Washington or Bust: Kennedy Center Chicagofest Fizzling?

Chicago’s long-planned big moment in the national cultural spotlight may fizzle for lack of funds. As of late last week, arts executives here and in Washington, D.C., were feverishly rushing to raise much of the whopping $3 million needed to take nearly a dozen Chicago arts organizations to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in late spring. In the planning stages for months, the “Chicago Festival at the Kennedy Center,” scheduled for June 12 through 24, would feature the Goodman Theatre, Free Street Theater, the Windy City Gay Chorus, the Hubbard Street Dance Company, the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Company, Second City, Center Theater, and the Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, among others. Festival organizers have set a February 5 date to make the go/no go determination; sources at the Kennedy Center struck a distinctly uncertain note last week about the festival’s chances of happening.

Funding clearly is giving the festival organizers problems. “We’re still missing a sizable chunk of the money,” says spokesperson Connie Zonka. Furthermore the planned festival comes at a bad moment for the Kennedy Center, which is seeking a new board chairman to replace former Time, Inc. executive Ralph Davidson, who had been criticized for his poor fund-raising record. The Kennedy Center also is reeling from the $7.5 million debacle that was the musical Annie 2; the center was listed as an associate producer of the new musical, which aborted its planned move to Broadway and closed–perhaps for good–in Washington last weekend.

Should the Chicago festival be canceled, it would be an especially cruel blow for the Hubbard Street dance troupe. Twice before the company hoped to play the Kennedy Center only to have the planned engagements canceled. Another cancellation would mean the loss of considerable revenue for Hubbard Street; notes managing director Gail Kalver, “We had refused other bookings and kept the June dates open because of the festival opportunity.” Zonka says one alternative is to reschedule the Chicago festival for 1992, to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. That, of course, is a long way off.

Abandoning Orphans

Orphans, a Lincoln Avenue folk and rock music institution for more than 20 years, will close its doors at the end of April. “The landlord has other plans for the space,” says coowner Alan Baer, who with partner Jay Kent has operated the club since 1982. Baer says the Orphans name and liquor license might be sold if a buyer can be found.

Times have been tough for the folk clubs on this stretch of North Lincoln. Holsteins, “the premier folk music venue in the country,” according to Baer, closed two years ago just up the street from Orphans, and Baer says he has been forced in recent years to book more rock acts to make ends meet at Orphans. “That is what the market demands,” he says, adding that the older crowds drawn to other forms of music do not tend to drink in sufficiently large quantities. Though he is giving up Orphans, Baer is moving on (without partner Kent) to open a new spot later this year, Beat Kitchen at 2100 W. Belmont. Baer says his new place will have a larger music room than Orphans and a limited food menu as well.

Art Gallery Goes Heavy Metal

Steel yourselves: Klein Gallery, one of the River North galleries destroyed in last year’s disastrous fire, is moving from its temporary quarters in the Merchandise Mart to a new home at 400 N. Morgan. Opening February 11, the new Klein Art Works will have what may be a first in the art world–a steel floor. “I was tired of walking into galleries and seeing nothing but hardwood floors,” notes trend-setting art dealer Paul Klein. This feat of flooring did not happen without considerable effort. Each steel tile laid in the 5,000-square-foot space weighed in at upwards of 60 pounds and had to be affixed with a special epoxy to the not-quite-level concrete floor underneath. Klein is opening his new space with a showing of Jesse Hickman paintings. An adjacent sculpture garden will open in late spring.

Esquire Opening

The Esquire Theatre multiplex opens February 2 with an operating agreement unusual in local movie-exhibition circles. M & R/Loews is booking and running the six screens (a total of 1,500 seats) under a management contract–rather than a typical lease agreement–with the property’s owner, Buzz Ruttenberg. This means that Ruttenberg will more than likely get a significantly larger piece of the profit pie than might otherwise have been the case. But in return M & R/Loews will get some exposure in the North Michigan Avenue corridor, where it heretofore had no presence. Ruttenberg says that he has been under pressure from film companies to set adult admissions at $7, but he will charge only $6.50, at least for now. The color scheme in the revamped Esquire will be primarily blue and gray. Ruttenberg says he has tried to maintain some of the theater’s original Art Deco feeling.

Good News for Happy Campers

Despite what seems to be some shaky financing, Edge Productions expects to open its Vampire Lesbians of Sodom on January 31 in the Ruggles Cabaret at the Royal-George Theatre complex. A fall opening had been scheduled for the “classic camp spectacular,” but a major investor pulled out his $50,000 at the last minute and put it into the megaflop musical Annie 2. The Vampire crew feel little sympathy for the guy: “Right now he’s probably doing the car-in-the-garage thing,” muses associate producer Jim Casey. Though theater-industry sources say the Vampire production still needs to raise about half its capitalization, Casey maintains the show was only $10,000 off the mark as of late last week. “If we don’t get it,” says Casey, “we may have to dip into ticket sales revenue.”

Critics Without a Coast

The Chicago Film Critic Awards are going big time for their second annual affair. This year’s winners will be announced at a March 8 bash in the Pump Room and Byfield’s at the Ambassador East Hotel. Awards will be handed out in most of the usual categories–best picture, actor, actress, etc–and the party’s organizers hope to have some of the nominees/winners present at the ceremony. The local awards are an attempt to boost Chicago’s stature in the film community relative to Los Angeles and New York, which have similar organizations. Some 40 area critics are expected to participate, but the absences are conspicuous. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the city’s most familiar film critics, will not join in the balloting; neither will Dave Kehr, Siskel’s replacement at the Tribune, nor the Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum.

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