Theaters and Hotels: Strange Bedfellows?

With the funding spigot running at a bare trickle at many corporations and philanthropic foundations, arts organizations are thirstier than ever. Recently some local businesses and arts groups have forged promising partnerships that could be a boon for all parties involved. In the theatrical arena alone two hotels with astute general managers have successfully teamed up with theater companies anxious to expose their work to new audiences.

The three-year-old Guest Quarters Suite Hotel, at 198 E. Delaware, came up with a winning formula two years ago in its “Chicago Theatres on the Air” program, in conjunction with WFMT. As operators of a new hotel in a glutted market, Guest Quarters management recognized the need to heighten visibility, and they chose the city’s theater community as the means to achieve that goal. So far Guest Quarters has hosted tapings of some 25 theatrical productions presented by local companies ranging from Latino Chicago to Shakespeare Rep to the Goodman Theatre.

WFMT taped staged readings of the plays in the hotel’s ballroom in front of 250-person audiences. All of the productions have subsequently aired on the fine-arts radio outlet. Guest Quarters’ out-of-pocket expenses for the tapings have totaled around $160,000. In turn the hotel made plenty of food and beverage sales to the audiences in addition to receiving generous media coverage and regular plugs on WFMT when the tapes aired. “The theater program has given us the kind of exposure we wouldn’t get otherwise, especially in a big city like Chicago,” notes the hotel’s general manager, Tim Benolken, who adds that planning is under way for a third season.

Across town, at the Inn at University Village, 625 S. Ashland, general manager David Schneck recently joined forces with Stories on Stage producer and executive director Kathe Telingator to present in the hotel courtyard a summer season of three programs directed by several of the city’s brightest talents, including Mary Zimmerman, Michael E. Myers, and Steve Scott. The Inn is spending about $8,000 on the series, and Schneck is hopeful that it will prove a fruitful way to introduce customers to the Inn’s underutilized restaurant and other facilities that are far off the well-beaten North Michigan Avenue track. He explains, “The theater tie-in is an area that is largely untapped as a marketing tool to establish visibility in the community.” The Inn has set up a separate phone line to take reservations for the performances and offers theatergoers a special prix fixe menu at its restaurant. For Telingator, the partnership comes in the wake of a strong first season at the Organic Theater. “Word of mouth had begun to grow and our momentum was building,” says Telingator, who added that the Inn appealed because it offered a chance to expose the company’s work beyond the north side.

Forum Theatre’s Ruthless Decision

Time really flies at the Forum Theatre, in southwest suburban Summit. A Tribune ad on June 13 for the theater’s current production, the musical Ruthless!, announced the final ten weeks of the show’s run. Then in an ad in the same paper five days later the production was suddenly in its final five weeks of a six-month run. Forum spokeswoman Noreen Heron said that the theater management had decided not to take the financial risk of running the show for an additional five weeks through the dog days of August. She said, “We were able to move some groups we had booked in August back into July, and we felt it made good business sense to shorten the run.” Forum executives had hoped that Ruthless!, a biting musical comedy about an adolescent actress who gladly commits murder to achieve stardom, might transfer to a downtown house after it closed. Robert Perkins, who now co-owns and operates the Royal George Theatre, and producer Michael Leavitt of Fox Theatricals saw the production, but despite preliminary discussions about a transfer, neither has bitten. A separately produced Los Angeles production of the play is in the works, however.

Help Wanted at the Chicago Theatre

Contrary to published reports, Chicago-based real estate developer and film producer Tom Rosenberg (The Commitments and A Midnight Clear) is not taking control of the Chicago Theatre. Instead Rosenberg takes pains to point out that he is serving as a pro bono consultant to the city to devise a new management structure for the financially troubled theater and adjacent Page Bros. building. One thing is clear at this point, according to Rosenberg: Marshall Holleb and Margery al’Chalabi are out as general partners in Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, the investor consortium that originally bought, renovated, and still controls the property.

Both Holleb and al’Chalabi will revert to limited partners in a new ownership structure headed by a not-forprofit corporation that will become the new general partner. The corporation, comprising approximately six directors to be chosen by Rosenberg, will call the shots as a civic gesture with no financial remuneration. According to Rosenberg, the directors will be astute businessmen, but not necessarily executives well versed in show business. Rosenberg said the directors will decide on who will take over the day-to-day operation of the facility. He adds, “We’re going to wipe the slate clean under the new arrangement.” One candidate for the management job is Jam Productions, but no choice can be made until the corporation is established and staffed. Rosenberg would like to have all the new parties in place by the first of September, in time for the September 26 opening of Live Entertainment of Canada’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

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