Out of the Closet

Almost 75 years ago a Chicago postal worker named Henry Gerber started the Society for Human Rights, the United States’ first documented gay rights organization. Gerber/Hart Library, named for him and civil liberties attorney Pearl M. Hart, was established in 1981, operating for many years in a cramped basement near Belmont and Sheffield, and seven years ago it moved to a 2,400-square-foot storefront at the intersection of Lincoln, Roscoe, and Paulina. Now one of the nation’s largest libraries devoted to gay and lesbian literature, Gerber/Hart is trying to transform itself into a cultural center of sorts, moving yet again to a considerably more spacious home in Edgewater, at 1127 W. Granville, and bringing in a new tenant–Theatre Q, a two-year-old group dedicated to mounting new theatrical works by a wide range of gay and lesbian artists.

The library will move its holdings of over 12,000 books and some 800 periodicals to 5,500 square feet that formerly housed a card shop and a liquor store. “We were simply bursting at the seams in our old facility,” explains Russell Kracke, Gerber/Hart’s managing director. Kracke predicts that the Granville location will be adequate for at least another seven years.

The founders of the library always intended it to serve the gay and lesbian community as more than an archive. In September it hosted “Per4mance>fest<98,” a four-day festival of music and theater, and now the library has formalized an arrangement to let Theatre Q stage its readings in the new facility free of charge. When it began, the theater company performed at the Halsted Street Cafe; after that it moved to Sheil Park, near Southport and Addison. Kracke hopes that Theatre Q will draw more people into the library and introduce them to its collections. John Koulias, artistic director of Theatre Q, says he plans to do at least two readings a month at the new location.

The Butler Didn’t Do It

The end could be near for City Lit Theater Company, the small but influential off-Loop outfit founded in 1979 by Arnold Aprill and David Dillon. The company peaked in 1989 with its critically acclaimed adaptation of Lynda Barry’s cartoons, titled The Good Times Are Killing Me, and since 1993 its series of P.G. Wodehouse adaptations, featuring upper-class twit Bertie Wooster and his resourceful butler, Jeeves, has proved a reliable draw. But both Dillon and Aprill are long gone, and City Lit has never regained the momentum it enjoyed in the 80s. The company’s current production, a revival of the Wodehouse show Right Ho, Jeeves!, is doing lackluster business at the Theatre Building. Now sources familiar with developments say that City Lit will suspend operations after the show closes on January 10, pulling the plug on two productions that were to follow at the Theatre Building next spring.

City Lit may have shot itself in the foot by switching venues. The last three Jeeves shows were all staged at the Ivanhoe Theater, where owner Doug Bragan gave the company a sweetheart deal. Bragan covered all production and marketing costs, paid the company a weekly guarantee, and tossed in a percentage of the box office if it exceeded a certain amount. Even with that generous arrangement, says Bragan, he was able to make money on the shows. City Lit and its board of directors apparently decided they wanted Bragan’s slice of the pie, so this year the company mounted Right Ho, Jeeves! at the Theatre Building. But without Bragan’s advertising and marketing, the show has foundered. Bragan speculates, “I don’t think the board of directors had given the company the resources it needed to do the show.” Sources stopped short of saying City Lit was dead, but the company has scrapped adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Lefcourt’s baseball novel The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story.

Fitzpatrick Loses a Deputy

Last Tuesday, only days after director Robert Fitzpatrick named two senior-level curators, the Museum of Contemporary Art suffered a major setback when William Cook, Fitzpatrick’s associate director, died of a heart attack in the lobby of his north-side apartment building. He was 48.

Cook was an old friend of Fitzpatrick’s; the two men met in the late 70s when Cook was director of the California Arts Council and Fitzpatrick was president of the California Institute of the Arts. After that Cook served as associate director of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University and executive director of the (Merce) Cunningham Dance Foundation. Though Cook had been at the museum too briefly to make his presence felt in the larger community, sources familiar with his short tenure say he’d proved adept at handling day-to-day operations while Fitzpatrick was out campaigning for his exhibition plans and building renovations. Apparently Cook demonstrated better interpersonal skills than his boss as well. “He was definitely easier to work for,” notes one source. With so many projects in motion Fitzpatrick will have to move quickly to fill the vacancy left by Cook’s death. Reports one former MCA employee, “A lot of people are nervous.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Russell Kracke and John Koulias photo by J.B. Spector.