Theater League’s New Head

About a month later than originally anticipated the League of Chicago Theatres has selected Keryl McCord as its new executive director; she succeeds Diane Olmen, who resigned last July in the midst of a bitter debate over the League’s mission. McCord is expected to assume the post early in February, after having served only since last August 1 as executive director of the Chicago Theatre Company (CTC), an award-winning company on the city’s south side. McCord came to CTC from California, where for five years she had been managing director of the Oakland Ensemble Theatre.

The selection of a new League head took longer than expected because the trade organization’s board of directors had trouble deciding between two finalists–McCord and Jan Grayson–with significantly different strengths. According to sources familiar with the deliberations, McCord was perceived as having stronger skills in the areas of advocacy and promotion, while Grayson, a management consultant and former president of the Victory Gardens Theater board of directors, was more of a businessman and strategic planning specialist. The League board was scheduled to choose between the two candidates at a meeting on December 10, but no winning candidate emerged at that conclave, and another vote was scheduled for December 19, with both candidates present to answer questions. Sources say Grayson appeared to be the front-runner in early December, but by December 19 board members had evidently concluded that McCord would provide the more effective public persona to represent the industry locally and nationally.

A newcomer to the city’s theater community, McCord presumably will arrive at the League with a fresh perspective and few if any problematic alliances. One matter that could come back to haunt her, however, is her brief tenure at Chicago Theatre Company. McCord said she preferred not to discuss the problems she encountered there, but one League board member familiar with her background said McCord appeared to have locked horns with some of the powers-that-be within the south-side theater company over management decisions she made.

Whether McCord can effect change in a troubled theater industry, of course, remains to be seen. At the moment, anyway, she is striking a decidedly aggressive note. “The theater community has to become more proactive,” said McCord. “The arts are under attack in this country, and we have been too passive.” McCord is particularly interested, she said, in emphasizing the fact that the theater industry is a part of the city’s business community. “I want to find out how much money the theater industry pumps into the economy here,” said McCord. “Too many people only think of arts organizations as leeches.” Not surprisingly, McCord also is adamant about the need for more promotion of the theater, especially in the electronic media, most of which have been reluctant to cover the industry.

No one familiar with the task McCord is about to undertake expects it to be a snap. Some observers have gone so far as to say that what the League of Chicago Theatres needs right now is a miracle worker. Stay tuned.

Other People’s Money

The “final weeks” notice has popped up in advertising for Other People’s Money, which has been running since last March at the Royal George Theatre. OPM coproducer Robert Perkins is not sure when the final performance might happen. “Right now,” says Perkins, “we’re selling tickets through the end of March.” OPM is one of the most expensive commerical shows ever produced in Chicago, with an original capitalization well in excess of $400,000. Perkins says that some money has been paid back to investors, but he refuses to say specifically whether any of it has been profit. For most of its run the show has rarely exceeded $50,000 a week in ticket sales, though capacity was more than $97,000. Other People’s Money received generally favorable notices from the city’s critics. Should it close without a substantial return for investors, it could spark more debate about the profit potential of costly commercial ventures off-Loop.

Off Off Loop Fest Will Return This Spring

Producer Doug Bragan is ready to give the Off Off Loop Theater Festival another try. After the festival missed two years in 1988 and ’89, Bragan picked up responsibility for the event in 1990, producing a four-week festival at the Theatre Building featuring 16 off off-Loop companies on a budget of around $40,000. In his first stab at producing the festival, Bragan says, it lost an amount in the “low four figures,” and he thinks it can turn a profit this spring with some changes in format and promotion. Most important, Bragan says, he will present one-act plays from only three theater companies, instead of four, in each performance, a change that will enable him to schedule two evening shows on Saturdays rather than a matinee and an evening performance. He’s also planning to lower ticket prices to around $10 from a high of $18 for the 1990 festival. Though Bragan has yet to firm up a location for the 1991 festival, he is hopeful it will return to the Theatre Building sometime in April or May.

Christmas in Hollywood

Francis Ford Coppola’s long-awaited The Godfather Part III pulled in shockingly different opening-day grosses in the Chicago area depending on the theater one checked. “It did well in Jewish and Italian neighborhoods,” noted one exhibitor. At the Loews Old Orchard in suburban Skokie, for instance, the picture raked in a hefty $20,000 on opening day, while at Cineplex Odeon’s Burnham Plaza in the South Loop, the first-day take was a mere $2,923. Edward Scissorhands and Kindergarten Cop have been two of the winners at the box office during the holidays, while Awakenings, the latest from director Penny Marshall, has been doing only OK business at just two screens in the Chicago area.

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