WBEZ | Arts http://www.wbez.org/tags/arts Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Art pulls into Chicago’s Union Station http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-09/art-pulls-chicago%E2%80%99s-union-station-108591 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3544937155_a2411e7cd4_z.jpg" style="height: 200px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="The Great Hall at Chicago’s Union Station. Can art raise the profile of this underused space? (Flickr/J. Stehen Conn)" />I&rsquo;m constantly flummoxed by my trips through Chicago&rsquo;s Union Station, the gorgeous Beaux Arts gem designed by Daniel Burnham.</p><p>Instead of being able to glory in (or even easily find) the Great Hall, like most travelers I more often spend most of my time navigating the cramped and low-ceilinged labyrinth below.</p><p>To be relegated to the dismal basement of one of Chicago&rsquo;s soaringly beautiful spaces seems like a punishment for a crime I cannot fathom, much less have possibly committed. What have any of us done to deserve this?</p><p>There is something of an effort to re-envision things, in the form of a <a href="http://www.unionstationmp.com/" target="_blank">master plan</a> for the station undertaken by the Chicago Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Metra and others.</p><p>Since the goal of the plan is to increase the station&rsquo;s capacity (according to CDOT, Union Station sees as much traffic as some of the busiest airports in America), it won&rsquo;t necessarily help travelers get more quality time or things to do in the Great Hall.</p><p>But as part of the process, there has been an interesting, summer-long experiment to make Union Station more of a place to hang out.</p><p>Initiated by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), the <a href="http://www.metroplanning.org/work/project/12/subpage/1" target="_blank">Activate Union Station</a> placemaking contest resulted in two installations - a nylon sculpture called &ldquo;Blah Blah Blob!&rdquo; on the Plaza and &ldquo;trainYARD&rdquo; an interactive park-like space in the midst of the Great Hall. Both were an attempt to enliven generally glum places through a mix of lectures, fitness classes and other activities.</p><p>Mandy Burrell Booth of the MPC says the project drew lots of attention to the station. And though it wrapped up over the Labor Day weekend, she hopes its long-term impact will be in getting planners to think of Union Station as an important destination and economic catalyst for surrounding neighborhoods, and not just a space to pass through.</p><p>Though the project is a great effort to bring creative ideas to the space, I&rsquo;d honestly prefer art or music over a corn-hole toss in the Great Hall. And Friday I&rsquo;ll get my wish, when an art event organizers have dubbed a &ldquo;nomadic happening&rdquo; pulls into Union Station.</p><p><em><a href="http://stationtostation.com/">Station to Station</a></em> is a train based, traveling art, music, food and film event that kicks off Friday in New York. Over the course of three weeks, it will pass through nine other train stations scattered across the country.</p><p>The actual art program also reflects the transient feel of train travel. Some artists will hop on for one or a couple of stops while others will stay on board the entire journey. There&rsquo;ll be stops in Pittsburgh, Sante Fe, Barstow and Los Angeles before the journey ends in Oakland, California. And on September 10, the train arrives in Chicago.</p><p>Starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall, there&rsquo;ll be music by a mix of local and out-of-town artists, including Thurston Moore, Theaster Gates, White Mystery, and others yet to be named. The variety and caliber of artists is equally impressive: Photographer Catherine Opie, moving image artists Ryan Trecartin, Yayoi Kusama and Dara Birnbaum, print makers Raymond Pettibon and Nam June Paik, and many more. Many of them will work across more than one medium. Kenneth Anger, best known for experimental films, is also one of the artists making the mysterious (and somewhat goofy sounding) &ldquo;nomadic sculptures.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s hard to know what all of this adds up to: An exciting evening of improvisation and cutting edge work by top shelf and emerging artists? Or just a hot art mess? One good sign: The concept is the work of <a href="http://www.303gallery.com/artists/doug_aitken/index.php" target="_blank">Doug Aitken</a>, who seems to have a gift for enlivening all sorts of public spaces with ambitious and often mesmerizing art projects.</p><p>The event (which is underwritten by Levi&rsquo;s) is also a fundraiser for nine &ldquo;partner museums&rdquo; including The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The goal is to &ldquo;support non-traditional programming&rdquo; in these places, but it might also nudge the MCA and others to bring their creative clout to bear on the station. If so, <em>Station to Station</em> won&rsquo;t just be a more complicated take on the now annoyingly familiar (and often aesthetically underachieving) pop-up art show. It could provide another vehicle for lifting the public profile &mdash; and even public spirit &mdash; of Union Station. &nbsp;</p><p>What do you think? Should we have more programming, art or otherwise, in the Great Hall? What would you like to see happening there?</p><p><em>Alison Cuddy is WBEZ&rsquo;s Arts and Culture reporter and co-host of <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-changing-channels/id669715774?mt=2">Changing Channels,</a> a podcast about the future of television. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy">Twitter</a>,<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=tn_tnmn"> Facebook</a> and&nbsp;<a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport">Instagram</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 03 Sep 2013 09:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-09/art-pulls-chicago%E2%80%99s-union-station-108591 Northwest Side school cuts back on arts, band http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/northwest-side-school-cuts-back-arts-band-108470 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/CPS arts cuts(2).jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-1bf54eeb-ad30-fdef-069f-d5c884733f43">Parents and teachers gathered at a back-to-school rally at John B. Murphy Elementary School Tuesday evening and spoke out against cuts to arts and music.</span></p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-1bf54eeb-ad30-fdef-069f-d5c884733f43">The Northwest Side elementary school is completely losing its band program, and its full-time dance and drama teaching position becomes part-time.</span> Other cuts include two teachers and a school counselor.</p><p>&ldquo;Our community has a percentage of low-income students,&rdquo; said Local School Council chairperson and parent Roberta Salas, who said Murphy is losing $600,000 in budget cuts.</p><p>&ldquo;Most of these children will not have the opportunity to go out and get private lessons. Their introduction to the arts is here.&rdquo;</p><p>Salas joined other parents in front of Murphy to rally against those cuts. They sought to bring attention to the need for funding of neighborhood schools while Chicago Public Schools is considering proposals for new charter schools.</p><p>In a statement, CPS said, &ldquo;This year we are seeking high quality charters that can serve communities with over-crowded school populations.&rdquo;</p><p>While the district expects to get proposals, the statement said, &ldquo;There is no guarantee those proposals will be recommended or approved by (the) board.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We can&rsquo;t even maintain what we&rsquo;ve already built,&rdquo; said Sandy Lucas, an arts and music teacher who survived the cuts. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re taking a step back. That&rsquo;s destruction.&rdquo;</p><p>Parent Renee Martinez said Murphy Elementary&#39;s dancing, drama and music classes have helped to bring her daughter &ldquo;out of her shell.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;That social-emotional development is just so enhanced with the arts that it&rsquo;s really going to be sorely missed,&rdquo; Martinez said.</p><p>As part of a layoff of more than a thousand teachers at CPS last month, local advocacy group Raise Your Hand reports that 185 arts and music teachers lost their jobs.</p><p>A CPS spokesman said the district does not have a breakdown showing the number of laid off teachers in these subjects.</p><p><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-1bf54eeb-ad30-fdef-069f-d5c884733f43">Correction: This story originally misstated that </span>John B. Murphy Elementary School lost its arts and music programs, that it&rsquo;s a magnet school, and the location of the elementary school. Murphy is a neighborhood magnet cluster school that lost some arts and music programs, and had cuts in others. It&rsquo;s located on Chicago&rsquo;s Northwest Side. It&#39;s also updated to include a statement from CPS.</em></p><p><em>Lee Jian Chung is a WBEZ arts and culture intern. Follow him @jclee89.</em></p></p> Wed, 21 Aug 2013 09:55:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/northwest-side-school-cuts-back-arts-band-108470 Week of Art coming to Chicago in Fall 2013 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/week-art-coming-chicago-fall-2013-105609 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/620-expo_0.jpg" title="Expo Chicago 2012 (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p><a href="http://www.expochicago.com/">Expo Chicago</a>, the city&#39;s latest effort at an international art fair, took place over a few days last September.</p><p>But for their second go-round, organizers are thinking more is more.</p><p>They&#39;ve announced plans to wrap their fall art fair into a week-long festival of art and culture: <a href="http://www.expochicago.com/expo-art-week">Expo Art Week.</a></p><p>Expo Art Week will take place September 16-22 in 2013. Expo Chicago will host its vernissage at Navy Pier on September 19 and run through the 22.</p><p>Tony Karman is the Director of Expo Chicago. He says a week-long art festival will meet the expectations of art patrons everywhere.</p><p>&quot;They&#39;re coming for the art fairs,&quot; Kalman said. &quot;But they&#39;re also coming to experience our great theatre, our great dance, our restaurants. That&#39;s really the takeaway for the international art collector or art enthusiasts.&quot;</p><p>Also on board for Expo Art Week is Chicago&#39;s Department of Cultural Affairs and Choose Chicago, which is the tourism and marketing wing of the city.</p><p>Kalman says he hasn&#39;t asked city officials for outright financial support, but does say it is a &quot;huge facilitator&quot; in terms of &nbsp;&quot;organizational and messaging&quot; support.</p><p>Karman has also snagged some of Chicago&#39;s blue ribbon cultural institutions as collaborators.</p><p>Participants include: The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, and Joffrey Ballet.</p><p>Karman promises there will be many more institutions on the list come September.</p><p>In far shorter supply, at least so far, are details about how the art week would actually work. &nbsp;</p><p>Organizers did say that <a href="http://www.acreresidency.org/">ACRE</a>, a local art collective and residency, will lead tours of &quot;alternative and apartment based galleries&quot; in neighborhoods like Garfield Park.</p><p>And some participants are cooking up other ideas.</p><p>Gail Kalver is Executive Director of River North Chicago Dance Company. She hopes her troupe will put on performances at the Expo, or she may just send dancers in some of the company&#39;s costumes.</p><p>&quot;There&rsquo;s a particular piece that has a huge red train,&quot; Kalver said. &quot;We have some beautiful costumes and I think they would go well at some of the public events.&quot;</p><p>Spectacle is a draw, but so is the prospect of money.</p><p>Northern Trust, which helped fund the Expo last year, has now signed on as the event&rsquo;s leading sponsor.</p><p>&quot;Frankly arts and culture is something for our clients are very interested in,&quot; said Steve &quot;Mac&quot; MacLellan, &nbsp;Executive VP of Wealth Management. &quot;It&rsquo;s a way for us to give back and is recognized by our clients as well.&quot;</p><p>Launching a new art week right as Chicago&#39;s fall art season gets underway means an even busier cultural calendar for many locals.&nbsp;</p><p>But Gail Kalver of River North Dance Chicago isn&#39;t worried. &quot;I&#39;m the Pollyanna. I think it is a really extraordinary opportunity to be able to highlight your group before you open your season. So I think any arts organization would welcome being part of it.&quot;</p></p> Tue, 19 Feb 2013 14:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/week-art-coming-chicago-fall-2013-105609 Young actors: Step up to the plate http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/young-actors-step-plate-101033 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/merchant%20of%20venice%20first%20folio%20theater.jpg" title="Young actors just out of school play six of the 19 roles in First Folio’s ‘Merchant of Venice.’ (Courtesy of First Folio)" /></div><p>Wednesday night I trucked out to see <em>The Merchant of Venice</em>, at the annual outdoor Shakespeare festival presented by First Folio Theatre at Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook, Ill. I enjoyed this handsomely-designed and engagingly-acted production very much, until the show was cancelled at intermission due to approaching violent storms. Lucky for me, I know how the play ends.</p><p>Most Shakespeare plays require a large cast, and the program for <em>Merchant</em> listed 19 actors. Combing through the credits, I found that six of the 19 either graduated from university acting programs within the last two years or still are in school. None of the six yet has a union card from Actors Equity Association (which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year).</p><p>This is one of the finest characteristics of Chicago theater. Our Off-Loop and Off-off-Loop companies abound with embryonic talent; kids just out of school or soon-to-be. Our larger institutional theaters, too, often engage early-career actors. Once upon a time, I was one of those kids myself acting for peanuts in the seminal Off-Loop troupes of Lincoln Avenue, among them Kingston Mines Theatre Company, the Body Politic, Pary Productions and Del Close&#39;s Chicago Extension improvisational company.</p><p>Thinking of then and thinking of now, this is the<em> perfect</em> time to be a young actor. So, yeah, sure, the global economy sucks, we&#39;re in a depression (don&#39;t buy the nonsense that it&#39;s only a recession) and if the Eurozone totally melts down we&#39;ll really be in the crapper. But what the hell? When has it <em>ever</em> been a <em>good</em> time for a career in the arts? Actors are perpetually under-employed even in the best of economies &mdash; it&#39;s one of the occupational facts of life &mdash; and a sour economy does not substantially offer <em>less</em> employment or less opportunity for employment.</p><p>So go for it.</p><p>Fact is, electronic, digital, online and video media offer more employment for actors than ever before. From voices for video games, to the explosion of cable TV shows (just think how many actors the Discovery Channel and the History Channel employ), to self-produced internet programs and serials, to direct-to-disc movies, the entertainment industry is exploding with new ways for actors to act in addition to the familiar categories of commercials and voice-overs, TV, film and theater. Yes, much of it is shallow, formulaic and sometimes amateurish; and much of it &mdash; perhaps most of it &mdash; is not covered by actors union contracts (Equity, SAG-AFTRA), so the possibilities of being underpaid, exploited, ripped-off and/or sleazed are very real, but this blog column isn&#39;t a business lesson.</p><p>Compared to many of these, live theater may be the worst way to make a living, and I use the words &quot;make a living&quot; with great reservation. In Los Angeles, a newbie actor can appear at an Equity Waiver theater and earn nothing but car fare for professional work, often with established veteran actors. Difference is, the established veterans can afford to indulge their passion for live art, but the starter-out still is eating beans. On the other hand, a newcomer also can find himself/herself on a soap or a series making several thousand dollars a week.</p><p>The difference in Chicago is no one becomes rich here from any type of acting, whether you&#39;re working at Steppenwolf or the Goodman or a neighborhood storefront theater. Chicago is not the town where you make a killing or become a star; it&#39;s the town where you hone your chops, stretch yourself and practice your craft. And, with over 220 producing theater companies, the odds are <em>much</em> better here than in New York or Los Angeles of your landing a role and actually honing, stretching and practicing; witness those six young&#39;uns in <em>The Merchant of Venice</em>.</p><p>So, young actors, give it a whirl. No matter if you act for little or no money as long as shoes still need to be sold, hash still needs to be slung, dogs still need to be walked and temp work still is available. Keep in mind that the cost of living in Chicago still is considerably less than in NYC or L.A. Even more important, audiences here are sharper, more receptive to the new and better-informed than just about anywhere else. The lesson from that is to hold yourself to a high standard of craft and intelligence, and to take risks. If not you, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?</p></p> Fri, 20 Jul 2012 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/young-actors-step-plate-101033 Make no small cultural plans http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-24/make-no-small-cultural-plans-96704 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-24/2408912567_e2494c835b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-24/2408912567_e2494c835b.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 303px;" title="The downtown Chicago Public Library, home to many special collections. (Flickr/Shawn Econo)">The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has begun to fulfill Rahm Emmanuel’s campaign promise to draft a comprehensive cultural plan for the City of Chicago. We haven’t had a new one since 1986 when Mayor Harold Washington first established the Dept. of Cultural Affairs and ordered a cultural assessment.</p><p>The public is invited to participate in preparation of the plan—due to be published in the fall—through public forums and <a href="http://www.chicagoculturalplan2012.com">an interactive website</a>.</p><p>OK, so what should a cultural scheme for Chicago include?</p><p>On the one hand, it should obey the dictum attributed to Daniel Burnham to “make no small plans.” Let’s think big. As Danny Thomas used to say (and he knew whereof he spoke), “If you’re gonna’ have a nose, have a NOSE!” Let’s dream, let’s imagine. Let’s propose new cultural entities and facilities, just as long as we have programs first to fill buildings and not empty buildings waiting for programs to utilize them.</p><p>On the other hand, there’s economic reality. Despite the proven importance of arts and culture as a dynamic economic engine for the city (and state), one would be loco to think Chicago will substantially increase the dollars it puts into culture. The city will do everything it can . . . as long as “everything” costs little or nothing or generates revenue.</p><p>Where does that leave a cultural master plan? What should it include? What <em>can</em> it include? My thoughts are no more definitive than anyone else’s, but may be somewhat more informed or enlightened by virtue of my reporting on arts and culture for so many years. What I propose may seem vague, but for starters the City of Chicago Cultural Plan needs to address patrimony, places and partnerships.</p><p>By patrimony—as the United Nations uses the term—I mean the buildings, archives and collections that form the cultural heritage of Chicago. The plan needs to identify these things and catalog them. Some are obvious, such as our architectural heritage, with regard to which the City has a smudged and spotty record, best summed up by saying our aldermen never met a developer they didn’t like. Also obviously, we have significant public and private art collections which should be identified, in part so we can do what we can to keep them in Chicago.</p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to the Dueling Critics debate Porchlight's <em>A Catered Affair </em>on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></span></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="/sites/default/files/120224 Onstage Backstage.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-126376" player="null">120224 Onstage Backstage.mp3</span></p></div></div><p>But some of our patrimony is less obvious. Our cultural archives and records, for example, are haphazard and scattered, with some papers, photos and clippings at the Newberry Library, some at the Chicago Public Library Special Collections, others at the Chicago History Museum or various universities, etc. A cultural plan might make an effort to cross catalog holdings and to establish a central archive for things not yet collected, such as theater reviews and articles that chronicle the rise of Chicago Off-Loop Theater over the last 45-50 years. DCASE and a cultural plan could be the catalysts for inter-agency and inter-institution cooperation.&nbsp;</p><p>By places, I mean the physical facilities at which cultural events can occur. Again, many of these are obvious and already in use but not all of them. For example, several Chicago Park District field houses are utilized for theater, dance and musical performances, but not all the field houses that might be suitable. The cultural plan could engage the Park District in identifying additional locations and, perhaps, finding ways to finance small capital improvements to make more spaces available.</p><p>On another front, several aldermen have assisted performing arts organizations in locating suitable spaces to serve as permanent homes (the most recent example being James Cappleman’s assist in relocating the National Pastime Theater to the Preston Bradley Center), and DCASE itself has brokered such deals. But there isn’t a consistent program or policy to do this sort of thing. Here is another opportunity for DCASE and a cultural plan to serve as catalyst and facilitator at little or no cost.</p><p>Finally, the master cultural document needs to address partnerships, meaning public-private partnerships and naming rights. In the current economic climate, such partnerships are among the few ways that arts and culture might generate an infusion of new dollars. The City and the Park District already have created such partnerships in the development of Millennium Park and in corporate support for the Grant Park Music Festival among other examples. I’ve already used this blog space to promote (twice) the idea that DCASE’s CityArts (sic) Grants program should be underwritten by a corporate sponsor with dollars coming 50-50 from the City and the sponsor.</p><p>There are, of course, numerous other funding possibilities, the most obvious of which are the huge aldermanic slush fund boondoggles known as TIF Districts, which directly siphon off property tax money that <em>should</em> be going to education, the parks and so on. Our City Council never will give up TIFs voluntarily, but they just might mandate that a certain percentage of each TIF be earmarked for arts and culture in support of specifics in the cultural plan or, better yet, in support of arts in education which has all but disappeared from our public schools (which also must be addressed by the cultural plan).</p><p>So there are my ideas for the City of Chicago Cultural Plan. Meanwhile, I have copies of long-deceased magazines and newspapers for which I wrote over the years, and I have my collection of Off-Loop Theater t-shirts and coffee cups all waiting for an appropriate home. Clearly, the Plan’s first recommendation should be a call for the Jonathan Abarbanel Theater Archive, to which my bones can be added not-too-many years from now.&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 24 Feb 2012 16:20:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-24/make-no-small-cultural-plans-96704 The best Chicago theater directors of 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/best-chicago-theater-directors-2011-95051 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-20/_78.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Some theater folk hold that 90% of the work of a really good director is casting the show. Certainly, there are times when the quality of the talent on stage is such that a gifted director simply gets out of the way and makes him/herself invisible. But not always. Sometimes concept or interpretation make all the difference and then the director becomes the star of the show in the best sense, or at least a co-star. There were several strong examples in 2011.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/Kimberly-Senior-Headshot-300.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 200px; " title="Director Kimberly Senior">At Next Theatre Company last winter, the time-tested director <strong>Kimberly Senior</strong> again demonstrated her skill with J. T. Rodgers’s <em>Madagascar</em>, a three-person monologue play about a missing person that offers audiences a conundrum inside a puzzle. Senior guided her actors knowingly through every inch of this poetic, rich and layered work of direct address to the audience, resulting in a spell-binding piece where one might have had mere drone.</p><p><strong>Dexter Bullard</strong>, highly regarded as a director of physical theater, was at the top of his game with the February world premiere of <em>The Big Meal</em> at American Theater Company; a fast-paced and multi-scene comedy by Dan LeFranc that was both verbally and physically complex. All actors played multiple roles and ages in portraying four generations of a family (or was it five?) meeting across the holiday dinner table. Vastly entertaining and meaty as well, the play and the performances gained critical mass as the show progressed.</p><p>Director <strong>Jonathan Wilson</strong> long has been one of Chicago’s under-appreciated treasures, who combines nuanced understanding of text with a firm hand and—always—clear vision. Wilson’s merits were fully on display in <em>Yellowman</em>, produced in September by Greentree Productions. Dael Orlandersmith’s prize-winning drama has been seen in Chicago before, but never in such a funny, tender and terrifying production. A tale of love, discovery, racism and class conflict, the play is too long, but it didn’t matter this time.</p><p>September also brought us one of America’s top directors in top form as <strong>Robert Falls</strong> staged John Logan’s <em>Red</em> at the Goodman Theatre (of which Falls is the long-time artistic director). This witty two-man work about artist Mark Rothko and a fictional young assistant is surprisingly physical, and Falls made the physical business dazzling (although not unnecessarily so). However, his real contribution was an interpretation radically different from the New York/London original production; one which brought more meaning out of the text and, therefore, out of the characters.</p><p>Also in September, Seanachai Theatre tackled the great Sean O’Casey’s first important play, <em>The Shadow of a Gunman</em>. It’s a play of character and “crack” (Irish slang for talk and banter) rather than plot—which O’Casey telegraphs miles away—and Seanachai was fortunate to have <strong>John Mossman</strong> as director. Himself an actor and teacher (he and his wife run The Artistic Home), Mossman took the often-purple and poetic prose of O’Casey and turned it into intimate speech deeply rooted in the personality of each character, without ever losing the Irish charm or O’Casey’s passion.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-20/_78.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 200px; " title="Director Ron OJ Parson">Finally, I can’t let the year wind down without citing the astute comedic glory of what <strong>Ron OJ Parson</strong> and three superb actors are doing with Harold Pinter’s <em>The Caretaker</em> at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe (running through next March 25). Parson’s high concept puts the audience—all 40 or so of them—<em>inside</em> the set, which is a complete four-walled room built within the already-tiny theater space. Within the confines of this space, the audience becomes one with the three distinct personalities of the characters, whom Parson and company bring to crystal-clear life.</p></p> Tue, 20 Dec 2011 16:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-20/best-chicago-theater-directors-2011-95051 NEA 2012 budget finalized . . . at last http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-19/nea-2012-budget-finalized-last-95029 <p><p>Well, after 10 months of dickering the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) finally has a budget for Fiscal 2012, which began quite some time ago. Of course, the NEA isn’t any different than any other Federal department, bureau or agency, all of which have been waiting for Congress to get the job done for cryin’ out loud! For the record, the NEA is a very, very tiny part of the Department of the Interior.</p><p>So the House of Representatives slashed $11 million from President Obama’s proposal for the NEA, and the Senate put it back and added $9 million more. As finally worked out in conference, neither the House nor the Senate scores points: the NEA is receiving $146 million for Fiscal 2012 . . . which is precisely what President Obama proposed in the first place last February. I figure Congress has wasted at least that much in wrangling over the budget.</p><p>For arts advocates, that $146 million is a mixed blessing. It represents a substantial reduction from the $155 million of Fiscal 2011 and a very large reduction from the $167 million approved in 2010, which was the first Obama budget and the highest NEA funding in over 20 years.</p><p>&nbsp;On the other hand, times are tough (hey, times always are tough for the arts) and no one seriously was calling for zeroing out the NEA completely. Yes, there were a few ardent Tea Baggers in the House saying that the NEA should be killed, but their proposals were voted down in committee by their fellow Republicans.</p><p>The final budget agreement includes $24 million for Arts in Education, a program of the Department of Education which the House repeatedly has tried to kill, but which has managed to survive at an extremely modest level. How modest? Well, let’s do the math: the NEA is funded at approximately $.50 per capita while Arts in Education is funded at $.12 per capita. And you wonder why so many Americans are culturally ignorant.</p><p>So how will the NEA spend its money? First, $44.1 million will be passed through to state arts agencies, such as the Illinois Arts Council, and to other state and regional partnerships. Then, $66.2 million will fund the NEA’s own grant-making to hundreds of non-profit cultural organizations, each of which goes through a rigorous application process. The NEA will spend $28 million on salaries and expenses and $2.8 million in “program support efforts” (hey, I don’t know what that means, either, but I’ll trust the NEA to spend it wisely sooner than I’d trust the Pentagon). The final $5 million is for a new initiative, dubbed <em>Our Town</em> like the play, which helps seed community infrastructure developments which include cultural facilities.</p><p>The National Endowment for the Humanities also received $146 million.</p></p> Mon, 19 Dec 2011 20:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-12-19/nea-2012-budget-finalized-last-95029 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 How not to handle succession in the arts http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-15/how-not-handle-succession-arts-94084 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-16/5988066000_ecca59b4c2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>There could be worse ways to handle succession planning than <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/arts/dance/edward-villella-and-the-miami-city-ballet-board.html?nl=todaysheadlines&amp;emc=tha28">the one chosen by the Miami City Ballet</a>, but it would be hard to think of one. The Board of Directors, concerned that the ballet company would collapse when its famous artistic director Edward Villella retired, decided to test its own theory by forcing him out before he was ready to leave. Some Board members blame the outcome on Mr. Villella, who apparently refused to greet several of them at the company's gala; but it's hard to blame him when one of them called a meeting with him for the purpose of handing him a book on succession planning.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" height="333" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-16/5988066000_ecca59b4c2.jpg" title="The Miami City Ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009 (Flickr/Knight Foundation)" width="500"></p><p>The <em>Times</em> article reaches for the classic suits-versus-artists narrative, saying that Villella's ouster reflected the Board's determination to place business stability above artistic product; but that's unfair. The Board is responsible for the continued health of the company, and a failure to consider new leadership when the current leader is 75 would be a dereliction of duty. But <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fuDDqU6n4o">what we've got here is failure to communicate</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><a href="http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/the_theater_loop/2010/07/dennis-zacek-victory-gardens-retire.html">As the Victory Gardens Board learned back in 2000</a>, you don't call in the company's artistic engine and hand him his walking papers--or even the sort of broad hint contained in the gift of a book about succession planning. You're talking to someone about his life's work and his passion, and you can't talk to him as if he were a CEO who had been recompensed all these years in cash and expected to be recompensed the same way in retirement. An artistic director who is compelled to retire--and yes, indeed, some of them need to be--has to be offered a form of compensation congruent with what he's been receiving up until now, something involving artistic control--even if it's only the control inherent in leading the search for his own successor.&nbsp;</p><p>And even if the artistic director's retirement creates the opportunity for the Board to step into its proper role of leadership--say, supervising the managing director instead of having the artistic director do so--that's an opportunity to be pursued once the new artistic director begins. From the Board's standpoint, having the managing and artistic directors report co-equally is a way to lighten the artistic director's load while assuring that the Board itself receives comprehensive information. But from the standpoint of the incumbent artistic director, it's a slap in the face, and suggests that the Board wants to interpose a business person (and a businessperson's veto) between the artist and his vision.</p><p>Of course the Board IS the boss of the company, including the artistic director. But the most effective bosses wear their power lightly, in cooperation rather than conflict with the artists they mean to be serving. By this measure, the Board of the Miami City Ballet just fell on its face.</p><p>A word to the wise Boards around Chicago's artistic community.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 16 Nov 2011 15:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-15/how-not-handle-succession-arts-94084 Sustainable theater company aims for zero-waste productions http://www.wbez.org/content/sustainable-theater-company-aims-zero-waste-productions <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-10/RS4518_library and filament 013-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-10/RS4518_library and filament 013-scr.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 267px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Filament's current production feels like a campfire storytelling circle. (Photo by David Pierini)">A few years ago, a Chicago theater company got disgusted with how much waste the theater industry creates – everything from discarded set pieces to toxic paints. So, now it’s working on a zero-waste model, one it hopes will also create a different relationship with its audience.</p><p>When the audience arrives, they see the cast list, of course. But they also get info on <a href="http://www.filamenttheatre.org/">Filament Theatre Ensemble</a>'s eco bona fides. Like, how 99 percent of the set is made from reclaimed or locally grown wood, costumes are reused or made of recycled materials, and, instead of a paper ticket, each audience member gets a thin slice of tree branch and is asked to put it in one of four glass jars.</p><p>DIRECTOR: Hi, folks, if you just put your ticket in the jar that best describes how you got here today.</p><p>PATRON: Is a cab a car?</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-10/RS4515_library and filament 017-scr.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 203px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="People drop wooden tickets to show their mode of transportation. (Photo by David Pierini)">DIRECTOR: Rode in a car, yeah. Thanks.</p><p>PATRON: I biked.</p><p>The branches are a cheap —&nbsp;and reusable — way to collect data on how the audience gets to the show. Filament Theatre may eventually offer discounts or free drinks to people who don’t drive. They're even talking about figuring out ways to offset the carbon use of theater-goers who do drive.</p><p>Omen Sade is Filament Theatre’s associate art director. He says this is all just one part of the theater’s environmental commitment.</p><p>SADE: I have always been a little bit appalled at both the materials used and also the culture of building a set that is made out of a lot of processed, toxic chemicals and then after the show is done, it’s ripped up and thrown away.</p><p>Sade says that’s not true of every theater company: Many do store sets and eventually reuse them.</p><p>Sade: It’s more that it’s a part of the culture of theater in general, that there’s not the thought of another way of doing it.</p><p>RITCHEY:&nbsp; We know because of the Greeks that plays can be written and performed and have a very, very long life, and they don’t need all the bells and whistles and the electricity and the toxic paint.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-10/RS4516_library and filament 016-scr.jpg" style="width: 325px; height: 221px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Information on sustainability hangs next to the director's notes. (Photo by David Pierini)">Julie Ritchey is the managing artistic director. She says the ensemble hopes to create a model other companies can use. She says reusing sets and materials isn't just an environmental tactic -- it's cheaper, and that's important in a tough economy when arts funding is drying up.</p><p>Ritchey says the company’s commitment to sustainability moves beyond ecology and the economy; they’re trying to build a sustaining tie to the community, too.</p><p>This past summer Filament did a play in a vacant storefront in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. Regular people loaned Filament tables for the box office, buckets to clean, even lighting, props and jewelry. They also painted, mopped, and fed the actors. Everybody who helped got in free, and later, they just brought the donated items back home.</p><p>Ritchey: We’re in an extremely fortunate position that we’ve never had a lot of money so we're able to take big risks. We’re at the very beginning of our life as a company, and we’re not dealing with an 80-year history and billions of dollars. So we’re able to make these huge, huge, huge changes and let that really be the foundation that everything comes out of.</p><p>All of these sustainability considerations happen <em>before</em> the production. But the environmental theme also comes out in the current show called, <em>From the Circle: Remembering the Earth Through Folktales.</em></p><p>Four actors stand under a canopy, held up by tree branches. They tell folk tales about the creation, destruction and eventual rebirth of the world. The audience sits around them in a circle, so you feel like you’re listening to a story around a campfire.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-10/RS4519_library and filament 015-scr.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 267px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="The play echoes the sustainability themes the company is striving toward. (Photo by David Pierini)">PLAY DIALOGUE: And now there is life, new life, life everywhere ...</p><p>An actor who came to see the show, Alex Levin, says there’s a lot of waste in theater.</p><p>LEVIN: To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it too much, which is why I was interested when I read some of the stuff here.</p><p>This is the kind of awareness Omen Sade says Filament hopes to build.</p><p>SADE: The thing that we’re not interested in is what’s called agitprop theater, which is theater in which an actor comes on stage and says to the audience this is what you’re doing wrong and this is how you need to be doing it better.</p><p>Sade says finger-wagging theater is dull, and nobody likes it. For his money, it’s better to entertain people and invite their help with environmental goals, than it is to lecture them.</p></p> Fri, 11 Nov 2011 17:55:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/sustainable-theater-company-aims-zero-waste-productions