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Culture Club

Lockdown at Randolph Street Gallery/Royal George in the Dark/Music and Dance Theatre: Power Ploy?

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Lockdown at Randolph Street Gallery

Randolph Street Gallery, one of the city's most prestigious nonprofit art galleries, is shutting its doors for three months beginning January 1. Board president Hamza Walker says the decision was made because of RSG's deteriorating financial situation. Since it opted to purchase its building for $200,000 in 1994, RSG has been struggling to meet its financial obligations. Walker says the gallery's operating budget dropped precipitously from almost $500,000 in the previous fiscal period to around $300,000 in the current year. The gallery also lost its longtime director Peter Taub to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where he's now organizing performance art presentations. Walker says RSG hopes to use the hiatus to restructure and "rally support" for the 17-year-old institution, possibly adding new board members. He wouldn't rule out the possibility that RSG could close for good at the end of March if the situation doesn't improve.

Royal George in the Dark

Three months ago, if anyone asked the folks at Jam Productions what would be the big holiday theater draw, they would have replied Forever Tango, the sultry dance show that opened at the Royal George Theatre Center in June and was slated to run at least through January 5. But after a turn of events that still has Jam staffers hot under the collar, Forever Tango was forced out of the Royal George on November 3 to make way for Mrs. Klein, a heavy psychological drama starring theater legend Uta Hagen.

The production had done well off-Broadway and elsewhere around the country. But Mrs. Klein failed to catch on with Chicago ticket buyers, partly because it came in on short notice with little publicity, partly because of a lukewarm review in the Tribune, and partly because Uta Hagen has never starred in a TV sitcom. Royal George owners Robert Perkins and Jujamcyn Theatres abruptly announced last week that Mrs. Klein will close this Sunday, and now Perkins says the theater will probably remain dark through the holidays.

Forever Tango's troubles were tied to a "stop clause" in Jam's rental contract with Perkins and Jujamcyn. The clause allowed the Royal George owners to evict Forever Tango with four weeks' notice if the show's weekly gross dropped below $90,000 for four consecutive weeks. Both Jam and Perkins agree that throughout August, traditionally the slowest month of the year for theatergoing, Forever Tango's weekly gross didn't make the mark. Jam sources say it dipped only slightly below $90,000, while Perkins maintains the show grossed "substantially" below the specified minimum. But even with the shortfall, no one at Jam doubted the show would pick up steam in October after taking a three-week hiatus in September to make way for Love Letters starring Robert Wagner and Jill St. John.

While Love Letters was playing at the Royal George, a Jam executive heard a rumor that another show would be coming to the theater in November. When Perkins was confronted with the rumor, he reportedly claimed it wasn't true. Then three days after Forever Tango reopened, Perkins and Jujamcyn faxed Jam a letter informing them that the theater owners intended to evict their show. Jam executives were livid. "We had spent a great deal of money on advertising to let people know that Forever Tango was going to reopen in October and continue to run through the holidays," says one Jam source. Even though the same show ran for 18 months in San Francisco and continued to pull in between $250,000 and $350,000 a week in Toronto, Perkins says he was convinced that Forever Tango was running out of steam, and he was afraid that Jam might suddenly pull the show out of his theater if he didn't act first. Perkins nonetheless shared with Jam the cost of a newspaper ad that touted Forever Tango and Forever Plaid (playing in the Royal George Cabaret) as the "hottest hits" of the fall season.

Perkins says that he offered to let Forever Tango stay if Jam would guarantee the show's rent through January 5 and that Jam declined the offer. Plans to announce the opening of Mrs. Klein were delayed when Jam took Perkins and Jujamcyn to court to block the eviction. It was ruled that the Royal George was within its legal rights, though the handling of the matter continues to rankle Jam's Arnie Granat, who says he still might file a suit for damages against Perkins and Jujamcyn.

Music and Dance Theatre: Power Ploy?

Rumors that the planned Chicago Music and Dance Theatre was dead spread quickly last week. But despite new delays, sources close to the project maintain it will be built, though it's still unclear whether the theater can secure the necessary financing. One source says the banks continue to demand a subordination agreement from Chicago Dock & Canal, which sold the property for the theater, promising that the banks would gain control of the Cityfront Center property in the event that the theater fails. Chicago Dock & Canal is in the midst of being sold for a reported $125 million to local businessman and arts philanthropist Fred Eychaner, and no action can be taken until the sale is finalized on January 9. Though Eychaner is a major arts supporter, he's also a sharp businessman who knows the property was sold for several million dollars less than its true market value. If he becomes Chicago Dock & Canal's new owner, Eychaner could choose not to sign the subordination agreement, so that if the theater project fell through he could get the property back. Uncertain conditions alone may sink the deal. If banks won't loan the money, the theater will have to seek additional contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations. So far, $21.8 million has been pledged out of a projected $33 million needed to build and endow the facility where 11 of the city's small and mid-size music and dance groups hope to perform.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jim Alexander Newberry.

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