Theater League Left in the Lurch

Keryl McCord is leaving the League of Chicago Theatres only ten months after coming on board as executive director. With the League’s future far from secure, McCord departs in January for Washington, D.C., to become assistant to the head of the Theater Panel at the National Endowment for the Arts. League board members are expressing mixed opinions about McCord’s news and about the status of the organization, which has been struggling to establish financial stability and internal harmony after the bitter feuding that marked the final days of McCord’s predecessor, Diane Olman.

During McCord’s brief stay, the League tried to collect old debts and downsize its operation. The annual budget now stands at around $500,000, down from more than $700,000 in the League’s glory days of several years ago, and board members said more budget and staffing cuts may be in the offing.

But as McCord well knows, many problems remain, chief among them boosting revenue at the Hot Tix outlets, still the League’s main income source. “It all boils down to how you get the tickets sold,” McCord said last week. “If we could crack that nut we would be ahead.” A Hot Tix expansion into Rose Records outlets hasn’t solved the problem; board president Mary Badger said sales have been fluctuating week to week.

Some board members contend McCord was making headway in resuscitating the League, but others were apparently growing impatient with her management style. “She talked in platitudes much of the time,” said one commercial producer, “and we weren’t seeing the kind of follow-through on things that we needed.”

Presumably McCord recognized a chance to get off of a hot seat and move on to less pressured opportunities. At any rate, “I don’t feel we are going to fall apart this time,” says Badger. The board plans to meet early this month to begin the process of seeking another executive director; Badger says the search probably will be confined to the ranks of local candidates, though she’s not ruling out reconsideration of strong candidates passed over last year in the hiring of McCord.

Jump for Joy: Pegasus Players Breaking Even

Pegasus Players took on a giant challenge mounting Duke Ellington’s Jump for Joy, and two months into the run it looks as if the enterprising theater company is breaking even at the box office. Pegasus, which painstakingly reconstructed large parts of the show, spent $150,000 to produce it, making it by far the most expensive production in the theater’s history. As of last week, Jump for Joy had recouped $90,000 at the box office and an additional $35,000 in underwriting; with the show now extended through January 5, artistic director Arlene Crewdson expects to make back the whole nut. Almost every performance has been sold out since October 9, says Crewdson, an achievement in itself given the theater’s out-ofthe-way location in Uptown. Because Pegasus owns the rights to Jump for the next two years, it could continue to profit from future productions.

Parting Thoughts From Peter Grigsby

Theater executives come and go quickly in this town, but one sure to be missed is Peter Grigsby, who last month left his post as director of development at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre to take up a new career as a children’s book illustrator. During more than a decade at Marriott’s Lincolnshire, now known nationally and internationally for its world-premiere musicals and musical revivals, Grigsby was instrumental in building a subscriber base numbering 33,000, by far the largest of any theater in the metropolitan area. During his tenure there, Grigsby watched the local theater industry grow and change markedly. As he leaves the business–with a bit of wistfulness and, thankfully, his sense of humor intact–we asked him about his observations over the years. “I’ve seen Chicago become noted for its homegrown talent”, he said, “which means a producer such as Cameron Mackintosh can come here to cast a Les Miserables or a Phantom of the Opera, something that wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.” But it isn’t all so rosy: “I still don’t see the city recognizing the theater as an industry. It is not represented as such in most of the media, especially television, or by the city’s political and corporate power structures.” What does Grigsby suggest to help the situation? “Maybe we need an actor-mayor. What’s Jim Belushi doing these days?”

Opening Soon: Intimate Club Featuring Acid Jazz and Heavy Metal

Andy Papas, who runs the nightclub Traxx at 63rd and Central Park and the Tabou Bistro and Bar a few miles away, has come north to open the Tom Tom Club, an intimate haven at 864 N. Wabash. Papas’s club, which is set to open December 12, comfortably holds no more than 175 people and is decorated with huge metal sculptures and other works Papas creates in his spare time. He plans to offer “acid jazz” seven nights a week after 10 for the dance crowd, and says he hopes the arty ambience and intimacy will be the Tom Tom Club’s big selling points. “I think people are tired of the big clubs.” Above the club, Papas’s wife Cathy has opened the Tyro Cafe, her first venture, in the restaurant business and another showplace for Papas’s art. For now the tiny Tyro’s menu is short and sweet: fondues, pastries, and coffees.

Bette Noir; Monster Grosses

Chicago gave a thumbs down to Bette Midler’s musical epic For the Boys over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Twentieth Century-Fox picture died a miserable death at local box offices, averaging a mere $5,000 per screen between Friday and Sunday, while Columbia Pictures’ My Girl with Macaulay Culkin debuted to a more impressive $11,000 per screen. Paramount Pictures’ The Addams Family held strong with an average $16,400 per screen in its second weekend, and Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast shot up 36 percent to approximately $14,000 per screen.

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