Bailiwick Moves Up
After more than two and a half years of trying to juggle a hectic production schedule in one cramped theater at the Theatre Building, 12-year-old Bailiwick Repertory signed a ten-year lease last week on 1229 W. Belmont, the former home of Chicago Filmmakers. The move (right next door) is a validation of Bailiwick's success at turning itself around after struggling for years to retire a worrisome deficit and repair a troublesome reputation for not paying its bills. "As of last year we finally paid off a debt that had been as high as $50,000 in 1987, and we intend to stay out of debt from now on," says executive director David Zak. With the worst presumably behind it, Bailiwick is getting new funding from philanthropic sources such as the James T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago.
Bailiwick plans to christen the new space the Lakeview Performing Arts Center and expects to begin construction immediately on two new stages at a cost of about $100,000. A main theater with flexible seating for between 150 and 200 will open around October 1 with the world premiere of F-64, a play by New York-based Christina de Lancie. Also slated for the main stage later in the season is the world premiere of Pope Joan, a new musical about the first female pope by Christopher Moore, who demonstrated great promise at Bailiwick last season with Son of Fire. The second project is a 75-seat cabaret theater with a piano and windows looking out onto Belmont, scheduled to open in late September with Impulse Studio's production of Pierre de Marivaux's False Admissions. The new building also has space for several amenities Bailiwick's never had before: a green room, ample dressing rooms, and rehearsal and classroom space.
With the new lease costing about the same as the old one, Bailiwick's annual operating budget (approximately $515,000) shouldn't increase dramatically in the near future. And Zak plans to maintain an ambitious production schedule: in the season just past, for example, the company presented five main productions, five plays dealing with women's issues, 48 one-acts, 20 Pride Series productions, and two late-night shows--80 plays in all. Such wide variety, says Zak, has helped Bailiwick rebound from its low ebb. "With so much to pick and choose among, audiences are not stuck with mostly just one person's vision of what a season should be."
It looks like Chicago's resident theater companies are lightening up. An early list of selections for next year includes a lot more comedies, musicals, and generally more accessible fare than in previous seasons. Apparently many theater companies are realizing that they're in business not only to stretch artistically but also to attract audiences. Notes Touchstone Theatre producing artistic director Ina Marlowe, who polls her audience for feedback most performance nights, "I think that for theater companies to survive in the current climate they must have a much stronger awareness of the audience and what might interest them."
Under new artistic director Charlie Newell, Court Theatre surprised some observers earlier this year by putting the highly commercial Broadway chestnut Sleuth on its docket for next season. Highland Park's Apple Tree Theatre is presenting no fewer than three musicals in its upcoming five-play season, including Anna Karenina, Baby, and The World Goes 'Round. And the three shows Victory Gardens has announced (out of a total of five) are all comedies. George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum is a revival of a production that was among the most successful in the company's 21-year history; managing director John Walker says the theater went with a proven draw to reduce financial risk. The other two are Greetings!, which played off-Broadway last fall, and a new play called Jest a Second! by James Sherman, one of the company's most popular and prolific resident playwrights. Walker doesn't dispute the lineup's heavy comedic slant; he says the choices were made primarily because "that's what was ready to go." But Touchstone's Marlowe says she consciously chose a lighter menu because she wants to develop long-term audience loyalty and boost the theater's subscriber base. Last season's midwinter five-week run of The Fantasticks (the first musical in the theater's history) was standing room only; this season Touchstone's mounting Ain't Misbehavin' in November for nine weeks. Marlowe is also presenting Alan Ayckbourn's comedy Bedroom Farce and the premiere of a new romantic comedy by her husband, Kendall Marlowe.
New Group's New Party
On September 9, the New Group of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the International Cinema Museum will both get something they want. The New Group, an educational and social arm of the MCA aimed at young adults, has hosted an annual party since 1988 to celebrate the start of the fall gallery season. Traditionally it's been held outdoors, on Superior Street, but this year's affair, New Art '94, is moving indoors, to the International Cinema Museum at 319 W. Erie. Live music will be provided by the Elvis Brothers, and New Art '94 will once again feature a live auction of one-of-a-kind T-shirts, but with a twist. In the past the MCA picked the artists that created the designs, but this year 15 Chicago galleries selected by MCA chief curator Richard Francis each chose two artists they represent to design shirts. The artists selected include Adam Brooks, Laurie Hogin, Tony Tasset, Michael Noland, Fred Stonehouse, and John Frazier. "We're trying to work more closely with the galleries this year," says an MCA spokesman.
Meanwhile, International Cinema Museum director Carey Williams is busy preparing for the September bash, which will provide some welcome exposure for his museum, a repository of historical moviemaking equipment open just since June 19. Last week Williams was in the throes of putting a new roof on his building and gutting the third floor, which he intends to transform into a large screening/special events room. Williams settled on Chicago as the site for his museum after he lost out to the city of Los Angeles in his bid to purchase Hollywood's old Egyptian Theatre.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Barreras.