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Musical Chairs/Can't Win 'Em All/Good-bye to All That

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Musical Chairs

With the Chicago International Film Fest in full swing and a seven-screen art house preparing to open less than a mile away, the Music Box has been struggling with management problems. On August 10 owners Chris Carlo and Bob Chaney dismissed Eric Salus, a nine-year employee and the theater's manager for the past two years, and Chad Outler, a longtime projectionist. Five people have left the theater's 15-person staff since then, but Carlo attributes most of the turnover to the beginning of the academic year rather than any "expression of sympathy" for Salus. Nora Rivera, who worked for Salus as assistant manager, has been promoted to his old job. "We always try to promote from within," says Chaney. "She doesn't know a lot about movies, but she's good at what she does."

Salus started out at the Music Box after graduating with a degree in film from Northwestern. He was a part-timer working the concession stand and proved adept at odd tasks like repairing the stand's antiquated hot-butter dispenser. From there he moved up to the projection booth, a key post, and the owners began grooming him for the manager's job. But according to Chaney, he and Carlo decided several months ago that Salus wasn't working out. "He couldn't learn to manage," says Chaney, a point Salus says was made to him during his exit interview. He and the owners apparently clashed over staffing issues--Chaney complains that Salus "just couldn't put himself above his staff," while Salus says that he was less a manager than a middle manager, and that Carlo and Chaney would micromanage the theater and then disappear for long periods of time, complicating the managers' schedules and responsibilities. Chaney confirms that he and Carlo had been working as consultants for the vintage Fox Theatre in Hutchinson, Kansas, northwest of Wichita.

Carlo and Chaney will have their hands full next spring when the Landmark Theatres multiplex opens at the Century mall near Clark and Diversey. During the early 80s Landmark operated the Parkway one block south of the Century, and when that theater closed in 1985 Carlo and Chaney hired its manager to book films for their fledgling Music Box. "We were good at running a business, but we didn't really know anything about how to program a theater," admits Carlo. That would seem to make current programmer Brian Andreotti their ace in the hole: the five-year veteran works with distributors and publicists, keeps up with the industry buzz by attending film festivals, and knows what the theater's patrons and Chicago film critics will like. Chaney concedes that Landmark's new facility will be the toughest competition the Music Box has faced since opening in 1983, but he thinks his theater will prevail because it's independent and locally programmed. He points to the Castro Theater in San Francisco as another independent that's survived Landmark's increased competition. "The Castro's grosses are down a bit from what they were before Landmark moved in, but it's doing OK."

Can't Win 'Em All

Three years and $10,000 later, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee is back where it started, handing out single awards in most of its 30 categories. For nearly three decades the committee handed out a single trophy in every category except New Work. But in 1996 four theater companies--the Goodman, the Steppenwolf, the Marriott in Lincolnshire, and Victory Gardens--mounted a campaign for multiple winners, repeatedly threatening to withdraw their plays from consideration in 1997 if they were ignored. Though the theaters represented only a tenth of its membership, the Jeff committee caved, permitting more than one winner in all categories.

This year the committee and the League of Chicago Theatres hired Mike Hobor, a Highland Park consultant, to interview close to 50 people from the theater community and the Jeff committee. "I think the consensus was that there should be a single award," says Hobor. Silencing the multiple-awards lobby hasn't come cheap: the Jeff committee ponied up $2,500 for the study, and the league had to secure a $7,500 grant from the Chicago Community Trust. Marj Halperin, executive director of the league, says Hobor covered more than the single- or multiple-winner issue: "We wanted him to look at the entire Jeff evaluation process." But according to Jeff spokesperson Jerry Proffit, returning to the single-award policy is the only recommendation that's been implemented so far. The slimmed-down awards ceremony takes place November 8 at Park West.

Good-bye to All That

Kevin Consey, former director and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art, is heading west. Consey left the MCA in May 1998 and subsequently enrolled in Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, where he'll complete an MBA in December; in January 2000 he'll assume his new duties as director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, on the University of California campus. The Berkeley museum, known for its collections of contemporary Asian and Western art, operates on $6 million a year, considerably less than the MCA's annual budget of about $10 million. But apparently Consey looks forward to a more academic environment: describing the Berkeley museum to the Chronicle of Higher Education, he cracked, "A lot of the social politics and social-climbing aspects of public arts museums is toned down here." Reached last week at his apartment on Lake Shore Drive, Consey said he wouldn't be "playing footsie with donors" anymore, since the university chancellor handles most of the fund-raising for the Berkeley museum. And he hasn't been inside the MCA since last spring: "There has been no reason for me to go there."

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

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