Columbia College to Acquire the Shubert?

The Shubert Theatre could get a new lease on life. Discussions now under way may result in Columbia College taking control of the 2,000-seat theater, which has remained dark for most of the past several years as the Shubert Organization, the theater’s powerful New York-based operator, has sharply curtailed the number of touring productions it has brought in. The Shubert Organization’s lease on the property at 22 W. Monroe runs into the early 2 1st century; the land under the theater is owned by the Chicago Board of Education.

The plan under consideration would transform the Shubert into a year-round venue for a wide range of dance, music, and some theatrical presentations under the control of Columbia College. Though the Shubert Organization is said to be receptive to a plan that would make better use of the beautifully maintained venue, the company’s Chicago general Maury Collins, stresses that Shubert’s top executives have yet to see a formal proposal from Columbia. “I certainly would like to see this theater used more effectively,” adds Collins. In 1988 the Shubert Organization sold the Blackstone Theatre to DePaul University, whose theater school is now that building’s primary occupant.

Woodie White, managing director of Columbia College Dance Center, has been a key player in the discussions thus far, and he believes the theater could prove to be the answer to the dance and music community’s long-standing need for a centrally located midsize performance venue. “We’ve been committed to solving the midsized dance-space problem for some time,” says White; he is confident the Shubert could help the city’s still small dance audience grow because it has the right number of seats and a readily accessible location. “The solution to growing the dance audience,” maintains White, “is tied to a space problem.”

According to White, the Shubert could significantly expand the range of dance companies visiting the city. Large companies like American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet still would have to play much larger venues such as the Civic Opera House, but White points out that many medium-size companies, for example the Paul Taylor Dance Company, have stayed away from the city because. no appropriate performance space was available.

The city’s small and midsize music organizations also would be expected to make heavy use of the Shubert, should it become available to them. “I think it’s a pretty exciting proposal,” says Susan Lipman, president of the Chicago Music Alliance and executive director of Chamber Music Chicago, a presenting organization that has been pushing hard for a midsize downtown music venue. Chamber Music Chicago and the Columbia College Dance Center have discussed a joint venture that might reopen the Shubert in its new incarnation as early as spring 1992. The venture would involve the debut of a commissioned music and dance work by the choreographer/dancer Trisha Brown, whom White describes as a “world-class dance artist,” and Terry Riley, a founder of the minimalist music movement.

Art Experts

The Lakeside Group, the organization that started the Chicago International Art Expo in 1980, is also in an expansive mood. The company, headed by arts entrepreneur John Wilson, is launching an Arts Management Consulting Group under the direction of Fred Fine, the city’s first commissioner of cultural affairs. Lakeside executive director Thomas Blackman said the new division’s start-up came in response to repeated requests for assistance and advice from a variety of visual and performing arts groups. Though Fine’s record as cultural commissioner was rather lackluster, he also founded and helped develop the arts management program at Columbia College. The Lakeside Group is gearing up for Chicago’s 1991 Art Expo, which is scheduled for May 9 through 14 at Donnelley Hall in McCormick Place. Navy Pier, the usual site, is expected to be closed to the art exposition for the next three or four years because of work now going on there. The Lakeside Group also is talking to Russian officials about establishing an artists’ retreat in the USSR along the lines of one Wilson has operated for some time in Lakeside, Michigan.

No Parking at New Steppenwolf

Where will patrons of the new Steppenwolf Theatre complex park their cars on opening night? Certainly not in the half-built parking garage next door. Though plans called for the garage to open concurrently with the new theater space, that timetable appears to have been scrapped. “We don’t own or control the garage,” says Steppenwolf board president Bruce Sagan. Asked when he believes it will open, Sagan says: “I don’t know the answer.” According to Sagan, the principal developer of the parking garage is United Development Homes Inc., a Wheeling-based builder of single-family suburban homes. United Development executive vice president William Crock says he hopes to have more details about the garage’s future around the first week in February: “I don’t want to talk about it until I know more.” Sagan says Steppenwolf could take costly legal action, but he doubts that would speed up work on the garage. Sagan also says the theater company is examining other parking alternatives in the area. Meanwhile, the Illinois division of Citibank has signed on as sponsor of the gala opening benefit for the new $8.3 million theater on April 13.

New Club Coming: Ka-Boom!

Kenny Smith, Callin Fortis, and Nunzio Fresta are in the final stages of lease negotiations for a new nightclub aimed at the 25-and-older crowd. If all goes according to plan, the club–to be called KaBoom!–would open this May in River West. Fortis owns Neo and, with Fresta, Oo-La-La!, an Italian restaurant at 3335 N. Halsted; Smith operates the clubs Outtakes and Exit. The owners plan to bring in designer Thomas Schlesser, who has a graduate degree in design from Domus Academy in Milan, to create the look of the new space; they are reluctant at this point to reveal the exact location, but Fortis says the psychic address will be somewhere between Shelter and Oo-La-La.

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