God in the Front Row

Jennifer Cullins says there was something divine about the way she hooked up with the Christian screenwriting boot camp Act One: Writing for Hollywood. “I was minding my own business at a Kinko’s I never go to, up on the north side, and a priest walked in. And my spirit was like, ‘Talk to this priest, talk to this priest right now.'” When she approached him she saw that he was copying an article titled “Writing Faith Into Film.” “For me,” Cullins says, “that was a powerful sign. We struck up a conversation.” He turned out to be Don Woznicki, a priest in training at Mundelein Seminary. The article he was copying was written by Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun who runs Act One. Woznicki began to tell Cullins about the program, and they quickly discovered they had a lot in common: both had gone to Los Angeles to give the movie business a whirl, and both wanted to see more Christian influence on the screen. Before long Cullins, a former director of development for the ETA Creative Arts Foundation, had offered to help Woznicki bring Act One’s training program to Chicago this summer.

Nicolosi, who has a master’s degree in film from Northwestern University, started Act One four years ago. Based in Hollywood and backed by Inter-Mission (a network of 3,000 entertainment-business Christians), it offers a monthlong crash course for writers who want to bring a Christian message to mainstream film and television. In an article published in the Catholic magazine Crisis last summer, Nicolosi wrote that Act One’s original goal of “replacing people in the business who are ungodly with those who are godly” has changed. Now “the goal is not to replace the secular people in Hollywood, but to win them over.” According to Nicolosi, the entertainment industry, “having no conviction of hope…tends to obsess over the only realities of which it is certain: confusion, darkness, isolation, fear, and depravity.” Still, she writes, Hollywood is “very good at what it does,” while “most Christian media are dreadful by secular standards.”

Nicolosi maintains that the first task for aspiring Christian screenwriters is to trade preaching for a more subtle approach. Act One emphasizes subtext, teaching that “the theme must be cleverly embedded in the work under a web of details.” Randall Wallace, who wrote and directed We Were Soldiers–in which the unwavering piety of the hero is a prominent part of the story–was a graduation speaker for last summer’s Act One class. There are now 120 Act One alumni working their way up in the business.

The Chicago session is scheduled for June 1-30 at Mundelein Seminary and Loyola University. Woznicki helped Act One get use of the facilities; Cullins–who’ll be taking the course–has been working as volunteer PR person. Tuition is $895, with scholarships available. Last week, with just 17 applications in for 30 spots, the deadline was extended from April 1 to April 15. The application form can be found at www.actoneprogram.com.

Arena Gets Enroned

Arena Gallery’s closing bash last Friday for the MCA staff exhibit “Insideout: 2” turned out to be a farewell party for the 18-month-old West Loop gallery as well. You can blame Enron, says gallery director Maria Munet, who is also the main squeeze of Arena’s owner, Oklahoma Ward. Munet says Arena’s building, at 311 N. Sangamon, is owned by a company owned by Ward’s father–and that company is a supplier to the oil industry. Under pressure from nervous banks, she says, the parent business is filing for bankruptcy and needs to sell the building pronto. Arena may reappear in Chicago, but not anytime soon: Munet and Ward’s next gallery is going to be in Taos.

Where the Chicks Are

It could be a big year for Chick Singer Night, the monthly showcase launched in Chicago 14 years ago by singer-songwriter Lori Maier. Already a nonprofit chain with venues in Los Angeles and Nashville, Chick Singer Night is starting up in two more cities: it’ll debut June 2 at the Miami club Hoy Como Ayer and sometime this year at a still-undetermined New York location. Maier says she’s also about to hatch a deal that could put it on national television by the fall. The Chicago chicks have made their home at the Abbey Pub for the last three years, but are flying the coop this week; they open April 2 at their new roost, Subterranean.

Final Run

Hellcab is finally ending its shift. First mounted with $300 nearly ten years ago as a late-night offering at Hull House, Famous Door’s production of Will Kern’s gritty Chicago comedy will go for its last spin May 5 at the Theatre Building. “The audience has dropped off some this year,” says Famous Door’s Scott Kennedy, who was the show’s first production manager. “It’s had a good long run.”

Job One: Save Venice

Museum of Contemporary Art senior curator Francesco Bonami was named curator of the 2003 International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale last week after another candidate for the prestigious job, critic Robert Hughes, took himself out of the running in apparent disgust. Hughes told the New York Post the Biennale organization is “a shambles.” Bonami, 46, will be the youngest curator in the event’s 100-year history.

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