First the Office, Then the Paper?

PerformInk publisher Carrie Kaufman announced last month that the biweekly theater trade paper will close its office at the end of June and relocate to virtual digs. The office–a third-floor walk-up with a view of the el near Belmont–has been the paper’s home for a decade, but it’s outlived its usefulness. “We don’t need no stinking office,” Kaufman wrote in the May 27 issue. “We have the Internet. We have home computers. We have File Transfer Protocol.” What she didn’t announce is that the paper is likely to follow its office into virtual existence. Kaufman is beefing up the Web site, with new free and “premium” options, and within two years hopes to turn PerformInk into an online-only newspaper, supplemented with a quarterly magazine. Since PerformInk’s main driver is its audition listings–now updated twice weekly online–the plan makes sense. Still, it’s the kind of news that can give a print journalist a chill.

The office closing will trim PerformInk’s staff by one: office manager Jon Sevigny will hit the street. Everyone else is working from home anyway, says Kaufman, whose schedule changed with the birth of twin daughters two years ago. “It’s gone from me being in the office twice a week and working from home the rest of the time to me being in the office once a week, to me being in the office once every two weeks. My ad manager says it’s easier to work at home; all the writers are freelancers working out of their homes. It dawned on me that I could get a PO box down the street.”

The immediate financial savings won’t be huge–maybe $1,200 a month in an annual budget of about $300,000. On the other hand, it can’t hurt. PerformInk is down from regular issues of 32 pages five years ago to an average of 24 now. After a tight 2003 in which it was hard to pay the bills, Kaufman says, the paper’s doing “pretty well.” But the adjustment required coming to terms with less heft: “I was clinging to the 28-to-32-page paper, no matter what. Then it was like, if we don’t have the advertising we’re going to have to print a 20-page paper.” When editor Mechelle Moe left last summer, Kaufman says, “I realized we were printing papers that were the same size as when I was doing the whole thing by myself.” Moe was not replaced.

Kaufman has owned PerformInk since ’92, when she took it over from Act One bookstore owner Rick Levine, and is quick to say that it isn’t going away. But, she says, an online paper could have a potentially lucrative national presence, covering theater–and listing auditions–in other parts of the country. PerformInk has been charging viewers for access to its online audition notices for four years; at a dollar a pop, Kaufman says that business is now marginally profitable. (The company also publishes The Book: An Actor’s Guide to Chicago). Kaufman says the PerformInk Web site will be enhanced by the end of summer, with a free e-mail press-release distribution system for theaters and two new online-only columns. She’ll consult advertisers and readers before pulling the plug on the paper edition and says if resistance is too great, she might reconsider. In the meantime the office furniture will be sold June 24 and 25.

The Blemished Bean

Despite six months of double-shift work under a shroud in Millennium Park, the city had to announce late last month that the park’s most popular doodad, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, won’t be coming out to play this summer. The 110-ton Bean, which even with its seams showing looked splendid enough last year to win the public’s heart, has developed something like a serious case of zits that will take at least another three months of work and millions of dollars to smooth out. The spin on it is that the public will now get to watch the work in progress. Last week a 12-foot chunk of the 66-foot sculpture was on full display, protruding from the north end of a hangarlike tent like a sore thumb sticking out of a cast. One side of it was shiny. The other looked like it just got out of a fight.

Cloud Gate is made of 168 stainless steel panels, manufactured in California and each weighing about 1,000 pounds. Putting it together proved more difficult than anyone anticipated, says Henry Kleeman, an attorney for Millennium Park Inc., the group of private donors that paid for it. To get it up for the park’s official opening last year, it was tacked together with one-inch welds at three-inch intervals. The result was a little Frankensteinish at the seams, but the rest of the surface had a smooth, deeply reflective shine. U.S. Equities, a real estate company hired to oversee the construction, contracted with a local firm, MTH Industries, to do the metalwork; MTH hired union welders, including foreman Dan Kozyra, who’s been explaining what happened next.

“When we stitched these together [last summer], they looked perfect to us,” he says, adding that the pieces fit into place as neatly as a jigsaw puzzle. “Everybody was like, ‘Holy cow, it’s done, it’s beautiful.'” But last winter, “once we started welding and polishing, we noticed that away from the weld zone there were different ripples and indentations. So now you’re taking something [the weld seam] that could be two inches wide and you’re increasing it, because you have to sculpt it into a smooth surface.”

A series of posters at the site also explains the work, including a pinching maneuver: because the welding process can cause metal to contract, the edges of the panels were pushed up slightly before they were joined, the idea being that they’d sink back to their previous position. The welding was done with a machine the crew had never used before they trained for this project, and work on the sides has proved especially difficult. The weld scars are narrow ridges; the grinding scars are broad swaths.

No exact figure is available for the cost overrun, but it looks like it could equal the Bean’s original price of $11.5 million. Kleeman says the money will come from a $25 million Millennium Park Inc. endowment intended to pay for maintenance of the art (which, among other things, will require 24-hour security forever). Last week the team of 30 welders and polishers, sweating in face masks and moon suits, was still grinding and polishing in two ten-hour shifts seven days a week. Kozyra said they’re aiming to finish at the end of summer, but nobody was setting a date.

Theater for Kids

Jacqueline Russell and Todd Leland announced this week that they will launch the Chicago Children’s Theatre with an inaugural production of A Year With Frog and Toad, directed by Henry Godinez, January 20 to March 5 at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre. Russell, CCT’s artistic director, left Lookingglass Theatre Company, where she was executive director, last year to work on this project; Leland, a managing director at Goldman Sachs and the CCT’s board chair, headed the Lookingglass board when it raised the money for its Water Tower facility. CCT plans its first full season of three shows in 2006-’07; Russell says the company has raised more than $500,000 in donations and that Target has signed on as the sponsor of a series of family matinees that will offer tickets (usually $17 to $38) at discounted prices.

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