Devil of a Deal

The board of directors for the long-delayed Music and Dance Theater Chicago may have decided that a Faustian bargain is better than none at all. After nearly a decade spent searching for an appropriate site, the board hopes to strike a deal with the city to become part of the $150 million Lakefront Millennium Park, a recreational and entertainment development on the northwest corner of Grant Park. The proposed theater would finally provide a performance base for at least a dozen small and midsize music and dance organizations, including Music of the Baroque, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Chicago Sinfonietta, Performing Arts Chicago, and Chicago Opera Theater. But this last-ditch attempt hardly squares with the original vision for the theater: the MADTC board would probably have to cede control of the theater to the city, sharing the space with the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

Over the years the board has seen many plans come and go, even as it searched for the more than $30 million needed to build and endow the proposed theater. But after a prime site at Cityfront Center fell through in spring

1997, the board’s choices seemed to narrow considerably. At the same time, some of the music and dance organizations that had been waiting patiently began to suffer financial setbacks, including Performing Arts Chicago, Ballet Chicago, and Music of the Baroque. According to several sources, when board cochair Sandra Guthman also joined the Lakefront Millennium Park’s board of directors six months ago, she sold the idea for this new collaboration to John Bryan, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee Corporation and a well-known arts philanthropist, who’d been tapped to raise about $10 million of the $150 million needed for the park.

With Bryan’s blessing, Guthman got the rest of the directors’ attention, and over the past few weeks a flurry of meetings led to a revision of the architectural plans. As originally conceived, the park was to include a 450-seat indoor theater for lectures, recitals, and other small programs, but the plan being floated by MADTC would turn that into a 1,500-seat theater situated mostly underground, with a 27-foot structure above ground and a 16-foot tower for scenery and lighting. The new design is already drawing fire from critics who think the structure will obscure the lakefront; the Chicago Plan Commission will review the design on January 14.

Unfortunately the new scheme obscures not only Lake Michigan but also the original idea of an autonomous music and dance theater for smaller companies. Ed Uhlir, director of the Millennium project, says he’s had little time to consider the management of the proposed theater in his race to revamp the project’s overall design. But he clearly states that the MADTC board would be relinquishing control of the new venue, despite the fact that it would probably kick in more than $20 million for construction: “The city is expected to operate the indoor theater.” He was less certain whether the facility would be staffed with union stagehands; in general, venues with more than 1,000 seats are considered fair game by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Few programs would be able to draw large enough crowds to offset the added production cost of union labor: Julie Simpson, former executive director of the Dance Center of Columbia College, once indicated that the center wasn’t interested in paying union wages, and the cash-poor Performing Arts Chicago might also have trouble mounting shows in such a venue.

Livent Deathwatch:

You Can’t Take It With You

Ticket buyers for the Chicago production of Ragtime could find themselves holding expensive souvenirs should Toronto-based Livent Inc. suddenly cease operations. When Livent declared bankruptcy last month, canceling scores of performances at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, ticket holders discovered that their tickets were worthless–even those purchased through Canadian Ticketmaster outlets. According to the Globe and Mail, Ticketmaster had been transferring all of Livent’s revenues directly into the company’s bank accounts, which were frozen as soon as Livent filed for Chapter 11. Livent has refused to redeem tickets for canceled performances, though it has offered to exchange them for tickets to the Toronto production of Phantom of the Opera. Normally Ticketmaster hangs on to ticket revenues until the performance has taken place, but apparently not so with Livent. Larry Solters, a spokesperson for Ticketmaster, said that “all proceeds for Ragtime tickets in Chicago are being transferred to Livent accounts in a timely fashion,” but when asked what would happen if performances were suddenly canceled, he simply replied, “No shows have been canceled.” In fact, the day the show opened Livent began selling a second block of tickets, extending the run through April. A press representative for Ragtime says it continues to perform well in Chicago.

Abstract Impressiveness

This month Klein Art Works presents its third survey of abstract art in Chicago, featuring paintings, sculpture, photography, and electronic art from 96 Chicago-based artists. Klein’s last survey, in 1995, showcased only 30 artists. “I displayed more than one piece by each artist for that show,” says owner Paul Klein, “but this time around I’m only showing one piece.” All of the featured works are small–Klein wants to survey the scene, but he also wants to sell it. Most of the pieces are priced between $90 and $400, though a sculpture by Richard Hunt goes for $15,000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ed Uhlir photo by Dan Machnik.