Keeping Up With the Joffreys

Since the venerable Joffrey Ballet came to town two years ago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has found itself competing for funding and public affection. Now, in a bid to cement its reputation, the 20-year-old company is undertaking a $6 million capital campaign to build a new facility, enhance its repertoire, and beef up its endowment.

As first tipped in this column several months ago, half of this $6 million will fund the acquisition and renovation of a new 56,000-square-foot, two-story facility at 1147 W. Jackson that the company expects to occupy as early as next September. Hubbard Street has already paid $1.2 million for the building and is spending another $1.8 million to transform the location, which formerly housed a car dealership and a graphics company, into what Hubbard Street executives call “a dance factory,” outfitted to meet the needs of the 24-member company for the foreseeable future.

Hubbard Street executive director Gail Kalver says the new home, designed by the architectural firm of Harry Weese & Associates, will be “clean and functional” but not plush. What the company will gain, says Kalver, is more space than the cramped 12,500 square feet available at 218 S. Wabash, where Hubbard Street’s administrative offices and studios have been based since 1981.

When the company first moved to the Wabash address, its staff and dancers totaled 15; today the combined count is 40. Hubbard Street’s new home will include numerous amenities not available on Wabash, including air conditioning, locker rooms, an in-house costume shop, a sound room for preparing music tapes, a conference room, a lunch room, private offices for staffers, storage space for props and other equipment, and no fewer than five dance studios.

According to Kalver, one of the Wabash facility’s biggest drawbacks has been the lack of a large studio. “Choreographers who would come in to set dances on the company used to complain that they couldn’t ‘see’ the piece they were trying to create,” says Kalver. The new facility should eliminate this problem: one studio will be larger than 60-by-40 feet, in effect duplicating the stage area and wing space of some of Hubbard Street’s largest venues. At present Hubbard Street plans to use only 35,000 to 40,000 square feet of its new home. The remaining usable space, approximately 14,500 square feet, will be rented out, probably to another arts organization.

Hubbard Street is earmarking a third of its $6 million campaign for an artistic initiative to add new works to the company’s 22-piece repertoire. Kalver says the high cost of setting additional dances has limited the company to one or two new pieces per season. But the constant introduction of pieces and choreographers keeps fans coming back and creates fresh opportunities for media coverage.

In a separate but related move, Hubbard Street will merge with the for-profit Lou Conte Dance Studios (housed in the company’s Wabash location) and start offering classes for children along with its existing classes for older dancers. “This will allow us to expand our feeder system in the dance company,” explains Kalver. Hubbard Street will also be able to seek additional funding for its expanded training programs.

The last $1 million of the capital campaign will fund an endowment that has already received $500,000 from the Chicago Community Trust and $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. Hubbard Street already has $4 million of the $6 million total. But, admits Kalver, the final $2 million “will be the tough ones to get.”

Hot Tix All Around!

Over the objections of one of its members, the League of Chicago Theatres has come through on its promise to expand offerings at its Hot Tix booths while making the half-price ticket service more accessible to the public. This week the league unveiled its newest Hot Tix booth in the historic Water Tower at 800 N. Michigan. The street-level booth replaces one in the upper reaches of Chicago Place, the giant indoor shopping mall at 700 N. Michigan. In recent months, league members have expressed disappointment with poor sales at the hard-to-find Chicago Place location. Executive director Marj Halperin apparently used her connections in the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, namely commissioner Lois Weisberg and Office of Tourism director Jim Law, to secure the new space, which also serves as a tourist information center visited by an average of 30,000 people every month.

In conjunction with the opening of the new facility, the league will immediately begin selling some discounted seats on Fridays for weekend performances. Previously, discount tickets were available only on the day of performance. To help disseminate information about local theater offerings and Hot Tix, the league is also establishing a computerized phone line that for $1 a minute will list current and upcoming shows as well as Hot Tix offerings on any given day. But watch out: a new database of potential theatergoers will be compiled from those using the line.

Halperin says that in its early years the Hot Tix operation was considered “a difficult bargain” to move unpopular tickets, but the league now views it as an important marketing tool. The big question, of course, is whether the new policies and approach will tempt the uninitiated or simply increase the supply of discounted tickets for existing theatergoers. Not everyone is pleased. The Ivanhoe Theater’s Doug Bragan pulled out of the league last month, citing its new rule requiring all members to supply a minimum number of tickets to Hot Tix each week.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Gail Kalver by Nathan Mandell.