Civic Center Exec Seeks Greener Pastures

A troubling sense of uncertainty hangs over the Civic Center for Performing Arts in the wake of news that Randall Green will leave his post there as executive director to become managing director of the fledgling Ballet Chicago on June 1. Green’s decision was a big surprise to most of the local arts community; few could have expected that anyone would jump at the chance to join an organization with such a troubled past as Ballet Chicago’s. For his part, Green says he wants “to create something from scratch” and “see a resident classical ballet company succeed in Chicago. But talks with sources close to the situation suggest that circumstances may have been closing in on Green at the Civic, which he has headed since 1983. Dino D’Angelo, the Civic Center’s owner and chief financial backer, first issued a terse “no comment” when asked about future plans for the complex, then released a carefully worded statement indicating that “planning continues” for the 1990-’91 season. D’Angelo appears to have grown concerned about financial losses during Green’s tenure, and there’s speculation that he’s contemplating getting out of the business of presenting performing arts groups altogether; he might do better, the reasoning goes, by simply renting the facility to outside producers during the six or so months of each year when the Lyric Opera isn’t ensconced there.

Sources say Green operated the Civic Center for many years without a prepared budget, but that recently D’Angelo wanted to see numbers on paper. Though Green gets credit for inaugurating the Civic Center’s Spring Festival of Dance, an annual potpourri of dance companies, he also has to shoulder responsibility for losses incurred by several companies included in the festival, underwritten in part with D’Angelo’s money. One of the nation’s premier dance companies, the Joffrey Ballet, was a big money loser at the Civic and was dumped from the festival this year. Against the advice of some aides, Green pushed hard this year to Present “Nureyev & Friends,” though a similar Nureyev show at the Chicago Theatre several years ago was a clear cut disaster. On the festival budget, Green projected that the Nureyev engagement would break even. Subsequently, however, it was trimmed from six nights to four because of slow ticket sales, and even then, sources say, it wound up one of the biggest financial bloodbaths in the Civic Center’s history. Green’s freedom and the Center’s activities might have been in for substantial curtailment, and such prospects could have enhanced the appeal of the Ballet Chicago post.

The typically inept manner in which Ballet Chicago announced Green’s move did nothing to buttress confidence in the appointment or in the organization itself, which has been plagued since its inception by managerial chaos. Seemingly an afterthought, news releases were stuffed into press kits at Ballet Chicago’s opening night at the Civic Opera House last week. Critics arriving to pass judgment on a performance were faced with finding a way gracefully to incorporate the surprise news into their reviews. Green comes to Ballet Chicago with no experience running a not-for-profit arts company. He also has had little or no experience raising funds for such an outfit, a task that remains a chief priority at Ballet Chicago. On the plus side, Green is known in the community and is familiar, to say the least, with the problems inherent in presenting dance here. Time will tell whether that familiarity and Green’s apparent determination to see Ballet Chicago succeed will be enough to ensure the company’s future.

Goodman’s Gift: The $6 Million Plan

The Goodman Theatre may get its Christmas gift from the city early this year. The Daley administration has put together a development package that will hand over to the Goodman the Selwyn-Harris theater complex on North Dearborn, along with $6 million in development funds that the theater must match dollar for dollar. The $6 million will come from either the North Loop Preservation Fund or North Loop tax-increment financing. But the gift isn’t in Goodman’s hands yet. The package first has to be sold to the City Council’s finance committee and then to the council itself. Granted it would be nice to see a resident theater company functioning year-round in the North Loop, but the city and its aldermen also eventually have to deal with the crippled Chicago Theatre and the question of where the $12.5 million is coming from to pay off the federal loan on that ill-fated project. Rafael Rios-Rodriguez, Mayor Daley’s deputy commissioner of planning, says he has been reviewing the possible Chicago Theatre options for the past six months, trying to find a way to keep the city from “taking a hit” on the theater. “We’re still several months away from an announcement,” says Rios-Rodriguez. Good luck.

Catwalk Goes Down: Park West Spruces Up

Catwalk, the club that sprang quickly last February from the ashes of Clubland at the Vic, is history. The swift closing surprised few in the nightclub biz. “It was a six-week wonder,” says one observer. “The public clearly wasn’t going to buy a paint job.” Meanwhile Jam Productions honcho Jerry Mickelson last week unveiled the new Park West, which he is pushing both as a party and concert facility and, initially on Fridays only, as a nightclub. New carpeting, new banquettes, and new video equipment have given the place a fresh look, but observers still question how much of the trendy River North night crowd Mickelson will be able to attract.

Siskel on Sale: For You, 25 Percent Off

Yes, celebrity movie critic Gene Siskel will cut you a deal for a speaking engagement: Sources familiar with the attempt say that a local synagogue recently tried to engage Siskel to give a talk on Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors. Through his agent, Siskel first asked for his standard $10,000 fee and a limo, a price meant to turn away most of the many such requests that a person of Siskel’s eminence routinely receives. But when the congregation’s representative pleaded that they didn’t have that kind of money in their budget, sources say, Siskel graciously consented to drop his fee–to $7,500. And a limo.

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