Audience Development: Will Steppenwolf Take the Lowe Road?

Actor Rob Lowe, star of stage, screen, and underground video, has contacted the Steppenwolf Theatre Company about appearing in its open-ended run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, sources say. The play, comprising a series of romantic epistles between two WASPs who never marry, opened in May in the old Steppenwolf space on North Halsted. At the time the company said it planned to bring back most of the Steppenwolf ensemble and “friends” of the ensemble to appear for brief stints in the production. Steppenwolf executives would not comment last week about negotiations with Lowe, but he apparently is looking to do more stage work in the wake of his well-documented sexual escapades in Atlanta during the Democratic convention of 1988. Seattle newspapers already are heralding the arrival of a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Lowe in the spring of 1991. If Lowe or some similar heartthrob appears at Steppenwolf, take it as a sign that the company will not eschew glitz and glitter in the effort to build audiences for its new theater, which is scheduled to open in spring 1991.

Remains Takes a Chance

Remains Theater, meanwhile, will try a radical new gambit when it moves into its new home, a 350-seat theater at 1800 N. Clybourn, on September 14: the company will introduce a daring $10-at-all-times ticket policy and a rotating repertory of three plays under the title “Changing Nightly”–a gamble meant to compete with the seemingly invincible Goliath of the movies, which have always attracted young audiences with their relatively low prices and ease of admission. Remains believes its new approach–completely circumventing subscriptions and the money in the bank they promise–will give the ensemble and its audiences maximum freedom. “Putting on a subscription season,” explains ensemble codirector Bill Petersen, “limits what a theater company can do and when they can do it.” But other theater executives in town maintain Remains could be heading for financial suicide, or at least a quick shift back to a more realistic pricing strategy. “I don’t know how you can make it charging $10 on Saturday night,” says Pegasus Players managing director David Dillon. “That traditionally is when theaters earn a large chunk of their money.” The Remains bargain-basement approach comes at a time when other producers are raising prices. Other People’s Money last week broke through the $30 barrier off-Loop, with a top-priced weekend ticket of $31.50. Other executives warn that without subscribers Remains will be under pressure to present hit productions every time out, even at $10 a ticket. “The appeal of the product is still of paramount importance,” notes one theater insider; “people obviously are lining up to pay $55 to see Phantom of the Opera.” Remains also will require a large and effective marketing strategy to make the public aware of its unorthodox policy. But these are tired times on the Chicago theater scene; whatever the outcome of its experiment, Remains deserves a salute for trying something new.

Kilian Glances

Hubbard Street Dance Company execs are scratching their collective head over the Tribune’s report on their company’s appearance at the Kennedy Center last month. In the June 24 Tribune, gadabout social commentator Michael Kilian seemed to be straining mightily to impress upon readers how unbelievably bored the Washington Post’s dance critic was by everything to do with the Hubbard Street company and its program. But a close reading of the contemplative, bylined notice–something Kilian might not have bothered with, since he referred to Post critic Alan M. Kriegsman as a “she”–indicates the reaction was hardly so one-sided. Noted Kriegsman: “The dancers make all that they do seem fresh, alive, spontaneous, and their own joy in dancing is irresistibly contagious.” Kilian’s interpretation of events notwithstanding, the Kennedy Center already has invited Hubbard Street back to appear during its regular dance season. Maybe President Bush will catch them next time through town; this time he passed up Hubbard Street’s opening night to attend the opening (also at the Kennedy Center) of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express, a roller-skating spectacle about a steam engine.

Peter Gatien’s Floating Nightclub

Is nightclub entrepreneur Peter Gatien, late of the Limelight, finally ready to return to Chicago? Gatien was in town last week, and sources say he has cleared several hurdles in his plan to open a restaurant-nightclub on a boat moored on the Chicago River. Gatien has secured a lease on a waterfront spot and has obtained the services of Russian artisans to help redo the boat’s interior. Given the many uncertainties of the nightclub business, sources warn that it’s impossible to say with certainty that Gatien’s boat club will open, but he’s said to be shooting for a spring launch. Meanwhile, former real-estate developer Mike Papadopoulis is six to eight weeks away from opening Industry, a “progressive alternative” dance club with a “rough look” at 610 W. Hubbard. Needless to say, Papadopoulis is looking for some of that crowd that flocks to Shelter.

Krainik to the Met?

Sources in the music business say that Lyric Opera general director Ardis Krainik must be considered in the running for the suddenly vacant position of general manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, by far the country’s largest and certainly its most prestigious opera company. But last week Krainik was keeping to herself about the Met developments and her level of interest in the job. “She has no comment about the situation,” said a Lyric spokeswoman, adding that Krainik was leaving for a vacation. The Met’s top management post suddenly opened up last week after the abrupt dismissal of Hugh Southern, who had assumed the post only last November. Southern was apparently unable to take proper command of the huge Met bureaucracy. The Met’s annual budget is $100 million, five times the size of Lyric’s.

Gross Projections

Though far from the megahit the Walt Disney Company may have hoped for, Dick Tracy is doing OK at Chicago-area movie theaters, say exhibitors. They also say Bill Cosby’s Ghost Dad, which opened last week, is not the quality product Cosby delivers on his television series. Exhibitors expect everything this summer to be buried in the wake of box-office grosses for Die Hard 2, which opened last Wednesday. Said one, “It’s all you’d want in an action flick and more.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lauren Santow.