Chicago Opera Theater’s Night of Horrors

It’s been some winter for Chicago Opera Theater. Already working under a tight March 15 deadline to raise the $600,000 it needs to cover past liabilities, the COT staff had to confront another round of problems at a recent Saturday-evening performance of Idomeneo. The difficulties began when COT executives discovered much to their surprise that a wedding reception–complete with a raucous mariachi band–had been booked into the Athenaeum Theatre’s basement facilities. When the opera began, COT executives quickly realized the noise wasn’t going to be confined to the basement, and they rushed downstairs to ask members of the wedding reception to lower the volume. At first the request was ignored, in large part because of a language barrier, but COT staffers finally managed to find a Spanish teacher in the audience to convey the message.

But their problems weren’t over. The Idomeneo cast also found itself competing for the audience’s attention with a group of kids playing on noisy fire escapes outside the theater. After the show, around 11 PM, someone decided to activate the theater’s fire alarm, a move that sent remaining cast members rushing pell-mell from their dressing rooms into the cold winter’s night.

If nothing else, the night of horrors at the Athenaeum bolstered the case of those who think the opera company needs to find a new home should it succeed in raising the funds to carry on. A new home base has been a topic of discussion at recent COT board meetings; board members even have talked about moving to a suburban location if necessary.

As of late last week, COT had collected approximately $386,000 of the needed $600,000. General manager Mark Tiarks said the company is moving ahead with plans for the second opera of the season, Madama Butterfly, but those plans could be canceled, says Tiarks, depending on what the money situation is as of March 15.

Theaters v. the Tribune: Raw Deal?

Two months of negotiations between the League of Chicago Theatres and the Tribune advertising department have resulted in a “new deal” for local theater companies, which were up in arms when the Tribune originally announced a 7 percent rate hike for 1991. But some theater executives contend the new deal benefits only companies that already buy advertising in large quantities. In essence, the Tribune’s revised rate card offers significant rate reductions to theaters that buy a minimum of 28 insertions at a time. Smaller theaters that don’t usually buy advertising in such quantity can purchase ads through the League, which then can make use of the volume rate reductions, but the League currently charges members a handling fee equal to about 10 percent of the cost of any advertising it places on their behalf. League marketing director Tony Karman says the organization is reevaluating its service fee structure. Stay tuned.

Medley Malady

Encore–A Show to Remember, the slickly produced musical theater retrospective now playing at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre, became slightly less memorable just days before its opening last month, when the cast was told the show would go on without its lengthy (and costly to assemble) finale, a medley of hit songs from musicals that had been presented at the theater over the past decade. A source familiar with the situation says theater executives ran into last-minute difficulties trying to secure the rights to some of the selections. But Marriott producer Kary Walker claims the number was dropped primarily for artistic reasons. “We didn’t think a self-indulgent piece of that sort really worked in the show,” says Walker. The first-act finale, a star-spangled salute to Old Glory that happens to reflect the country’s mood at the moment, was substituted for the evening’s original ending.

Kvetch Moves Up

Kvetch, the Steven Berkoff play that was continually sold out during its limited run at the Firehouse, has found a new home at the Halsted Theatre Centre. The show reopens there March 22 under the newly incorporated Phoenix Productions banner. Director Keith Miller attributes the show’s success in its initial run to fast-spreading word of mouth; when it closed at the 74-seat Firehouse in mid-February, Miller was turning away as many as 60 people a night. He would like to see the show, about a Jewish family in a state of amusing high anxiety, turn into the kind of cult hit it became in Los Angeles, where it has been running for five years. Kvetch will share its new venue with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, another out-of-the-ordinary production. Michael Frazier, producer of Unidentified Human Remains, has stepped up an aggressive marketing campaign to overcome some initial reviews that mostly dwell on the show’s graphic staging and ignore its visceral power.

United Airlines’ New Minister of Culture

United Airlines, the city’s hometown airline, has put its attempted employee buy-out problems behind it and is stepping up its efforts as a local cultural sponsor. Last January chairman and president Stephen M. Wolf hired Elizabeth Close as the company’s first manager of civic affairs. According to Close, her directive from Wolf was “to get more active downtown.” And she’s doing just that; she is behind United’s decision last week to sign on as the “official airline” of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s new building project. United is providing airline tickets for members of the committee the museum has put together to select an architect; they’ll look at the work of six architects, making site inspections in Japan and Europe as well as on the east and west coasts. United also is an official sponsor for the opening festivities at the Shedd Aquarium’s Oceanarium, which debuts next month, and is cosponsoring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s appearance this spring at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.