Barry Schain’s Vision for “Hollywood by the Lake”

Last week 25-year-old Barry Schain sat in the deserted lobby of the Royal George Theatre and talked about his vision of what the complex could become if he and his partners succeed in buying the property and transforming it into Hollywood by the Lake. Throughout the conversation Schain emphasized that he had talked to a number of potential players in the project but that no deals have been made. Nor have Schain and his partners, Bob Athey and Pat Daly, formally bought the building.

But if–and it’s a big if–Schain moves forward with his plans for a multimedia entertainment complex, he says he’ll make few structural modifications to the theater. He wants to add approximately 30 seats to the 450-seat house and angle the box seats toward the stage to provide better sight lines. He has talked to both Bob Perkins, the current Royal George tenant, and the Victory Gardens Theater about operating the theater for at least 40 weeks a year, but he hasn’t made a deal with either. Whoever the future tenant is, Schain also wants to be able to use the space for corporate events, children’s theater, and concerts.

To lure still another type of crowd, Schain is contemplating putting a sports bar and restaurant in the space now occupied by Christopher’s on Halsted and the Ruggles Cabaret. Schain expects to do a major sales job on the neighborhood residents to win their approval for a sports bar; he envisions a watering hole where both sports fans and theatergoers would feel comfortable stopping in for a drink–a tricky concept to pull off.

In an attempt to make better use of what is now office space in the building above Christopher’s, Schain has approached the owners of the American Museum of the Movie Image at the Astoria movie studios in New York City about opening a Chicago branch. The museum deals with the history of movies and movie production and attracts about 250,000 people a year. “We need a day draw in the complex,” said Schain. If he can cut a deal with a movie-theater chain, he’d also like to build one or more movie theaters on top of the parking garage adjacent to the Royal George. The theaters could both show first-run films, and hold special screenings in conjunction with the movie museum.

Clearly Schain and his partners have a long way to go; they’d like to see Hollywood by the Lake open for business around November 15. Schain insists he can operate the property profitably even if he winds up with nothing more than a restaurant and a legitimate theater in the complex. But if the project should fall apart, Schain says he won’t be heartbroken. “I’ll just go on to something else.” And the process of finding a buyer for the Royal George will begin again.

Unveiling the New MCA

Years in the planning, the new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, looks to be a winner. At last week’s unveiling of the model and drawings of the structure (which will rise on the site now occupied by the National Guard Armory at 234 E. Chicago), a demure Kleihues talked only briefly about his elegant and unfussy MCA design and his interest in simple, functional architecture. To their credit, Kleihues, MCA director Kevin Consey, and the museum’s board of directors have kept the emphasis squarely on the pragmatic in deciding how the new museum will be laid out inside, while creating an architectural statement that is both artful and accessible.

The new building will occupy less than half of the land on which the armory now sits; the remaining property will become a one-acre sculpture garden. The building will include about 40,000 square feet of gallery space (some areas with ceilings that can be raised and lowered), up from around 11,000 square feet in the present space on Ontario Street. The new museum also will house an education center with classrooms, an art library, a cafe, a bookstore, and a 350-seat auditorium. Consey wants the MCA to grow as a venue for performance art and video when it moves into the new structure in 1995.

So far the museum has raised about $43 million of the $55 million it needs to build and endow the project. MCA officials haven’t worked out all the details; among other things, they are looking at ways to remove some pillars in the gallery space–a move that would increase building costs. Groundbreaking is scheduled for the winter of 1993. Consey estimates the museum staff will grow to approximately 90 from around 60 by the time the new building opens three years from now.

Shuffling at the Tribune

John Twohey, who oversaw the so-called restructuring of the Tribune’s cultural news coverage last fall, is no longer overseeing that area. Gary Dretzka has taken over the job–his new title is associate managing editor–while Twohey has been promoted to the position of senior editor.

Except for a two-year tour of duty in the Triibune’s sports department, Dretzka has been working in arts and features for the past eight years. Since 1988 he’s acted as the papers television and home-entertainment editor and as liaison between the features and hard news departments. What changes, if any, will Dretzka’s ascension bring to the Tribune’s cultural coverage? Only time will tell: Dretzka wasn’t available to discuss his plans. “I’m going to let the product speak for itself,” he said through a spokesman.

Leavit/Fox Sets a Record

The upcoming Leavitt/Fox Theatricals production of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation will make off-Loop theater history with a new top ticket price of $35.50, besting the previous off-Loop record of $32.50. At capacity, Six Degrees could gross approximately $108,000 a week in the 400-seat Briar Street Theatre. Six Degrees stars Marlo Thomas (who has a three-month contract) and begins previews April 29. The high top ticket price probably reflects both the increased cost of doing business and the fact that an actress with name recognition and commensurate salary demands is appearing in the production. Leavitt chose Thomas over Betty Buckley, Marsha Mason, and Madeline Kahn.

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