Sucked In

Gregor Mortis Tatro, Gregory to his mom, only looks like he’s courting trouble. Dressed like Dracula’s little brother, his midnight tresses touched with electric blue, he’s potentate of his own pretend-scary domain, the cavernous “multi-arts complex” he carved out of an old bowling alley at 4423 N. Milwaukee and named for the treacherous whirlpool Charybdis. According to Greek legend, Charybdis and its sister hazard–the monster Scylla–were the original “rock and a hard place.” That’s a pretty good description of the situation Tatro now finds himself in.

Tatro says Charybdis is an independent entrepreneurial center for all kinds of art events. Like the one that was under way May 19 when police and Department of Revenue agents busted in, spotted a woman on rollerblades painting a large canvas with her bare breast, and shut the place down. Tatro says the cops, unable to find drugs, confiscated $225 in door receipts and his bowl of Blow Pops, and put him in jail for the night. He says they also confiscated all the money he had in his pocket. That was $1,400, which looked like the amount he would have taken in from the crowd that was there at $10 a head, but, he says, was not. (Tatro says an admission fee was voluntary; two undercover agents claim otherwise.) He was cited for not having the proper business licenses and for liquor consumption on the premises and was told to cut this stuff out. When he went forward with a benefit event May 26, police returned and shut him down again. Five days later, when he was showing a movie to 20 people who happened to give him $2 each, it was back to the lockup. Now he’s broke, facing thousands of dollars in potential fines, and blocked from staging any events that might bring in money. Someone’s out to destroy him, he says.

Tatro can’t get the license he needs for public performances until the building, which also houses several other businesses, is rezoned. He says 45th Ward alderman Patrick Levar is sitting in his path like Scylla, holding up the rezoning on the one hand and getting him into trouble for not having the license on the other. Tatro doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the raids started after a hip-hop event May 12. “We brought a lot of African-American and Hispanic artists to the neighborhood,” he says. “The very next weekend we got taken down.”

Charybdis has been operating in this terra-cotta building in Jefferson Park since September, after rising rents pushed it out of Wicker Park. The 12,000-square-foot main space is a mix of arcade, theatrical set, and haunted house, furnished with carnival props, a skateboard ramp, and thrift-shop couches–the walls a riot of taggers’ art. It functions as a gallery, rehearsal hall, performance space, studio, and clubhouse. A theater graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Tatro started Charybdis seven years ago, when, he says, he got tired of waiting for others to give him a break. He runs it with volunteer help, offers memberships, and takes a 50 percent commission on any artwork sold.

Tatro’s landlord, Paul Tsakiris, says he’s been working on the zoning change for more than a year, well before Charybdis moved in. His attorney, John Pikarski, says the request came before the City Council’s committee on zoning and was continued for more community input, “at which point the alderman is responsible” for getting it back on the agenda. Jefferson Park police say they’ve received complaints about loud music (something Tsakiris says has been remedied) and operating an illegal nightclub. Alderman Levar did not return phone calls. Tatro is looking for a lawyer willing to work pro bono.

Shut Out

If you think those giant crowds at Ravinia are part of the thrill, if you relish the parking lotto and the little tests of human behavior under stress on the lawn, brace yourself. This season, for the first time ever, Ravinia Festival will cap the number of people allowed into the park. After a certain number of lawn tickets are gone, sales will be cut off. “We want to do this to make for the best and most comfortable experience for everybody,” says Ravinia’s new president, Welz Kauffman. Fair enough, but don’t ask what the magic number will be. On this matter, Ravinia’s lips are sealed.

Ravinia never reveals attendance figures for individual concerts, officials say. They’ll tell you that more than 600,000 people came to the 36-acre park last year for 150 events, but doing the math on that won’t reveal anything useful, since lawn attendance varies widely from one event to another. A momentary lapse must have been responsible for a newspaper report that 22,262 were there for a 1985 Boston Pops concert, at a time when total annual attendance was about 435,000.

Kauffman says one reason Ravinia’s so discreet is that its attendance figures haven’t been exact, with all the comps and passes it gives out and the Ravinia Dollars program. Word along the North Shore has been that it’s easier to keep the neighbors at bay if they can only guess how many music lovers are clogging their streets. According to one park official, the 1997 Poi Dog Pondering crowd–which had thousands of people stranded in traffic (many concertgoers never made it to the gate)–was the largest ever and the starting point for serious talk about a limit. The advent of lawn-ticket sales on the Web, an early indicator of crowd size, is making it possible. The cap is only expected to affect two or three concerts a year, Kauffman says. “This season that might be the BoDeans or Lyle Lovett.” This gives those little blue books of discount Ravinia Dollars an extra edge: even after ticket sales are cut off, they’ll get you in.

Say What?

Last week, after the Israel Festival asked him to find something other than Wagner to play, Daniel Barenboim issued this statement from Berlin: “After all it is not Wagner’s music itself that presents a problem to people of the Jewish Faith, but the associations that the Nazis created. Therefore, not to play Wagner’s music paradoxically proves them right in retrospect.” Hmmm. “It might have been translated from German,” ventured a CSO spokesperson. Her interpretation: “It gives the Nazis more power if we continue to shy away from this music.”

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