Show Boat’s Tax-Free Ride

Theater producers have long complained about the city’s 7 percent amusement tax on tickets, contending that it forces them to raise prices and makes it more difficult to turn a profit.

But the resourceful Garth Drabinsky has apparently found a way to avoid handing over the tax money from his production of Show Boat. A source familiar with the arrangement says the Toronto-based producer has escaped paying the tax by having the not-for-profit Auditorium Theatre present the musical rather than Drabinsky’s Livent Inc. The title page in the Stagebill program reads “Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University presents the Livent production of Show Boat.” The city exempts not-for-profit arts organizations from the amusement tax. A Livent spokesman did not respond to inquiries.

The arrangement with the Auditorium has allowed Drabinsky to save a considerable chunk of change. Show Boat has been pulling in around $1 million a week, so the city’s share would come to about $70,000 a week, or $3.5 million a year. Tickets for the production are currently on sale through January 1997.

On the other hand, the city stands to collect a considerable amount of money when Drabinsky’s restored Oriental Theater opens in early 1998. An arrangement between Drabinsky and the city calls for the producer to pay $35 million in taxes over a ten-year period in exchange for the city’s financial assistance in purchasing and restoring the Oriental and adjacent property.

Didn’t Know They Cared

Cultural tourism is a great buzz phrase these days. But culture has become a big draw for Chicago: attending cultural events is the top leisure activity of domestic travelers. The state of Illinois is now aiming to market Chicago as a cultural destination. With a $750,000 kitty from the state, and potentially much more from the private sector, a project called Culture Chicago will be unveiled in the first quarter of 1997. Illinois Bureau of Tourism director Donna Shaw is coordinating the project in conjunction with city cultural commissioner Lois Weisberg. “We have research that shows people are coming in from all over America,” says Shaw.

The centerpiece of Culture Chicago is an informational booklet that will be inserted in out-of-town newspapers and national magazines. Shaw also plans to pass out the booklet at tourism-related trade shows both in the U.S. and overseas. And there will also be display advertising and radio spots.

Later this month, Weisberg will host a meeting of representatives from local arts organizations to get their input for the advertising campaign and to determine which events scheduled for 1997 and 1998 will be included in the booklet. Shaw also plans to encourage hotel operators to put together packages that include cultural activities. She maintains that tour operators, particularly those based overseas, prefer to purchase hotel and entertainment packages.

Edinburgh on a Shoestring

Each year many of the city’s smaller theater companies scrimp and save to get their shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a 50-year-old event that attracts participants and audiences from around the world.

Determined to get his production of Martin and John to Edinburgh, actor Sean O’Neil managed to raise approximately $24,000, much of it from individual contributors and philanthropic groups, including the Playboy and Richard H. Driehaus foundations. O’Neil’s one-man show, based on a novel by Dale Peck, follows the travails of a young HIV-positive writer who has just lost his lover to AIDS. O’Neil premiered his original adaptation last year at Cafe Voltaire, and now he’s decided to shoot for Edinburgh. “I thought it would stand out there,” he says. Prior to Edinburgh, the show will have a brief run at Live Bait Theater beginning June 17.

Meanwhile, the festival’s giving a featured berth to American Divine: The Spirit, part of Dolphinback Theatre’s trilogy of dramatic pieces by Joe Pintauro. Dolphinback ensemble member Matt Tauber was given a Jeff citation this week for his staging of the show. Dolphinback has raised $12,000 of the $20,000 it needs for transportation and housing. The festival will present The Spirit August 8 through 31 at the Traverse Theatre, which will cover the show’s production costs. When it opened last fall, Reader drama critic Albert Williams called American Divine “one of the best-acted and highest-quality non-Equity shows I’ve seen in off-Loop theater.”

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