p> Wed, 25 Jan 2012 15:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-25/douglas-resignation-lessons-be-learned-95780 A touch of theatrical déjà vu http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/the_ghost_is_here.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 225px; height: 340px;" title="'The Ghost is Here' from Vitalist Theatre">Someone much wise and more perceptive than me (I know it’s difficult to imagine such a thing) observed that in all of literature, including drama, there only are nine or a dozen basic storylines. I forget the precise number, but it’s remarkably low. I was reminded of this in compiling my master list of theater productions opening in the next several months, during which task <em>déjà vu</em> jumped up and socked me in the jaw a couple of times.</p><p>For example, this past weekend saw the Vitalist Theatre offer <a href="http://www.vitalisttheatre.org/company.html"><strong><em>The Ghost is Here</em></strong></a>, a 1957 play by acclaimed Japanese author Kobo Abe, running through Feb. 19 at the DCA Storefront Theater. Set in post-World War II Japan, it’s the tale of a preposterous con-artist promoting a grim scam of selling the dead or, rather, buying photos of the war dead cheap and selling them back dear to grieving relatives, claiming that an agent for the ghosts of the dead demands a cut.</p><p>Instantly, I thought of Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 novel, <em>Dead Souls</em>, in which a schemer buys up the souls of deceased serfs (this was before the 1861 Emancipation of Russian serfs) whose names remain listed as taxable property of landowners. I don’t know if Abe ever had access to Gogol’s writings, either in Russian or Japanese, but both authors are famously noted for the absurdist, almost surreal worlds they create. <em>Dead Soul</em> was adapted for the stage at least twice, famously by Mikhail Bulgakov in 1932 for the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky, and in 1980 by Russian-fluent American playwright Tom Cole for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 199px;" title="'Clutter' at Greenhouse Theatre (Photo by Peter Coombs)">Then, this Thursday (Jan. 19), MadKap (sic) Productions offer a world premiere by Mark Salztman, <a href="http://www.madkapproductions.com/-clutter.html"><strong><em>Clutter</em></strong></a>, running at the Greenhouse through March 11. It’s based on the lives of the Collyer Brothers, New York City eccentrics and hoarders found dead in their garbage-packed Upper Fifth Avenue townhouse in 1947. Their fascinatingly grotesque story has been turned into plays at least twice previously, Richard Greenberg’s 2002 <em>The Dazzle</em> (seen locally at Steppenwolf) and last July’s <em>Stuff</em>, by Michael McKeever, produced at the Caldwell Theatre in Florida. The brothers also were the subject of a 2009 E. L. Doctorow work of historical fiction (as is his wont), <em>Homer and Langley</em>.</p><p>Obviously, plays based on historical fact aren’t necessarily works which can be sorted into a particular plot slot, although each of them must have some sort of plot structure. Greenberg’s <em>The Dazzle</em>, for example, featured the Collyer Brothers as competitors in a romantic triangle much like, oh, say, <em>The Phantom of the Opera</em> in which Christine is lured by The Phantom and Raoul. There are few other similarities except the basic plot structure; see Paragraph One above.</p><p>The attraction of history and real people is, perhaps, the fact that they are in the public domain and, therefore, can be utilized as subjects with minimal legal encumberments. Often, too, such subjects or characters already are widely known, making them somehow more attractive to potential audiences. Thus, for example, we currently have Christopher Durang’s <strong><em>Titanic</em></strong> on stage at the <a href="http://www.athenaeumtheatre.com/">Athenaeum Theatre</a>, presented by Cock and Bull Theatre (through Jan. 29). It’s a very long way from the first or only stage and film treatment of the subject, although surely it’s the most outrageous with its drag sensibilities.</p><p>Also, Lookingglass Theatre now is presenting<a href="http://lookingglasstheatre.org/content/box_office/mr_rickey_calls_a_meeting"> <strong><em>Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting,</em></strong></a> through Feb. 9, which recounts Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate major league baseball with the 1947 call-up of Jackie Robinson. This seminal moment in American sporting history has been documented onstage and in film and even in a 1981 Broadway musical, <em>The First</em>, produced locally some years ago by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.</p><p>I could go on, but you get the idea. Literature IS <em>déjà vu</em>, at least to a degree. I guess that some story ideas, some plotlines and some character types never stale in their infinite variety. Or, to use even more French, <em>plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose</em>.</p><p>P.S. If you think you’re reading my blog post from last week, you are <em>wrong</em>. This one is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND ORIGINAL!</p></p> Tue, 17 Jan 2012 10:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 The worst in Chicago theater 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-27/worst-chicago-theater-2011-95157 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-27/trickster.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last week, just in time for Christmas, my colleagues <a href="http://www.wbez.org/onstagebackstage">Kelly Kleiman and Laura Molzahn and I posted our “best-of” theater and dance lists of the year</a>. It seems apt, therefore, that one of us should conclude the year with a review of some of the season’s disappointments.</p><p>Since I’m the curmudgeon of the group, and I’m the one who hasn’t left town for The Holidays, the duty falls to me. Thing to keep in mind is that there usually is a reason a show is not successful; something identifiable, something upon which you can put your finger. It’s not as simple as a show being badly produced or poorly acted; in fact, that often is not the case at all.</p><p>With that as prologue, here’s some of the recent past in Chicago theater.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-27/trickster.jpg" title="Trickster - Halcyon Theatre Company, 2011 (photo by Tom McGrath)" width="401" height="600"></p><p>Right out of the 2011 gate last January, <a href="http://halcyontheatre.org/trickster">Halcyon Theatre offered the world premiere of <strong><em>Trickster</em></strong></a>, written and staged by company artistic director Tony Adams. Sprawling and far-too-long, <em>Trickster</em> attempted to create a universal myth inspired, in part, by Native American (or pseudo-Native American) animism. However, the cloudy tale quickly lost focus as it transitioned into a dark, violent and misogynistic human story. Especially with a new work, the jobs of playwright and director need to be separate and full-time. Even Noel Coward wasn’t as good as he though at being both at the same time. One hopes that Tony Adams learned a lesson.</p><p>Following in February was <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/stage/3703284-421/tv-star-starkid-create-starship.html">something called<strong><em> Starship</em></strong></a>, a musical produced by an internet phenom from Michigan (now based in Chicago) called Team StarKid. The idea was to perform a live show in front of an audience, digitally recording it to be doled out in 10-minute segments to online subscribers. The tale was of a planet populated by sentient insects, one of whom wants to be human. <em>Starship</em> was a big production, but it offered a childish story, tepid pop music, a flaccid pace and grade school pageant scenery. I’m certain it looks much better in its edited online version, but its straight-from-university creators have a great deal to learn about writing for theater vs. marketing, which they already seem to know.</p><p>In March, Harold Pinter died again in <a href="http://www.maryarrchie.com/">Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company’s</a> production of <strong><em>The Homecoming</em></strong>, in which company founder Richard Cotovsky—a rightly-esteemed member of Chicago’s theater community—simply was out of his element in the crucial role of Max, neither old enough (Max is 70+) nor master of the East End London accent nor menacing enough as directed by Geoff Button. Much of the work was good, but all the pieces didn’t fall into place. Cotovsky seemed as uncomfortable performing the role as I felt watching him.</p><p>Also in March, a ton of money, talent and promotional savvy were poured into <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-05-10/random-thoughts-chay-yew-white-noise-closes-86307"><strong><em>White Noise</em></strong>, a Broadway-bound rock musical, which stopped at the Royal George Theatre</a> and didn’t go any further. Classic case of book problems: not nearly enough time spent developing truthful characters, or making any of several subplots plausible in this semi-satirical tale (which not everyone understood) of an unscrupulous music producer who promotes both a white supremacy rock act and Black rapping brothers. There were several terrific songs and a gifted cast, but a show needs more than production values to sustain it.</p><p>Finally, late in the summer, <a href="http://mortartheatrecompany.org/2010/03/chicago-storefront-theatre-summit-iii/">Mortar Theatre at the Storefront Theatre</a> stumbled with the world premiere of <strong><em>Corazon de Manzana</em></strong> (meaning apple core or, literally, “apple heart”) by Dana Lynn Formby. It was beautifully produced with elements of music and dance and imaginative design, but Formby’s use of surreal or fairytale elements to tell a real political story was confusing and a mistake. Her sincerity was obvious, but not what she actually was trying to convey, which has to do with the mass killings of women and girls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This potent story needed to be artistically real rather than artsy.</p><p>The typical Chicago theater season offers over 800 productions every year, of which I personally see perhaps 200, meaning my five disappointments make up less than 3% of what I saw and less than 1% of Chicago’s total production volume. May it be so little again in 2012, a year in which Chicago theater will continue to flourish in spite of me.</p></p> Tue, 27 Dec 2011 14:36:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-27/worst-chicago-theater-2011-95157 New artistic model for Theater on the Lake http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/new-artistic-model-theater-lake-95056 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-20/26493842.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/26493842.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 225px; " title="(Photo via Google Maps)">An almost-end-of-the-year press release from the Chicago Park District—the kind that often is lost or buried—has announced a most interesting change in the artistic structure of <a href="http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/parks.detail/object_id/312df49f-8fbf-4e35-8da1-443a4a50e3e8.cfm">Theater on the Lake</a>, the annual Lincoln Park summer theater program which will be 60 years old in 2012.</p><p>For quite a few years now, what officially is called the Chicago Summer Theater Festival has presented one-week revivals of eight Off-Loop theater productions from the regular season, running late-summer through mid-spring. Those shows have been selected by the Festival artistic director, who has been Hallie Gordon for the last six years (Gordon also is director of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults program).</p><p>This year, however, the Park District is adopting a new model for the Festival, replacing the artistic director with two “co-artistic curators” brought on for one season only, and who will be chosen annually through an application process with the Chicago Park District. The pair will select the season, presumably assist in producing the remounts and also will be involved in support and outreach programs, such as proposed post-show talks with the audience.</p><p>The first two co-artistic curators are actor/director Michael Patrick Thornton and director/dramaturge Meghan Beals McCarthy. Thornton is co-founder/artistic director of the storefront Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park, and also an actor well-known for his recurring role on ABC’s <em>Private Practice</em> TV series. McCarthy is the associate artistic director of Chicago Dramatists, with previous literary management experience at the Northlight and Steppenwolf theater companies locally (and with several New York companies before that).</p><p>The 2012 60<sup>th</sup> anniversary season will be announced in the spring. As always, performances are in the little pavilion at the eastern foot of Fullerton Avenue at the lakefront. Now called Theater on the Lake, the historic structure was built in 1910 as a recuperation ward for tubercular babies (there’s nothing like some dry lake air, eh?) and later was used as a USO facility and for barn dances. It’s been used as a summer theater since 1952. The acoustics are terrible and the lighting isn’t very good, but the lake breeze on a hot night <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-07-13/critics-theater-picks-715-717-89111">can be a delight</a> and ticket prices always are modest. A proposal floated several years ago to remodel the pavilion into a truly serviceable theater was shelved without ever becoming an actual plan when the economy tanked.</p></p> Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:51:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/new-artistic-model-theater-lake-95056 Black Ensemble Theater: Quo Vadis? http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-05/black-ensemble-theater-quo-vadis-94632 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-06/day52.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The major theater event of the last month, and one of the most important arts events of the year, was the November 18 opening of the Black Ensemble Cultural Center at 4450 N. Clark Street, the culmination of a long-held dream and 35 years of survival in a dicey business on the part of Black Ensemble founder and executive director, Ms. Jackie Taylor. Purpose-built from the ground up at a cost of $16 million (as announced at the groundbreaking in September, 2011) or $19 million (as reported at the time of the recent ribbon cutting), the facility includes a mainstage theater, a studio theater, rehearsal space, classrooms, public gallery space, and offices.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-06/day52.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 352px;" title="Construction wraps up on the Black Ensemble Cultural Center this fall. (Courtesy of Black Ensemble Theater)"></p><p>When the first shovel of earth was turned just 14 months ago, the line-up of notables in attendance featured Mayor Daley, Gov. Quinn, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, State Sen. Kwame Raoul and at least a dozen assorted aldermen, state representatives and foundation CEO’s and corporate honchos. Never have I seen more ducks lined up in a straighter row. The Black Ensemble Cultural Center was writ in the stars and Jackie Taylor appeared to be fulfilling her manifest destiny.</p><p>Now the new venture is up and running and the Big Question for me is addressed directly to Jackie, whom I’ve known since Day One of the Black Ensemble and maybe longer: When are you going to announce an innovative new artistic plan for your company?</p><p>To the disappointment of some, Taylor chose to open her dream venue by taking a step backwards and offering a new production of her eleven year old success, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-11-25/dueling-critics-black-ensemble-theater-revives-jackie-wilson-story-94336"><em>The Jackie Wilson Story</em></a> (running through January 8 and perhaps longer). To be sure, it’s as solidly-produced a show as the Black Ensemble always offers, and the talent on display and musical bang-for-the-buck it provides are splendid, as always. There are a cooking seven-piece band, gifted singers and dancers and a star who channels the biographical subject to an uncanny degree, as always.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/FiTso_d8CMo" width="480" frameborder="0" height="360"></iframe></p><p>And there’s the rub: “as always.” For the last decade or longer, the Black Ensemble has followed a tried-and-true formula of offering “greatest hits” musical biographies of many leading lights of Black music, chiefly drawn from blues, early rock and R&amp;B genres (although not always). The gala opening season Taylor has announced between now and next June offers five cookie-cutter shows, musical bios of Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and various Ladies of Soul (Aretha, Gladys, Diana, etc.).</p><p>But you don’t move into $16 million or $19 million of new facilities to keep on keepin’ on with the same old same-old. There have to be ambitions beyond a new playhouse and attached parking and more parking across the street. I know Jackie had such ambitions once upon a time, genuine artistic ambitions. And maybe now she needs to look to her own past in order to look forward. I’m certainly not the only one (heaven help me, I can’t be the only one!) who remembers when the Black Ensemble Theater produced serious African-American drama before August Wilson came along. Anyone recall when the troupe did plays by Ed Bullins and Lorraine Hansberry?</p><p>Taylor also produced, among many others, <em>Medea</em> by Euripides and <em>A Streetcar Named Desire</em>. I remember so clearly Jackie’s answer when I asked her “Why <em>Streetcar</em>?” in which she played Blanche Dubois. “It’s a role I’ve always wanted to play before I get too old, and no mainstream theater company is going to give me a chance to play it,” she said. A little vain, perhaps, but absolutely valid.</p><p>But where are those plays now? Where are the opportunities for the Black Ensemble’s gifted artists (although <em>not</em> an acting ensemble, despite the name) to appear in great plays of proven caliber? To take on classics and modern works of social and dramatic interest? To stretch their chops in mainstream repertory they probably won’t have a chance to play elsewhere? To do what the Black Ensemble used to do? To follow—quite literally—in Jackie Taylor’s footsteps?</p><p>I don’t say the Black Ensemble never should do a jukebox musical about a great popular artist. Its long string of biographical musical revues (which is what they are) has given employment and a spotlight to many, many, many people and certainly has kept the troupe alive at the box office. But the company no longer can justify such shows as its steady and only diet and live up to its name. Taylor herself has been involved in a majority of Black Ensemble productions as writer and/or director as well as producer, which hardly is an ensemble approach to art or to craft. The company’s Board of Directors has successfully raised a ton of money to provide Taylor with the facilities to do more, and now she needs to do it.</p><p>Yes, the Black Ensemble has various outreach and educational programs, but so does every other non-profit theater of any size or substance in town. And, yes, the Black Ensemble has a Black Playwrights Initiative, which offers various types of in-kind support for two dozen writers. However, the work coming out of this program and moving into production—at least so far—is standard Black Ensemble material: scripts for biographical musicals. These programs are costly for any theater company to maintain, large or small, but it’s completely counter-intuitive to support them by turning your mainstage series—the main event for any theater company—into a cash cow of repetitive audience-pleasing shows. A theater company has to take risks and lead its audience to challenging material.</p><p>In her message in the opening program, Ms. Taylor promises “African, Japanese and Mexican Culture in 2012 with some unique one-time performance programming” and that’s an OK start for a cultural center in a racially and ethnically diverse ‘hood such as Uptown. But it’s not the same as a fundamental and primary artistic commitment to better, more profound theater and the nurturing of a true ensemble in some form.</p><p>Some may say, “Gosh darn it, Jonathan, give them time! They’ve just opened their new doors. You can’t expect everything right away.” But the point is that I’m laying down a dare to Jackie Taylor and the Black Ensemble Theater and the Black Ensemble Cultural Center and its Board of Directors, and there really isn’t a good time to lay down a dare; you just do it. I’m not asking the impossible. I am asking Ms. Jackie Taylor, who is an exceedingly capable and determined individual, to be true to herself and the artist she has been.</p></p> Tue, 06 Dec 2011 04:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-05/black-ensemble-theater-quo-vadis-94632 The CityArts Program: an open letter to DCASE http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-17/cityarts-program-open-letter-dcase-94126 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-17/Boone.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Early last April, when Rahm Emanuel merely was Mayor-Elect, I used this blog space to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-04-12/rham-boeing-and-arts-modest-proposal-84952">send him an open letter</a> about the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/provdrs/grants/svcs/city_arts_applicationsummary.html">CityArts Program</a>. I never heard back from him. I was disappointed because Rahm had recently cited a theater review by my colleague, Chris Jones, in the Tribune, and saw an Off-Loop play based on Jones’s favorable write-up. Since I am older than Chris and have a much-longer career as a journalist, I naturally assumed the Mayor-Elect would pay attention to me. After all, I am Chicago’s senior theater critic (true), but that and $4.35 will get you coffee at Starbucks.</p><p>I know, however, that members of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) have read my <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-03/dcase-does-do-over-93712">last</a> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-08/dcase-do-over-part-ii-93799">two</a> blog posts here, which have been about the restructuring of DCASE now taking place. With that in mind, I’m revising my April Open Letter to Rahm as a memo to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-19/citys-new-culture-czar-looks-future-89343">DCASE Commissioner Michelle T. Boone</a>. I hope you’re reading this, Commish.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-17/Boone.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 280px; height: 195px; " title="(Courtesy of the City of Chicago)">MEMO TO MICHELLE BOONE</p><p>Over the years I've been an arts business reporter, one of my favorite annual stories has been the grants made to local cultural organizations through CityArts, initiated in 1979 through the Department of Cultural Affairs (now DCASE). CityArts doesn't give a lot of money to any one artist or entity, but it gives a modest amount of money to a great many, thereby spreading the City's largesse (alright, the taxpayers' largesse) far and wide to virtually every 'hood in town.</p><p>Grants are based on the budgetary size of the applicant in four tiers ranging from emerging arts organizations with annual cash income under $150,000, to institutions with annual income of $2 million and up. At Tier I, the current maximum grant request is $3,000, which can make a big difference to a little troupe operating on $50,000 a year. At Tier IV the maximum grant is $10,000, which makes virtually no difference at all to a museum or orchestra or theater with a budget of $15-$50 million a year. Still, it might fund an internship or three and it gives to the recipient the imprimatur of the City of Chicago.</p><p>CityArts is a joyful idea precisely BECAUSE there are far more small non-profit cultural organizations than large ones and far more grant recipients in the lower tiers than in the top tier, so for once most of the bucks are going to the little guys rather than the same old big guys. Even better, I’ve never heard a complaint that CityArts is unfair or clout-connected. Hey, $3,000 hardly is enough money to waste your clout on—if you have any clout. In short, the CityArts Program has been a model of how public money should be spent and how a city program should be administered.</p><p>Now, CityArts has NEVER been funded at more than $1 million a year since the program started. Still, in its best years, CityArts makes grants to several hundred organizations large and small covering arts education, choirs, dance, theater, instrumental ensembles, children’s' arts programs, museums, social service agency arts programs, concert series, film, TV, new media, etc., etc. As long as an organization has a cultural function, and meets application guidelines (including, for example, proof of liability insurance), it's eligible for a CityArts grant, and also can apply for a renewal of the grant in two successive years.</p><p>In this manner, CityArts has distributed thousands of grants totaling $22 million in 33 years. It's hardly a notch in the total outlays of the City of Chicago, but CityArts has had major impact. Even so, the diversity and basic fairness of this program have not protected it from budget cuts. Since the economy tanked four years ago, CityArts has been reduced by 50% and currently is funded at $500,000 a year.</p><p>But right now the Mayor and DCASE have an opportunity to engineer a major, vital and important retooling of CityArts. It is time to privatize the CityArts Program or, more accurately, to turn it into a significant public-private partnership. Let the City pledge $1 million annually to CityArts, which sum to be matched by a corporate sponsor in return for naming rights. Suddenly, CityArts would be quadrupled. The point would not be to increase the size of the CityArts grants (well, maybe a little) but to greatly increase the NUMBER of grants.</p><p>What say Chicago and the Boeing Company (for example) enter into a 10-year partnership to fund the CityArts Program? Boeing would have its name splashed on more programs and posters and websites and tweets and Facebook pages and press releases than it can count, and actually would be doing genuine good at an extremely modest cost on a city-wide basis, bringing arts and culture to every corner of town.</p><p>Even better, why not ask Boeing if they would make their matching grant upfront? The funds could be placed in an escrow account or trust that would earn sufficient interest to extend the life of the program: the Boeing CityArts Trust.</p><p>If not Boeing, there certainly are many other possible private partners from the financial, industrial and service sectors of the Chicago economy. Why not ask Donald Trump? What's he doing in Chicago besides collecting rent and paying reduced property taxes? &nbsp;What about the Harris Bank? Or Macy’s? Or the CBOE? What about Chicago Community Trust or the MacArthur Foundation? Would they partner on CityArts? How about a giant Chicago general contractor? Can you envision the Pepper Construction CityArts Trust?</p><p>Mayor Emanuel already has discussed both privatization (he’s done it with blue cart garbage pick-up) and the sale of advertising on public structures (such as bridges), so my proposal would seem to mesh with his economic ideas. Also, in 2012 DCASE expects to create a comprehensive cultural plan for Chicago, as Emanuel promised to do when running for mayor. It would be more than appropirate to include an expansion of CityArts as part of that plan.</p></p> Thu, 17 Nov 2011 13:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-17/cityarts-program-open-letter-dcase-94126 Christine Provost named new chief of actor's union http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-09/christine-provost-named-new-chief-actors-union-93879 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-09/5143096520_147db05f05.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-09/5143096520_147db05f05.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 300px; " title="(Flickr/Seth Anderson)">It will be a smooth transition for the <a href="http://www.actorsequity.org/aboutequity/central.asp">Chicago office of Actors Equity Association</a>, with long-time high-level staffer Christine Provost named to succeed Kathryn V. Lamkey as Central Regional Director/Assistant Executive Director, effective January 1. Lamkey is retiring after 25 years with the union of actors and stage managers.</p><p>Provost, who has a law degree from Northwestern University, joined the Chicago office of Equity in 1996 after earlier work in litigation with a large law firm. She began as a business representative, was promoted to senior business rep and assumed responsibilities for supervising all contractual matters in the Central Region, which is headquartered in Chicago. She assisted Lamkey in the management of the office, trained new hires on Equity policies and procedures and served as second chair in national, regional and local negotiations.</p><p>As Central Regional Director, Provost will oversee the administration of all categories of Equity contracts for the region—which covers 15 states from the Dakotas to Ohio and Louisiana—and serve as Chief Negotiator for several of them.&nbsp;She will supervise a staff of 20 and be responsible for the overall operation of the Central Regional office. At the national level, as an Assistant Executive Director, Provost will be an integral part of the union’s executive team to develop strategies and standards consistent with Equity’s vision, mission and goals.&nbsp;</p><p>In addition to her post at Equity, Provost serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council (I’ll bet ya’ didn’t know there was one) and guest lectures at Columbia College.&nbsp;</p><p>The good news here is that Equity has promoted from within rather than bringing in a non-Chicagoan to take over this very important office, a mistake the union made in the past. Those with long memories—me—recall the Central Region chief brought in from New York in the 1970’s who was too inflexible to create Equity contracts, or adapt existing ones, that would nurture the then-nascent Off-Loop Theater movement. His successor (and Lamkey’s direct predecessor), Tad Currie, did precisely that, creating the first Chicago Area Theatre (CAT) contract about 30 years ago; an agreement that allowed extensive unionization of Off-Loop Theater and became a model for numerous similar contracts across the country.</p><p>The CAT contract remains the heart of local theater vigor, being the collective bargaining agreement used by the Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens and Lookingglass theater companies as well as dozens of smaller troupes. Year in and year out, it provides more Equity work weeks than any other contract category and serves as the main barometer of local theater industry health.</p><p>Largely because of the CAT contract (although not exclusively because of it), the Central Region always generates work week totals out of all proportion to its percentage of Equity members. Equity, which celebrates its 100<sup>th</sup> anniversary in 2013, has 49,000 members nationwide of whom only 8%-9% live in the Central Region. Nonetheless, the region generates between 14% and 16% of Equity’s annual work weeks.</p><p>The Central Region also has some of America’s most important regional theaters, among them the Guthrie (Minneapolis), Milwaukee Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Players Theatre (Spring Green, WI), Cleveland Playhouse, the Kansas City Repertory and the Goodman.</p></p> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 13:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-09/christine-provost-named-new-chief-actors-union-93879 The $5 rules: Advice from off-off-off Loop theater pro to the IL GOP http://www.wbez.org/blog/justin-kaufmann/2011-11-07/5-rules-advice-loop-theater-pro-il-gop-93806 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-07/strawpoll.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-07/strawpoll.JPG" style="width: 492px; height: 369px;" title="Popcorn? For 5 bucks, I want chicken. (WBEZ/Sam Hudzik) "></p><p>What's up Illinois?!<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-gop-paul-wins-presidential-straw-poll-93794"> Ron Paul in the house</a>! More than 3,600 people voted in the Illinois Republican straw poll over the weekend. The Ill. GOP needs cash, apparently to help with the 2012 election, so they charged people $5 to vote in this informal poll. Now, $5 might seem like it goes a long way (3,600x5=$18k) but party leaders really should've talked with some local off-Loop theater companies who actually have experience with $5 tickets before settling on that amount. Why? Because while $18,000 might seem like nice pull, my bet is the party overlooked a few things.&nbsp; Did you pay the door guy yet? How 'bout props? Did you have any props at your straw poll (straw hats, perhaps)? And do you have the rights to the "Straw Poll" script? And are you paying the actors (in this case, candidates)? And the wrap party? Did you pay for the wrap party?</p><p>My guess is that the Ill. GOP has about $1,200 left. My advice? Spend it on a new set.</p><p><strong>B story</strong>: <a href="http://gawker.com/5856928/heres-the-freaky-surveillance-equipment-chicago-police-are-using-to-spy-on-you/gallery/1">Gawker has a story about Occupy Chicago protesters accusing the Chicago Police Department</a> of installing eavesdropping equipment near their camp.</p><p><strong>C story</strong>: In my regular Monday morning "give me a break" segment, I focus on two of our state's esteemed leaders. <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-cardinal-quinn-dispute-20111107,0,4634777.story">Cardinal George and Gov. Pat Quinn got into a spat over the weekend</a>, and the rape victim at the center of the brawl (she was going to receive an award) has hurt feelings. Then the Cardinal backtracks, saying he didn't even know she was involved. Cardinal, let me explain: I've been in many shoving matches. If you want to have a shoving match with another dude, first thing you want to do is make sure someone isn't standing between you.&nbsp; That's just obvious, right? Fighters, am I right?</p><p><strong>D story</strong>: Wow, I guess it's good that no <a href="http://www.rollcall.com/news/mccaul_leaps_top_50_richest_members_congress-208231-1.html?pos=adp">Illinois Congressman is on the list of the top 50 richest members of Congress</a>? I wonder where Obama would rank if he were still in the Senate. Now, my question has to be: Do people who run for congress know that they can become millionaires? Is it sort of a move to take your financial status to the next level? Or are they rich before and just do it cause they are bored.</p><p>Remember when it was cool to want to be rich?</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="369" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Ztk9t_m1FpY" width="500"></iframe></p><p><strong>E story</strong>: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-11-07/central-park-theater-chicagos-first-movie-palace-93727">John R. Schmidt gives us the story behind Chicago's first movie palace</a>. Greatest blog ever.</p><p><strong>F story</strong>: I'm sure it's a great show, <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-eberts-movie-review-show-will-end-without-more-financial-backing-20111107,0,1767642.story">but isn't "lack of funds" the reason most shows on public media go away</a>? Ebert needs money and he has access to all the newspapers, who are writing up his financial conundrum like a news story. Weird. Well, this blog needs cash or it might go away too. Sneed, can you help?</p><p><strong>G story</strong>: Nope, Sneed is busy. She has a great bit from Friday - <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/sneed/8575767-452/fast-eddie-thisclose-to-release-from-federal-prison.html">Fast Eddie is close to getting out of federal prison</a>.</p><p><strong>Weather</strong>: So dark. So cold. So dark and cold. Remind me why I don't live in Phoenix again? Oh right, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W4Cx44XKZ4">the dust storms</a>.</p><p><strong>Sports</strong>: The Bears play another game on Monday Night Football tonight. They draw the Philadelphia Eagles, a team coined "The Dream Team" at the beginning of the season. The Eagles dropped mad cash in free agency to bolster the team, but have stumbled early. However, they just destroyed the Dallas Cowboys last week and all eyebrows are partially raised. Is this team legit? The Bears win tonight in Philly and we will be looking at a team that is sort of a carbon copy of the 2010 squad, which managed to get to the NFC Championship game. Now, I'll give the Bears a bit of credit. This is what we want from our NFL franchise. To be relevant late into the season. If they were 1-6 right now, nobody would care. But they are in the thick of it, so we have a national audience. Please, please, please Lovie - do not sh*t the bed tonight. We watched the other marquee games live up to their hype this weekend, so finish strong.</p><p>Right now, Chicago has switched back to Wildcat town, shunning the over-hyped Illini.The <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/ncf/recap?gameId=313090158">Northwestern win over Nebraska was prime time</a>. The Wildcats under Pat Fitzgerald are always good for at least one or two games like this a year. How many are the Illini good for? And stinker award goes to the Blackhawks, who played their new arch rival Vancouver last night at the UC. <a href="http://espn.go.com/chicago/nhl/recap?gameId=400046901">Not a good showing</a>. They were blown out, 6-2. That's not what we want to see.</p><p>So to recap: We want to see the Wildcats. We don't want to see the Blackhawks. We hope to see more of the Bears.</p><p><strong>Kicker</strong>: This is the week of 11/11/11, which means that <a href="http://www.whoisamy.com/">Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Beckoning of Lovely project is due</a>. This film has been in the works for three years. Seriously, I remember we did a Writers' Block Party episode on 8/08/08, and the launch of the project in June 2008. She's having a big party/show release at 11am on 11/11/11 at Millennium Park. I'll be there!!!!!</p><p>Here's the first video that started it all. It's called <strong>17 things i made</strong>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="369" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/o3eZvEIdmq4" width="500"></iframe></p></p> Mon, 07 Nov 2011 14:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/justin-kaufmann/2011-11-07/5-rules-advice-loop-theater-pro-il-gop-93806 The problem that won't go away: Chicago's casting couches http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-10/problem-wont-go-away-chicagos-casting-couches-92862 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-10/castingcouch_flickr_davidcwong88.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As a member of the Association for Women Journalists–Chicago, I’m looking forward to its&nbsp;panel tomorrow night “Women in the Workplace–Yes, Sexual Harassment Still Exists.” The&nbsp;subject is one of those things, like race discrimination, that we like to think we’ve gotten past.&nbsp;But ask anyone in what the lawyers call “the protected class,” and you’ll hear quite a different&nbsp;story. This summer I watched an African-American friend struggle through a job search marked&nbsp;by sudden withdrawals of employer interest when he showed up for his interviews with black&nbsp;skin. Likewise, this spring I heard about the most blatant form of sexual harassment being&nbsp;practiced at one of Chicago’s Off-Loop theaters.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-10/castingcouch_flickr_davidcwong88.jpg" title="A casting couch on the curb (Flickr/davidcwong88)" width="500" height="372"></p><p style="text-align: left;"><br> Unsurprisingly, the victim was unwilling to risk her career by going public. It’s not just that the&nbsp;offender is in a position to control her ability to work at his theater; it’s that the very concept of a&nbsp;“casting couch” seems risible, making the complainant look–what is it they said about Anita&nbsp;Hill?&nbsp; “A little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”? Better to keep your mouth shut and somehow&nbsp;steer clear of that corner of the business.<br> <br> But it’s probably not just a corner of the business. Though sexual harassment is rarely as blatant&nbsp;as “Sleep with me or I’ll fire/won’t hire you,” most workplaces–and theater is no exception–are&nbsp;shot through with male bosses who are too friendly, male co-workers who are implacably hostile,&nbsp;and all the other symptoms of unchecked power to demean and intimidate women. And who has&nbsp;more unchecked power than a director in the midst of auditions?<br> <br> In other cities, where the acting corps isn’t so strong, it might be possible to detect the use of the&nbsp;casting couch. But with&nbsp;Chicago’s surplus of extremely capable actresses, no one in the audience will be any the wiser if&nbsp;the one who made it onstage had to make it backstage first.<br> <br> And yes, I’m perfectly aware that I’ve written as though women directors don’t abuse their power&nbsp;over male actors in this fashion.&nbsp; That’s because I don’t think they do, any more than women&nbsp;politicians send photos of their genitals to male constituents. In my experience, sexual&nbsp;harassment generally means harassment of women. If your experience is different–or if it’s the&nbsp;same, and you’re a woman who’s been subjected to sexual extortion or a hostile work&nbsp;environment in the theater–I heartily encourage you to share it at the AWJ panel and/or in the&nbsp;comments below; no names need be used.<br> <br> And if you’d just like to learn other women’s stories, and hear a panel of experts (a lawyer, a&nbsp;human resources professional and a psychologist) talk about how to handle the problem and&nbsp;make sure the bastard gets what he deserves, come join us at 6:30 tomorrow at the Chopin, 1543&nbsp;West Division. Register <a href="http://awj.camp8.org/events">here</a>.&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 10 Oct 2011 14:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-10/problem-wont-go-away-chicagos-casting-couches-92862