The “New” Wisdom Bridge

Careful readers of Stagebill will note that a “new” theater company is presenting Lanford Wilson’s Redwood Curtain, now playing at the Ivanhoe Theater. “Wisdom Bridge Theatre Chicago Company” is one of two entities quietly incorporated last spring as part of what Wisdom Bridge staffers are calling a reorganization of the company long known as Wisdom Bridge Theatre. Though Wisdom Bridge Theatre has not formally filed for bankruptcy, the reorganization appears to have been carried out in a manner that absolves the company from paying debts accumulated during the late 1980s and early 1990s at its former home, 1559 W. Howard St. “We wanted to end operations on Howard Street and start out with a fresh, new life,” explains John Conlon, former chairman of Wisdom Bridge’s board of directors and an attorney who oversaw some aspects of the reorganization. Conlon has since left the Wisdom Bridge board and has no formal affiliation with the theater company. When asked about details of the reorganization, Wisdom Bridge Theatre Chicago Company board chairman Joyce Sloane referred inquiries to Wisdom Bridge producing director Jeffrey Ortmann.

Ortmann says the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Chicago Company is the producing organization for the company’s work at the Ivanhoe Theater and describes the Wisdom Bridge Foundation as an umbrella organization that will raise funds for all the company’s ventures. Having closed down its Howard Street operations last season, Wisdom Bridge is in the middle of a four-play season at the Ivanhoe; its future plans call for producing work at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, now scheduled for completion in late 1996, and at locations in south Florida. Ortmann says he doesn’t know exactly how much money has been put into the foundation, but believes it to be less than $100,000.

According to papers of incorporation filed with the Illinois secretary of state’s office, when the two new Wisdom Bridge entities were created last May, a third entity, the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center, was formally dissolved. (A fourth entity called Wisdom Bridge, created in 1974 when the theater company was founded on Howard Street, still exists, at least on paper.) Ortmann says the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center was created in the early 80s with the Howard Street building as its main asset. However, last year the theater company apparently lost that asset. According to Conlon, a bank he declined to identify foreclosed on the building and a nearby vacant lot that also belonged to the theater company. The bank subsequently sold the property, and the new owner is attempting to sell the theater or rent it for $3,000 a month. Conlon says he isn’t sure what assets besides the building were held by the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center, and without a list of creditors readily accessible he can’t say exactly how much debt was attached to the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center when it was dissolved in May.

One source familiar with Illinois statutes governing not-for-profit corporations questioned the propriety of dissolving the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center, saying, “The law clearly states you cannot dissolve a not-for-profit entity until all the debts have been paid.” One creditor who has an unpaid claim of several thousand dollars against the Wisdom Bridge Theatre Center said he was never formally notified that it was dissolved, though Conlon claims all creditors were informed of the action.

Live Bait Dangles New Lure

Live Bait Theatre artistic director Sharon Evans calls it her “coming-of-age brochure.” Several weeks ago the small off-Loop theater company at 3914 N. Clark mailed out a glossy three-color pamphlet that details the three productions in the company’s new season, which begins this weekend with the opening of Memento Mori, a theater piece about death adapted from the essays of Mexican-born pathologist/author Dr. Frank Gonzalez-Crussi. Live Bait managing director Edward Thomas-Herrera, who also writes poetry, was responsible for most of the copy.

Not including pro bono design and production assistance provided by

a firm called On Track, creating and mailing the brochure cost the seven-year-old theater company $5,000 of its $130,000 annual operating budget. Evans believes the cost is justified because the brochure will give the theater company added visibility and help it project “an image of stability” to potential donors.

Best Picture Dreams

New York-based Fine Line Features is laying it on thick in hopes of getting Oscar voters to nominate Hoop Dreams for best picture instead of best documentary. In a letter sent to all academy members last November Fine Line president Ira Deutchman wrote, “Every once in a long while, there comes a film of such extraordinary power, magnitude, and depth that its audience has an experience they will singularly remember all their lives.”

The nearly three-hour documentary about two local high school basketball players made it onto a number of 1994 top-ten lists, and the picture is slowly moving into more markets nationwide. About 70 to 80 theaters are currently showing the film. But according to Deutchman a nomination for best documentary won’t help the picture at the box office. Only a best-picture nod can do that.

Al Cohn, editor of Chicago Filmletter, says that Deutchman will have a tough time getting his wish because the picture hasn’t been widely seen and lacks name recognition. The nominees for this year’s Oscars will be announced on February 14.