Either Way She's Off the Team
Stories of people resigning from the Museum of Contemporary Art are beginning to fall into the "dog bites man" category. Last week Janeanne Upp, the museum's associate director and second-in-command, quietly gave notice, effective September 30. The museum did not release Upp's letter, but spokesperson Lori Kleinerman said Upp is leaving for "personal reasons." Other sources familiar with developments say Upp was shown the door by Robert Fitzpatrick, the new director, who's eager to select his own lieutenant. Says one trustee, "Bob apparently wants his own team in place."
Upp, who came to the MCA only 16 months ago, was one of the last major hires by Fitzpatrick's predecessor, Kevin Consey, who announced his own resignation shortly thereafter. Upp reportedly ran the museum after Consey's announcement and before Fitzpatrick was hired in May, and those who know Upp and the museum's new director say her exit was inevitable. "Janeanne was more accustomed to a rigid structure," says one source, "while Fitzpatrick is more creative, with no tolerance for a rigid hierarchy." Neither Upp nor Fitzpatrick returned phone calls seeking comment, but according to Kleinerman, Fitzpatrick has already chosen a replacement: William B. Cook, associate director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Previously Cook served as executive director of the Cunningham Dance Foundation in New York, where he administered all activities of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
During his first month on the job Fitzpatrick has compiled a list of candidates for the all-important post of chief curator. One source says the director was ready to name someone in mid-August, but a trustee insists that Fitzpatrick is still evaluating a roster of about 15 candidates. "Choosing the new curator will be the real test of whether Bob can handle the director's job," notes the trustee. Certainly Fitzpatrick is demonstrating his facility with the MCA's politics: he's reportedly scheduled separate dinner dates with each trustee.
Short Is Sweet
More than a decade ago Fred Solari helped create the Spring Festival of Dance at the Civic Opera House; now Solari, general manager of the Athenaeum Theatre, is proving once again that he can fashion an important dance event out of whole cloth. Dance Chicago '98, now in its fourth year, has ballooned into a large and eclectic showcase for small and midsize companies that normally might not have the opportunity to perform in a venue as large as the Athenaeum. "This is really the only way I know of to sell dance when you're dealing with so many emerging, relatively unknown dance companies," explains Solari. This year's program, budgeted at $300,000, features no fewer than 60 dance companies and choreographers and will run through the entire month of October.
Solari says the trick is coming up with fresh ideas that will bring people back each year. This year's festival features a "dance slam" similar to the popular poetry slams that give amateurs a chance to take the stage. "Anyone can participate," says Solari. "We're asking anyone who does get up onstage to give us their best five minutes." He hasn't decided yet whether the audience will be asked to judge the performers, but he thinks the response could help determine which slam participants are invited to appear in next year's festival. The entertainment ethic governing the dance slam seems to inform the rest of the festival too: Solari and coproducer John Schmitz have put as many as eight performances on each program. "I firmly believe that if artists can't say what they have to say in seven or eight minutes, it isn't worth saying," says Solari.
For the first time the Athenaeum will host the annual Ruth Page Awards, honoring excellence in the local dance community, and the festival lineup includes new faces like Dan Duell (artistic director of Ballet Chicago), Ron De Jesus (from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), controversial performance artist Karen Finley, and Larry Long's newborn Civic Ballet of Chicago. Ticket pricing is another component in Solari's plan to develop the festival's audience: tickets are a real bargain, ranging from $15 for most performances to $25 for the River North Dance Company. Yet Solari and Schmitz are taking nothing for granted--last year's attendance of 13,000 was basically flat compared to the previous year. Notes Solari, "Thirteen thousand people is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but we would like to see the audience continue to grow."
Livent Puts on a Happy Face
You can see the players sweating from the very back row as Livent Inc. tries to stage a comeback following the accounting scandal that hit the front pages last month. Roy Furman, CEO of the Toronto-based theatrical production company, showed up in Chicago two weeks ago to assure Mayor Daley that Livent is functioning smoothly and that Ragtime will open in late October at the restored Ford Center for the Performing Arts. But Livent's future rests on a number of unknown factors, chiefly whether any of its shows now in development--like Pal Joey or The Seussical, a musical based on the stories of Dr. Seuss--will pan out, sell tickets, and provide the company with desperately needed operating capital.
Despite Furman's one-man show, the scenery continues to wobble, and the actors are missing their cues. Ragtime is a known quantity with some positive reviews and several Tony Awards to its credit, but it's proving a tough sell in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.; the Chicago production's press agent refuses to discuss advance box office figures or comment on whether Livent's bad ink has affected ticket sales. Livent recently named Todd Haimes its new artistic director, effectively replacing suspended creative director and cofounder Garth Drabinsky. But Haimes, artistic director of the successful New York nonprofit the Roundabout Theatre Company, has said that he'll hang on to his old job for another year as well, an unusual arrangement that betrays his doubts about the future of his new employer.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Fred Solari photo by J.B. Spector.