Money Trouble at Wisdom Bridge

Payroll checks for some of the actors employed in Wisdom Bridge Theatre’s most recent production, Kabuki Medea, bounced in the weeks before the show closed on December 12. Tad Currie, regional director of the Actors’ Equity, indicated that when the problem first arose, the cast member designated as union representative quickly contacted Equity officials. When the union subsequently contacted producing director Jeffrey Ortmann about the problem, Ortmann reportedly said the checks bounced because Wisdom Bridge didn’t receive funds it had expected from a television taping of Kabuki Medea that ultimately fell through. Currie also said the money due the performers had since been paid in full and without using any of the bond Actors’ Equity requires theater companies to post before a production goes into rehearsal.

Perhaps another reason Wisdom Bridge couldn’t cover the running costs of Kabuki Medea was that it was putting money into the commercial transfer of its first play of the season, Tour de Farce. The show received positive notices and did good business in its brief run at Wisdom Bridge, which presumably convinced Ortmann and the company’s board of directors that money could be made by moving it to the Apollo Theater. Coproducer Michael Leavitt said he and Wisdom Bridge equally shared the costs of mounting the production at the Apollo, where the show lasted barely more than a month and was by all accounts a financial disaster despite heavy advertising and a ticket price as low as $10.

Financial problems continue to plague Wisdom Bridge on other fronts as well. A source close to developments said attorneys for the now defunct Civic Center for Performing Arts have gone to court to seek reimbursement for some $6,000 still owed for expenses related to Wisdom Bridge productions that played at the Civic Theatre in 1986. According to an agreement reached between Wisdom Bridge and CCPA, Wisdom Bridge had been attempting to pay back the debt in monthly installments. But those installments apparently ceased sometime last summer.

Despite its precarious financial condition, Wisdom Bridge is going on with its shows. Next up is a production of To Kill a Mockingbird, slated to open January 27 with Ortmann directing. Also apparently still in the works are plans to move to a new theater complex scheduled to open in Skokie in several years.

What Remains of Remains?

Remains Theatre has let go about half of its administrative staff, including managing director R.P. Sekon, marketing director Chris Petersen (who will remain a member of the ensemble), and the office manager. Still aboard are artistic director Neel Keller and a director of development, and the company plans to hire a full-time administrative assistant. David Harvey, a member of the Remains board of directors, says the decision to reduce administrative overhead came in the wake of an internal review of the company conducted by the staff last fall. “It was the staff members themselves,” says Harvey, “who concluded it would be in Remains’s best interests if many of them sought employment elsewhere in light of the fact that we might not have our own home for a while.” Says Petersen, “We saw the loss of the facility at 1800 N. Clybourn as a sign that we needed to…[concentrate] less on running an operation and more on producing plays.” Remains is downsizing its budget for the current fiscal year to around $600,000 from about $1 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The staff reductions come on the eve of this weekend’s opening at the Theatre Building of Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest, Remains’ first production of the 1993-’94 season and the first play it has produced since being forced to vacate its Clybourn space in November. Harvey said the company was trying to line up another home base as quickly as possible. Remains is seriously looking at two venues, but both would require costly renovation before they would be ready for occupancy.

Rotational Success

Based on its experience last fall running The Triumph of Love and Cloud Nine in rotating repertory, Court Theatre executives say they are encouraged to try the format again, perhaps as early as next season. Managing director Sandra Karuschak said the two productions, which ended their joint run last month, played on average to about 75 percent of capacity. Karuschak said the rotating format gave audiences the chance to see both shows in one marathon day, as well as a better chance to get to know the acting company, who because they performed in both productions were employed for twice as long as they would have been had they been cast in only one show.

Hot Mikado

The Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre production of Hot Mikado is headed for Broadway and a national tour. The Nederlander Organization and Frankie Hewitt, producer at the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., will present the jazzed-up interpretation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at a yet-to-be-determined Nederlander theater on Broadway beginning next October. The show will play a pre-Broadway tryout at Ford’s beginning in May. David H. Bell, who directed the Marriott’s Lincolnshire version last summer, will also be in charge of the Broadway production. Bell said the only actor in the Marriott’s Lincolnshire company certain to appear in the Broadway production at this point is lead Ross Lehman. “We’ll be going through a full audition process,” says Bell, who also will be busy putting together a touring version of Hot Mikado that would begin in Houston just days after the Broadway-bound production opens at Ford’s Theatre.

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