Jellyeye Drum Theatre hopes to raise roofs across the country now that it’s inked a four-year touring contract with New York talent agency International Creative Management. Mark Smith, a vice president at ICM, closed the deal after seeing the ten-member dance-and-percussion company perform at Truman College last fall. With an annual budget of $75,000, Jellyeye has previously been limited to local performances and tours of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, but according to artistic director Shu Shubat, ICM will help the company develop a show that will tour for six or seven weeks a year, beginning in fall 2000.
The signing capitalizes on a growing audience for dance and percussion that’s embraced Stomp, Riverdance, and Tap Dogs–last year the local Trinity Irish Dance Company signed a touring contract with the New York agency International Management Group. But Jellyeye is more of an acquired taste; since debuting in 1992 it’s developed a loyal following among off-Loop theatergoers, but its elaborately choreographed routines, running between 10 and 20 minutes and incorporating drums, gongs, cymbals, and other unusual percussion, are decidedly more abstract than anything in Stomp. The Truman program, which ran two hours, was criticized in some circles as too long and redundant, criticisms that Shubat takes to heart: “We really like our shows to run about 90 minutes.” Jellyeye is also trying to vary its routines by adding new numbers with handheld drums, which have a lighter sound than the large mobile drums the group typically uses.
Musical Chairs at Light Opera Works
Philip Kraus, one of the founders of Light Opera Works, has been dismissed as artistic director by the company’s board. Kraus did not return repeated calls for comment, and Bridget McDonough, general manager of the Evanston-based company, would not comment on Kraus’s departure. Last Friday the Chicago Tribune reported that Kraus was stepping down to focus on his singing career, and a press release from LOW states that he will become “artistic director emeritus,” the paper equivalent of a gold watch. Over the past few years critics have faulted the company’s shows, which tend toward frothy operettas and rarely produced musicals; tickets can cost as much as $49, yet LOW’s recent production of The Desert Song was lambasted by the Chicago Sun-Times for its “clumsy transitions and corny interludes.”
Light Opera Works was founded in 1980 by Kraus, McDonough, and two others; Kraus’s departure leaves McDonough the sole founder still active in the company. A source at another company noted McDonough’s skill at community relations: “She even went so far as to become a member of the local Rotary Club, something I sure could never do.” As general manager McDonough has helped expand the company’s operations, constructing a 263-seat second stage in the Evanston YMCA that allows LOW to present smaller works for lower prices. Since its inception LOW has presented its main-stage productions at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium, thanks to a sweetheart deal brokered by several Northwestern faculty who sat on LOW’s board in the early 80s. The deal requires LOW to present some of its shows in difficult time slots, yet the company has usually stayed in the black; McDonough says the past season, which was budgeted at $800,000, ended with a deficit of $15,000, but she attributes it to a performance canceled during January’s blizzard.
Dance Center Delays
The city of Chicago is reportedly eyeing Columbia College’s new facility at 1306 S. Michigan. Last week the Sun-Times reported that Columbia was postponing plans to move its Dance Center to the South Loop property; Columbia provost Bert Gall cited concerns over a proposed development in the area that might impact the campus environment. But sources at Columbia say the city has expressed a strong interest in the 33,000-square-foot building, which Columbia bought last year for about $1.3 million. Gall would not confirm the story but said that he would know by April 1 whether Columbia will keep the building. The college still wants to move the Dance Center from its Uptown location to a site nearer the campus; one source indicated that Columbia might erect a new building on a plot of land it owns on Wabash near 11th Street. In any event, the shift in plans will probably delay the Dance Center’s relocation from fall 1999 to sometime in 2000.
Life Left in City Lit
City Lit Theater Company is raging against the dying of the light: a source familiar with the company’s financial predicament says that aggressive fund-raising and cost containment have cut its $40,000 deficit in half. City Lit has vacated its offices at 410 S. Michigan for a makeshift space at the Theatre Building and is negotiating for the theater and office space at Edgewater Presbyterian Church near Bryn Mawr and Sheridan. That space, which formerly housed Stormfield Theatre, Commons Theatre, and Onyx Theatre Ensemble, reportedly rents for about the same amount City Lit used to pay for office space alone. The company hopes to present its adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at the new site this fall.
In a welcome display of common sense, Governor George Ryan has broken with the recent pattern of treating the Illinois Arts Council as just another political plum. Last week Ryan appointed Rhoda A. Pierce as executive director of the IAC; Pierce joined the council in 1986 and has served as deputy director since 1991. She replaces Kassie Davis, a well-connected former staffer at Marshall Field’s who lasted only 19 months in the job.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jellyeye Drum Theatre photo by Leslie A Martin.