Waiting for the Dough

Splinter Group, one of the city’s more ambitious theater companies, is preparing a special edition of its annual Buckets o’ Beckett event to celebrate what would have been Samuel Beckett’s 90th birthday. In April the company will present 18 of the 19 plays he wrote, featuring performers such as John Mahoney, Piper Laurie, and John Laroquette and veteran directors such as Sheldon Patinkin and Frank Galati. “This will be our big blowout,” promises Splinter executive director Marc Rosenbush. The extravaganza is budgeted at $240,000, about ten times more than any of the company’s previous Beckett fests. It remains to be seen whether Splinter Group can handle that kind of financial responsibility.

While Rosenbush and the rest of the Splinter Group were busy raising funds for the fest, a determined group of actors were trying to collect money the theater company owed them for work in last spring’s production of Peter Weiss’s The Investigation, a play about a war-crimes trial.

A year ago Splinter cast 18 actors in The Investigation, to be presented that April and May to school groups and the general public. According to Gary Alexander, a member of the cast who took a lead role in helping everyone get paid, each actor got a contract that spelled out the basic terms of employment. Among other things, it stipulated that the actors would be paid $40 for each of seven student performances plus a $100 lump sum for several weeks of public shows, for a total of $380 per actor. But the contract apparently included no clause indicating when the fees would be paid. That omission was brought to the attention of Splinter artistic director Matt O’Brien, and he agreed to add a rider stating that the actors would receive their fees by June 2, 1995. Thinking everything was now clear, the actors went about their work.

According to Alexander, some actors picked up their checks on payday, while others had asked that they be mailed. But several actors who picked up checks saw them quickly bounce, and some actors who’d expected them in the mail never got them. Alexander says at least six actors, himself included, had received no money or only a partial payment as of late June.

Soon after this Rosenbush, who’d directed The Investigation, came on board as Splinter’s new executive director. Alexander says Rosenbush told him he’d discovered the company’s finances were “in a big mess” and asked for time to get the books in order and come up with the rest of the money. Apparently a shortfall in box-office income from The Investigation had created a cash squeeze.

Alexander says the actors tried to cooperate, but when he asked in August whether the checks were coming he was told the company was busy trying to raise money for the Beckett festival. “They just kept delaying,” he says.

Last December six actors still hadn’t been paid, so they decided to get tougher. Alexander sent a letter to Splinter on December 6, stating that if all fees weren’t paid by January 10 the six actors would file suit in small-claims court. By January 10 Splinter had rustled up enough money to pay three of the six. The remaining three, who were together owed just over $1,100, filed suit on January 16.

Last week I called Rosenbush, who said the problems the actors had getting paid don’t reflect Splinter’s current financial situation or its ability to handle the upcoming Beckett festival. He said the company’s accumulated deficit was now $3,300. “Our cash-flow situation has changed over the past few months,” he said, and conceded that most of the company’s attention in recent months had been directed at “the massive fund-raising effort” needed for the Beckett festival.

“My job has been to create a large, stable organization,” he added. He said Splinter’s board of directors had been expanded and an advisory board had been formed. Chris Persons, one of the new board members, said the goal of the Beckett festival was “to take the group to the next level. The Beckett festival is exciting–it’s big.” He brushed off concerns about Splinter’s ability to handle such an ambitious event. “I’m not sure how good the company was at managing things ten months ago, but Splinter is in good shape now.” Soon after I ended my conversation with Rosenbush the last three actors got calls from him saying their checks were on the way.

K.D. Lang Heads for the ‘Burbs

A new theater with garish carpeting and giant crystal chandeliers at the end of a runway at O’Hare International Airport might not seem a logical spot for a K.D. Lang concert, but the Rosemont Theatre is where the openly gay Canadian singer is slated to perform on February 9. Sources at Jam Productions, which is presenting the concert, concede the suburban Rosemont venue may not be the ideal setting for a hip performer with a heavily urban gay following. But a shortage of available venues with 3,500 to 4,500 seats left Jam executives no choice, even though the Rosemont is a long car or train trip. Lang’s last local appearance was at the Chicago Theatre in October 1992. Jam promoter Andy Cirzan believes that after such a long absence her fans won’t mind making the trek to Rosemont. With the Chicago and Auditorium theaters housing more long-running musical attractions, Cirzan says theaters such as the Rosemont and Arie Crown may be the only options for acts that aren’t interested in playing larger arenas such as the United Center or the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park. Lang’s performance site isn’t the only thing that’s changed since 1992. This time around she’ll command $50 for the best seats, up from $35 in 1992. Low-end tickets have risen to $27.50 from $23.

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