The End of ClubLand as We Know It?

Don’t be surprised if ClubLand, as you now know it, disappears after the first of the year. A club concept whose time may have run out, ClubLand became a hot spot despite, or maybe because of, its unorthodox space-sharing arrangement with the Vic theater: after a concert at the Vic, the room would be transformed into ClubLand. But a year ago the Vic was rented to Oak Brook socialite Michael Butler for a short-lived 20th-anniversary production of the musical Hair. Though ClubLand continued to operate during the run, Hair attracted a different crowd, and some club patrons may have assumed the space had reverted permanently to legitimate theater use. “ClubLand never recovered from Hair,” notes one observer close to the scene. ClubLand owner Steve Jarvis concedes that he is “in the discussion phase” about future plans for ClubLand, but adds that whatever happens, the Vic will continue as a concert venue and “we will be active in Chicago.” Jarvis recently opened ClubLands in Houston and Detroit that are reportedly doing good business.

The Midwest Is a Mickey Mouse Market

Those megameccas of mass entertainment called Disney World and Disneyland are looking to market themselves ever more aggressively in the Chicago area. In the next several weeks, Walt Disney Attractions will officially unveil a regional marketing office in Chicago headed by veteran local promotions executive Karyn Esken. She will manage a small staff specifically hired to drum up local marketing tie-ins for the Disney theme parks, which last year netted $785 million (up 39 percent) on revenue of $2.6 billion. “Well be doing a lot of radio and print promotions,” says Esken. The regional approach to marketing makes sense, she says, because of the vast numbers of Chicago area people who head for Florida and California specifically to visit the two Disney parks.

Escape From New York, Return to Remains

Former Remains Theatre artistic director Larry Sloan returns to Chicago and his former theater company on December 4 in a new, as-yet untitled capacity. According to Remains producing director Jennifer Boznos, Sloan will not be “artistic director”–that title will continue to be held jointly by ensemble members Bill Petersen and Amy Morton. Sloan’s job will be to help the group position itself artistically for the future. Sloan departed the Remains company a little more than a year ago to join up with Gregory Mosher at New York’s Lincoln Center Theatre. But after a year in the trenches there, Sloan (who is now vacationing in Europe) apparently decided he preferred Chicago. “Larry likes the theater here,” says Boznos. Sloan’s decision to return to Remains is surprising, though, given reports of friction between him and other ensemble members during his earlier tenure with the company. However things fare backstage at Remains, Sloan’s considerable talents as a director will be welcome again in the city.

A Choreographer’s Dream

Are you ready for the Pierce Group? Though it’s still very much in the formative stages, it could be the next hot dance company to emerge in this city. The troupe is the dream of Chicago-based dancer-choreographer Gordon Pierce Schmidt, whose By Django, a lively romp set to music by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, was one of the big hits of Ballet Chicago’s fall engagement at the Chicago Theatre. Until all the necessary funding is in place, however, Schmidt says he will have to use pickup dancers to present future evenings of his dance pieces. Having danced in local theatrical productions as well as with Ballet Chicago, Schmidt says he is interested in incorporating more theater in the dances he choreographs. He is at work on a major dance drama, as yet untitled, with playwright Sherry Narens and also is talking with history-happy playwright John Logan about a period piece set in the 1930s or 1940s. Schmidt says it will take two years to ready the Narens work for its official premiere. But look for a full evening of dance by the Pierce Group within the next 12 months, perhaps as early as February.

Ivanhoe Makeover

Producers and theater managers Wes Payne and Michael Leavitt are looking at ways to improve the Ivanhoe Theatre. Sight lines there are not among the best in the city, and as a result the theater has had a tough time landing long-running productions. Payne and Leavitt, who manage the theater, are studying several possible redesign options. Not among those under consideration, though, is returning the theater to its original in-the-round configuration.

Local Lawyer in Film Deal

Chicago-based Zero Plus One Productions, in conjunction with New York-based Dowling Entertainment, is developing a film project called The Sum of Us, about a father’s unconditional love for his son. It’s based on a play written by Australian David Stevens, who also is writing the screenplay. Stevens has written several other screenplays, including Breaker Morant and Kansas (starring Matt Dillon). His play was presented successfully last summer at the Williamstown (Massachusetts) Theatre Festival and is slated for an off-Broadway run this winter. Chicago attorney Hal (“Corky”) Kessler, a partner in Zero Plus One, has attracted the attention of several stars interested in the film production, including Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, and Dustin Hoffman. Stevens has completed about half the screenplay.

Art Export Delayed

John Wilson, founder of the Navy Pier Art Expo, has had to delay his plans to export the concept to Tokyo–his original Japanese partner in the project has bowed out for lack of financing. Wilson has other partner prospects in mind and expects the project to go forward, but he is giving himself an extra year to get it organized. Closer to home, Wilson has been talking to folks in Miami about an Art Expo-type project there as well.

Scribblings of the Stars

Oodles of doodles–47 of them, to be precise–raised $5,800 for Live Bait Productions at the theater company’s Doodles by the Stars benefit. The enterprising young troupe managed to obtain doodles from such famous personages as David Letterman, Sissy Spacek, and Governor James Thompson. Though theater executives had planned to start the bidding on each doodle at $10, offers quickly escalated well beyond that modest figure. Theater producer Michael Cullen shelled out $750 for the most expensive doodle, by actor Jeff Bridges. The least expensive–a scratchy signature by recording artist Sheena Easton–went for $30.

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