New Lessons Afoot

“I can dance, but I’m not a trained dancer,” explains Bonnie Brooks, the UCLA professor who’s been named director of the Dance Center of Columbia College. Her appointment represents a significant change after Columbia ended Shirley Mordine’s 30-year reign at the center. Mordine focused on training students to be dancers or choreographers, but Brooks will be coming at the art from a more academic perspective. Asked about the future of the dance curriculum, she promises “more courses on the history of dance and courses that look at issues such as where dance is headed.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Brooks worked at the National Endowment for the Arts in the late 70s, but after a life-changing experience seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov perform Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove at the Kennedy Center, she moved to New York City and managed David Gordon’s dance company. Since then she’s helmed the Minnesota Dance Alliance and the national trade association Dance/USA, but ultimately she decided that teaching at UCLA would offer her more hands-on experience. “Being at Dance/USA was like looking at everything from 25,000 feet up,” she explains. Brooks will have plenty to put her hands on next summer, when Columbia finally opens its new Dance Center at 1306 S. Michigan; the facility will include plenty of studio and classroom space and a 300-seat theater tailored for dance performances.

Schuster: Buy George!

Less than a year after buying the Royal George Theatre Center, at North and Halsted, New York producer Alan Schuster may be ready to unload the property. “The theater is not officially on the market,” says Schuster, “but we would listen to offers.” The Royal George has a checkered history as a venue for successful productions, and it’s already changed hands twice in the last seven years: local producer Robert Perkins and the New York-based Jujamcyn Theatres bought the complex for less than $2 million in 1993 and five years later were asking $6 million for it. Schuster reportedly paid $4 million, but sources familiar with the venue say that he and his backers have soured on Chicago now that Schuster’s first main-stage production, Love, Janis, closed after 14 weeks. The center’s long-running cabaret hit Forever Plaid may be petering out as well, and Flanagan’s Wake will soon be moving into the School of the Art Institute’s new building at State and Randolph.

In New York, Schuster operates two choice off-Broadway venues, the Union Square Theatre and the Minetta Lane Theatre. He and his backers, part of the Philadelphia-based Reading Entertainment Company, hoped the Royal George would function as sort of an off-off-off-Broadway theater, drawing from the same reservoir of producers who are eager to establish their shows and attract regional theaters and other markets worldwide. Yet that concept hasn’t panned out, and suddenly the future of the Royal George looks less certain than its backers, more experienced in movie exhibition, might be willing to tolerate.

Love, Janis seemed like a sure thing: the musical biography of Janis Joplin was a runaway success in Denver and Cleveland, and Schuster invested heavily in advertising for the Chicago production. But like its subject, Love, Janis died young; its appeal here turned out to be narrower than Schuster had thought, and sources familiar with the production say it was simply too expensive to turn a profit at the Royal George (it featured only two actors, but an eight-piece band greatly inflated the weekly running cost). Some observers believe Schuster would have a hard time finding anyone in the theater business who’d shell out $4 million for the Royal George, and the theater could fall prey to real estate developers eyeing it as potential condominium or retail space. “Nobody really understands how tough it is to run one of these theaters,” says Rob Kolson, who operates the Apollo Theater. Schuster says he’d prefer that the space remain a theater, but he isn’t ruling out anything: “It’s all about price.”

Korshak Flack Makes Tracks

For more than 30 years Margie Korshak has been synonymous with entertainment public relations in Chicago. A flamboyant woman who knows how to throw a party, Korshak made her name in the 70s and 80s publicizing major touring productions like A Chorus Line, Annie, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables. But now that the stream of London and New York blockbusters has slowed to a trickle, Margie Korshak Inc. focuses on less glamorous accounts: real estate, consumer products, some restaurants and retail establishments, and entertainment complexes like DisneyQuest and ESPN Zone. Korshak suffered a huge setback when one of her most visible clients, Livent Inc., collapsed in a sea of red ink and its equally flamboyant founder, Garth Drabinksy, was indicted for fraud. Except for the occasional booking, she’s been shut out of the Shubert Theatre, where Jill Hurwitz now handles the majority of productions in-house, and while Korshak still represents the Auditorium Theatre, the glut of new theaters in the north Loop has probably ended that venue’s era as a major presenter of Broadway shows.

Soon Korshak will have some serious competition from one of her own: earlier this month Beth Silverman, a key lieutenant in Korshak’s entertainment division, announced that after 12 years she was quitting to start her own agency with another Korshak veteran, Marlo LaCorte. At the Korshak agency Silverman proved her versatility handling accounts that ranged from theatrical productions to nightclubs to retail megastores to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. LaCorte came to Korshak in 1996 from the PR office of the Goodman Theatre but left earlier this year to have a child. “We’ll be going after entertainment and leisure-oriented-type of PR accounts,” says Silverman, who explains that the Silverman/LaCorte Group will also bring in freelance consultants according to clients’ needs. Her last day at the Korshak agency was December 10; the new agency opens January 3 in offices just off North Michigan.

Surviving Aida

Bankrolled by Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, Robert Falls’s Broadway-bound staging of Aida opened last Thursday at the newly renovated Cadillac Palace Theatre, and the critics were merciless: Richard Christiansen wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Aida “suffers from too many split personalities,” while Hedy Weiss, writing for the Sun-Times, criticized the book’s “Borscht Belt one-liners” and “pedestrian quality.” Well, almost merciless–both managed to pan the show without blaming local hero Falls.

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