WBEZ | Writers Theater http://www.wbez.org/tags/writers-theater Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en If you build it, what really happens? http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/if-you-build-it-what-really-happens-96026 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-02/day52.jpeg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/day52.jpeg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 176px;" title="Construction wrapped up on the Black Ensemble Cultural Center this past fall. (Courtesy of Black Ensemble Theater)"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/eight-forty-eight">As Jonathan and I will discuss more fully on Friday</a>, 'tis the season for theater companies to move and build. On the one hand, this is the good news: <a href="http://blackensemble.org/">Black Ensemble</a> needs and deserves to emerge from the basement into the sunlight, and to have room enough to do the new-show development for which it's known. Audiences will be able to find <a href="http://rivendelltheatre.org/">Rivendell</a> and <a href="http://griffintheatre.com/">Griffin</a> at permanent locations instead of trying to remember where they're in residence this season.&nbsp;<a href="http://writerstheatre.org">Writers Theatre</a> is beyond ready for a home large enough to encompass its audience, let alone its ambition; and certainly if <a href="http://www.chicagoshakes.com/">Chicago Shakespeare</a> wants a new stage there's no question it will be able to put it to good use.</p><p>But.</p><p>This building boom raises two concerns: First, in the years immediately following a company's move to a new space, there's often a dramatic decline in quality. It's not entirely clear why this should be the case, and there are certainly exceptions (<a href="http://www.steeptheatre.com/">Steep</a> and <a href="http://theartistichome.org/">Artistic Home</a> come to mind).</p><p>"New Building Disease," though, is a well-known syndrome: just ask anyone who subscribed to <a href="http://steppenwolf.org">Steppenwolf</a> during those first seasons at Halsted and North. The company was so distracted by the process of moving, and so intoxicated by the toys available in its new home, that there seemed to be no energy left to invest in the shows themselves. I recall its world-premiere production of <em>The Man From Nebraska,</em> chiefly for the use of the lift at center stage, which was so frequent and so distracting that the point of the play-- stasis at mid-life-- disappeared completely.</p><p>Similarly the <a href="http://goodmantheatre.org">Goodman </a>spent its first few years on Dearborn Street reveling in its new-found access to fly-space, with sets that flew and hung and did everything but roller-skate absorbing audience attention that should have been directed to the plays themselves. The expression "hoist on its own petard" came insistently to mind.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-02/2233697052_6290df6dbf.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 400px;" title="Steppenwolf had growing pains at one point too. (Flickr/Jeff Zoline)">Eventually, of course, both theaters regained their footing. And no one would argue that either company was better off before having access to the full range of theatrical resources. But when smaller and less-established companies turn the bulk of their attention to their physical spaces, they risk losing the artistic focus that brought them to their current level of success. And, unlike the biggest troupes, they lack the staying power to sustain a couple-three bad years. Good spaces are valuable, but they also require some adjustment, and everyone who's preparing to build or move should be aware of that cost and try to figure out how to keep it to a minimum.</p><p>And speaking of cost, the other significant concern about all this bricks-and-mortar activity is the sheer financial burden of owning one's own space. It's worth remembering that the original Organic Theatre, of E/R and Bleacher Bums fame, was sunk by the capital and maintenance costs of the space it purchased on Clark Street. Sure, it was wonderful to have a permanent home, but when it turned out to be too expensive to heat the mainstage, the company had to confine itself to doing work in the studio. Sure, it was great to have multiple spaces, but each of them required upkeep which in turn required rentals which in turn diminished the identification of the company with its building--when identity is often one of the main reasons to construct a building. Nor is this the only example: The first inhabitants of the Theatre Building (now <a href="http://stage773.org/">Stage 773</a>) head the roster of theater-renaissance troupes no longer with us. Even the venerable Body Politic--and even while sharing space and expenses with <a href="http://victorygardens.org/">Victory Gardens</a>--paid the ultimate price for having a permanent address. &nbsp;</p><p>Any real-estate agent will tell you that first-time buyers always get too much space and saddle themselves with too much debt. First-time theater are no exception. Naturally, each of today's companies has prepared itself for a significant fundraising campaign, but when the campaign is over the day-to-day expenses remain, and it would be a shame to trade an inadequate space for a day in bankrupty court.</p><p>As some right-wing economist is reputed to have said, <a href="http://www.mgtaylor.com/public/2001/tanstaafl.html">there ain't no such thing as a free lunch</a>. Each of the companies now engaged in moving and building should remember that in addition to the immediate financial costs of a new space there are artistic costs and long-term costs, and should proceed with appropriate care. Thus spake <a href="http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/fittoncassandra/intro.html">Cassandra</a>.</p></p> Thu, 02 Feb 2012 15:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-02/if-you-build-it-what-really-happens-96026 Three Big Winners in annual Jeff Awards http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/three-big-winners-annual-jeff-awards <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2010-October/2010-10-26/writers-theater.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In swift-moving and engaging ceremonies Monday night, the 42nd annual Joseph Jefferson Awards reduced the largest field of nominees in Jeff history--162--to 32 winners in 31 categories.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="500" width="481" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-October/2010-10-26/writers-theater.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p><p>The three big winners of the night were the classy musical revue &quot;Oh Coward!&quot; at Writers' Theatre, the world premiere drama &quot;The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity&quot; co-produced by Victory Gardens Theater and Teatro Vista and the epic musical &quot;Ragtime&quot; as staged at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace, the venue for the night's festivities.</p><div style="line-height: 200%;">The Jeff Awards are Chicago's version of Broadway's Tony Awards, honoring the best work in locally-produced professional theater. As is the usual case with the Tony Awards, the 2010 Jeffs honored shows already crowned with success: the night's big winners were audience and critical successes of Chicago's 2009-2010 theater season. This wasn't the night for daring choices or Jeff Awards honoring brilliant but unpopular work.</div><p>The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,&quot; an action-filled yet poetic drama by Kristoffer Diaz, uses rigged professional wrestling as a metaphor for ethnic and racial stereotyping and image manipulation in America. It took home Jeff Awards for Diaz in the New Play category, director Edward Torres (artistic director of Teatro Vista), principal actor Desmin Borges, fight choreographer David Woolley and production of a play at a large theater. It was a joyous night for the Victory Gardens/Teatro Vista co-production, which went on intact to Off-Broadway success in New York, with Diaz himself short-listed for the 2010 Pulitzer and Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association new play prizes. Said Borges, accepting his star-topped Plexiglas Jeff trophy, &quot;You know you've given Jeff Awards to three Puerto Ricans tonight. You know what we're gonna' do to the lobby later on?&quot; referring to the buffet supper and party which followed the awards ceremonies.</p><p>Writers' Theatre in Glencoe put a high Art Deco polish on the familiar revue &quot;Oh Coward!&quot; a stylish rendering of the songs of Noel Coward. Audiences responded by sustaining the show for a six-month run, the longest in Writers' Theatre history. Actor/singers Rob Lindley and Kate Fry received Jeff Awards for Actor in a Revue and Actress in a Revue while the entire show took home the Jeff Award for Production/Revue. Writers' Theatre also produced an original cast CD of the show. The third big winner of the night was &quot;Ragtime&quot; as presented by Drury Lane Productions. The largest winner of the night, it took home Jeffs for Production/Musical, director Rachel Rockwell, musical director Roberta Duchak, Principal Actor/Musical Quentin Earl Darrington, Principal Actress/Musical Cory Goodrich, Supporting Actor/Musical Mark David Kaplan and Supporting Actress/Musical Valisia LeKae. The victory for &quot;Ragtime&quot; was testimony to the new respect Drury Lane Productions has earned over the last three years under the leadership of the youthful grandchildren of legendary founding producer Tony DeSantis, who died in 2007 at the age of 93. With Kyle DeSantis heading the organization, Drury Lane has significantly upgraded the style, depth and production values of its onstage offerings, and both critics and audiences have taken note.</p><p>If there was a little-engine-that-could story, it was the rare revival of the racy 1930's drama &quot;Tobacco Road,&quot; staged as a rogue production by the resurgent American Blues Theater. Founded in 1985, ensemble-based American Blues changed its name to American Theater Company (ATC) some years ago. In 2009, most of the original ensemble walked out in a dispute with the company's new artistic director (P. J. Paparelli), resuming work under the original American Blues name. &quot;Tobacco Road&quot; took home Jeff Awards for costume designers Sarah E. Ross and Kristin DeiTos (sic) and scenic designer James Leaming. In accepting his award, ensemble member Leaming spoke of collaboration and honesty in remarks obviously aimed at Paparelli, who stood just a few feet away as a presenter of the design categories.</p></p> Tue, 26 Oct 2010 21:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/three-big-winners-annual-jeff-awards