Sweet Sculpture: Workers Step Up to the Drawing Board

If all goes according to plan early next month, two sculptors hope to bring out some of the latent artistry in at least 12 of the 800 production-line workers who normally make Baby Ruths and Butterfingers for a living at a Nestle candy factory in the near-west suburb of Franklin Park. As part of Sculpture Chicago’s Culture in Action project, which involves artists from all over the world, Simon Grennan from Manchester, England, and Christopher Sperandio from New York City will work with a dozen unionized candy makers to create a new candy and its wrapper. “This is a chance to take the artistic resources we normally have at our disposal,” explains Sperandio, “and hand them over to people who wouldn’t normally have those resources.”

In their original game plan Sperandio and Grennan hoped to manufacture the new candy and wrapper in at least a limited quantity at the factory and market and distribute it through the company’s normal channels. But the Franklin Park plant manager, Charles Brashears, says the factory is not set up to make and distribute small product runs, so Sperandio is trying to line up a different manufacturer. Still, for the 12 factory workers, all members of Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers Union Local 552, the candy project promises to be a definite break from their normal work routine. The Local 552 members will create their own candy, wrapper, and marketing plan during an intensive week together in a conference room at the factory.

Local 552 president Jethro Head views the artistic experiment as a test of worker “empowerment,” a new buzzword in corporate America at a time when companies large and small are trimming middle management. Head says Nestle is among those companies in the process of restructuring their operations to allow workers well down the chain of command greater input in decision making. But Head, a longtime union man, also admits to some skepticism about how far Nestle and corporate America are prepared to go with the notion of worker empowerment. “Who is really going to be prepared to release power?” wonders Head. “My feeling is management still wants to control and make all the decisions.” Whatever kind of worker culture ultimately evolves at the Nestle factory, Head believes Grennan and Sperandio’s project will in some small way give his union members, used to rigid production-line jobs, the sweet taste of creative freedom and power. “The way this project is set up, nothing is determined beforehand about the candy or the wrapper,” says Head, “and that is the glory of it.”

Musical Chairs at The Goodbye Girl

In a swift and surprising move last week, The Goodbye Girl coproducer Emanuel Azenberg sacked 71-year-old director Gene Saks and immediately replaced him with Michael Kidd, the 73-year-old director-choreographer, who’s been working on Broadway since the 1950s but who has not directed a major musical since a 1980 revival of The Music Man. Among director Kidd’s Broadway credits from the 1970s are the short-lived musical Cyrano, starring Christopher Plummer, and The Rothschilds, a musical about the famed banking family. Few people associated with The Goodbye Girl are talking on the record about Saks’s firing, but the working relationship between Saks and playwright Neil Simon evidently had badly soured since the show’s tryout run began on December 22 at the Shubert Theatre. One source said there was an ugly exchange between Saks and Simon in front of the cast shortly before the decision was made to terminate Saks. So far Azenberg, who has been in Los Angeles viewing a rough cut of the movie version of Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, hasn’t revealed much about what prompted the firing, and Saks himself was reported to be both hurt and perplexed by the action. But one possible bone of contention may have been costar Bernadette Peters, who appeared to be struggling to find her way into her role while dealing with the accolades accorded her costar, Broadway-musical novice Martin Short.

Kidd, who saw the show twice last week, was scheduled to begin work on the production during rehearsals early this week. Even during the few days The Goodbye Girl was without a director, work continued on the show. Composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist David Zippel are writing a

new opening number, and choreographer Graciela Daniele has already reworked at least one of the dance sequences in act two.

Chicago Theatre Loan: City Pays Feds, Sues Landlord

The city of Chicago wound up shelling out the more than $13 million it owed the federal government for the acquisition and restoration of the Chicago Theatre. The money came from a North Loop bond fund set up to restore the area to its former vital status. The city has also filed a foreclosure suit against Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, the investor consortium that has operated the theater since it reopened in 1986, but it may be some time before the courts render a verdict on whether CTRA or the city now controls the theater. One source close to developments says, “The discovery process involved in the foreclosure suit could take up to six months.”

Art Expo: Back to Navy Pier in 1994

The beleaguered Chicago International Art Exposition just got some good news. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority has granted Art Expo permission to set up its 1994 fair in the rotunda at Navy Pier, site of many former Art Expos. Mark Lyman, executive director of the Lakeside Group, which runs Art Expo, took the good news as a sign that he may have first dibs on the new Navy Pier exhibition halls that are expected to be open in time for the 1995 fair. Lyman said he has so far signed 50 dealers, about half the projected total, to this May’s event, to be held at McCormick Place’s Donnelley Hall.