Hot Tix Tariff

Barely a month on the job, Marj Halperin, director of the League of Chicago Theatres, is moving quickly to generate cash to promote the local theater scene. At a packed meeting of the group’s members last week, Halperin unveiled an initiative calling for theater companies to turn over to the league between 50 cents and one dollar from each ticket sold at Hot Tix, the booths run by the league to offer same-day tickets at half price. Based on current projections, the new “tax”–which Halperin says will not be added to the price of tickets–could generate $40,000 or more in new money for the league over the next year. The league already collects a $2 or $3.50 service charge on every ticket sold at its Hot Tix booths, depending on the price.

Even though the plan takes money out of the pockets of theaters, industry executives say they are willing to support Halperin’s plans–at least for the moment. “It does mean a small revenue loss to the theaters, but I hope it will be worth it if it means an improvement in service to our customers,” says Phil Kohlmetz, managing director of Roadworks Productions. John Ragir, executive producer of Live Bait Theater, says, “I’m willing to give it a shot and give Halperin the benefit of the doubt for now.”

Halperin says Hot Tix sales have been declining and the new revenues could go into marketing the service. In particular, the booth on the sixth floor of Chicago Place has been a major disappointment since opening in 1995. The league was anxious to put a Hot Tix outlet on North Michigan Avenue, but customers have had a hard time finding it inside the large vertical mall. “It’s certainly not performing to its poten-tial and not doing as well as the State Street booth,” says Halperin. “People need to be constantly reminded that the booths are there.”

Halperin also wants Hot Tix to offer tickets for Saturday and Sunday performances on Friday to make it easier for customers to plan their weekends. Half-price tickets are currently available only on the same day of the performance or on Saturday for Sunday shows.

Dance Developments

Laura Wiley, executive director of the Chicago Dance Coalition, is reportedly leaving her post after less than a year at the organization. She was out of town and unavailable for comment, but sources say that Wiley, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, is going to work in theater. CDC board president Susan Lipman says Wiley was disappointed in the lack of artistic input required by her job. According to Lipman, Wiley’s departure is prompting the board to reassess the coalition’s priorities. One of its primary functions is to orchestrate the annual Ruth Page Dance Awards.

Elsewhere in the dance world: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is on the verge of buying a larger facility to house its administrative offices and dance studios, and the long-delayed Chicago Music and Dance Theatre at Cityfront Center looks like it might finally have the cash to break ground.

A source says Hubbard Street is eyeing a space west of the Loop near Harpo Studios, but a company spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny the move. She admits, however, that the organization has outgrown its present space at 218 S. Wabash. Hubbard Street now has a staff of 41, which includes 22 dancers.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Chicago Music and Dance Theatre says the $33 million project’s board of directors has secured a loan that will allow construction to begin. All that remains is paperwork. An announcement should come during the first week of March. The 1,500-seat theater may be open by the winter of 1999.

Lord a’ Leaping

The king of step dancing is returning to his native city. Michael Flatley, the onetime Chicago choreographer who went on to fame and fortune as a principal performer in Riverdance, is now heading his own dance spectacle, Lord of the Dance. The show will play the Rosemont Theatre from March 25 through 30, as part of Flatley’s first U.S. tour. For the past several months, the production has been doing sellout business in giant arenas in the United Kingdom and Australia, reportedly netting Flatley more than $160,000 a week. In protracted negotiations, Flatley’s business representatives pushed hard for the show to play the cavernous Rosemont Horizon, but promoter Tim Orchard successfully argued that Flatley would fare much better if the production played the smaller Rosemont Theatre and sold it out, thereby creating demand for a return engagement.

After leaving Chicago for Ireland, Flatley choreographed and starred in the original Riverdance, but he left the company after a rift with the show’s producers. Riverdance returns to Chicago for an extended run next fall at the Auditorium Theatre, and Orchard is already set to compete. The top ticket for Flatley’s show is $59.50, compared to $65 for the return engagement of Riverdance.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Marj Halperin photo by Nathan Mandell.