Civic Center Tries to Collect Its Debts

The Civic Center for Performing Arts is reportedly preparing to file suit against Wisdom Bridge Theatre to collect approximately $38,000 still due in production costs from Kabuki Faust and Hamlet, presented by Wisdom Bridge at the Civic Theatre in 1986. A Civic Center source close to the developments said the organization has tried to secure the money through every means possible, including a collection agency, but with no success. Civic Center backer Dino D’Angelo lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over a seven-year period presenting the work of local and touring not-for-profit organizations. The Civic Center source indicated that executives there were at least looking for some sign that Wisdom Bridge intends to make good on its debt, a sign that thus far has not been forthcoming. “We’re trying to work all those things out,” said John Conlon, one of the chairmen of the Wisdom Bridge board of directors. Joyce Sloane, a former Wisdom Bridge chairman, added that the debt isn’t likely to be paid off in the near future. Meanwhile, Wisdom Bridge producing director Jeffrey Ortmann boasted in last Friday’s Sun-Times that the company was working on the acquisition of the old Lerner Newspapers building, which is adjacent to the theater on Howard Street; if acquired, the building would be converted into second theater space. Wisdom Bridge also recently announced the transfer of its hit production of Only Kidding to Briar Street Theatre while the Howard Street stage is devoted to a dramatic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Ballet Chicago also owes the Civic Center money–$10,000, reportedly, for the company’s opening engagement there. Ballet Chicago is said to be planning an early May engagement at the Civic Opera House, but no formal announcement has been made nor had contracts been signed as of last Monday. Sources familiar with the situation say that the engagement is unlikely unless the ballet company pays the debt. “I see no reason why the engagement will not take place,” said Jack Staley, chairman of the board of Ballet Chicago. “If something has to be paid off it will be paid off.” (Ballet Chicago also owes the DePaul Theatre School thousands of dollars in rental fees for a Blackstone Theatre engagement last fall.) Unfortunately, the longer the company waits to firm up plans for a spring appearance, the worse it’s likely to do at the box office; tickets for no fewer than five other ballet and modern dance companies passing through the Civic Opera House this spring have already gone on sale.

Slimmer, Trimmer League of Chicago Theatres?

Keryl McCord, the newly arrived executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres, is making her presence felt. Sources in the theater community say she has spent much of her first month drawing up a proposal for restructuring office operations–a proposal she is expected to discuss with the League’s board of directors next Monday. Apparently tops on McCord’s agenda is streamlining the staff and its activities. Suzanne Brown, the League’s deputy executive director and one of the last staffers to be hired by former executive director Diane Olmen, has announced she’ll depart April 1. One source said such a small organization does not need a well-paid deputy director on the payroll. Brown, who was not well liked by many of the League’s commercial producers, will work with Nick Rabkin, program officer for the MacArthur Foundation and part-time theater producer, to try and mount a commercial run of the new musical Sylvia’s Real Good Advice after Pegasus Players concludes its world premiere seven-week run.

Speed of Darkness Gets Off to a Slow Start

The Speed of Darkness, playwright Steve Tesich’s dark drama about the Vietnam war, may soon be remembered as yet another Goodman Theatre export that wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Goodman’s arty She Always Said, Pablo lost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the deficit-ridden Kennedy Center during an abbreviated run last June in Washington. The Broadway production of Speed (which got mixed reviews during its world premiere at the Goodman) opened February 28, becoming the first work presented under a new Broadway contract that mandates lower production costs and a top ticket price of $24 at three participating theaters. But low ticket prices may not be enough to save the show. Many critics found fault with Speed, and even influential New York Times drama critic Frank Rich, who was believed to be a fan of the show, nitpicked his way through an analysis of the evening, almost completely ignoring the show’s director (and the Goodman’s artistic director) Robert Falls. Most damning of all was the show-biz bible Variety’s assessment of the $400,000 production. Jeremy Gerard, the paper’s new legitimate-theater editor, wrote, “Dwelling heavily on the psychological aftermath of the Vietnam War, this drama would be a risky commercial proposition under any circumstances. An even tougher prospect, given the current upbeat post-war climate, will be made tougher still because The Speed of Darkness is a very bad play.” Should Speed go down in flames, some Broadway observers fear a falloff in productions mounted under the new production contract.

Magnificent Mile Mural

In early May a new mural will appear on the construction barricades surrounding 840 N. Michigan, where Crate & Barrel used to be. Tentatively titled “A Salute to the Magnificent Mile,” the mural will be the handiwork of students hired by the Marwen Foundation, a local organization that provides free visual-arts programs, college guidance, and career planning to underprivileged 5- to 19-year-olds. The mural will feature scenes along the Magnificent Mile as well as a special insert designed by Ed Paschke and painted by the student artists. Marwen artists have painted murals at major construction sites around Chicago, including the Harold Washington Library and Union Station. “It’s a way to get jobs for those young people who wouldn’t normally get jobs in the arts,” says Diane-Fitzgerald, the foundation’s executive director. A mural 60 to 90 feet long commands between $8,000 and $12,000, with most of the money going to the Marwen painters.

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