Falls's Future: When Is a Sabbatical Not a Sabbatical?
What is Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls doing next season? Here is a time line of one columnist's attempt to answer that question:
On June 5 this column printed an item stating that Falls was taking a yearlong sabbatical from his post and that artistic associate Michael Maggio would take over the theater's day-to-day administrative responsibilities. Goodman spokeswoman Cindy Bandle was quoted saying, "It's a rumor; Bob is not taking a sabbatical."
In an undated letter to the editor received at this newspaper on June 9, producing director Roche Schulfer also denied the sabbatical and expressed "regret that the Reader continues to support Mr. Lazare's efforts to accentuate the negative and create controversy where there is none."
On June 15 Falls appeared before the Goodman board of directors to announce his plans for next season. Later that day at the annual Joseph Jefferson Citation Awards ceremony at Park West, a Goodman board member who had attended the meeting earlier that afternoon said Falls would be taking a leave of absence and Maggio would fill in for him.
The theater's $750,000 production of John Logan's Riverview: A Melodrama With Music, directed by Falls, opened on June 22. Reporters at the opening believed an official announcement regarding Falls's plans for next year was imminent. The next day, sharply worded pans of Riverview appeared in both the Tribune and Sun-Times. Later, when asked about a formal announcement of Falls's plans, spokeswoman Bandle said a press release about the theater's next season was being prepared but would not be released for several days.
On June 25 the following item appeared buried in Tribune entertainment writer Sid Smith's "Stage Notes" column, usually reserved for announcements about upcoming productions: "After some hedging over rumors and published reports about a sabbatical, the Goodman Theatre is finally clarifying [emphasis added] Robert Falls's status for next season. Artistic director Falls will revive two prior Goodman shows elsewhere (The Iceman Cometh in Dublin and tentatively On the Open Road at the Public Theatre in New York) and then be in residence here next winter, working mostly on long-range planning and the theater's efforts to open a new home later this decade. Falls will probably not direct on the mainstage, where one slot remains unfilled to date, but he may stage a show in the studio. Associate director Michael Maggio is expected to assume more day-to-day responsibilities for a while. Falls put the finishing touches on the arrangement with the Goodman's board last week."
Later that morning a long-standing board member characterized Falls's plans for next year, saying, "In my book it's a sabbatical." Asked if it was possible Falls would not return to his post, the board member indicated it was a distinct possibility.
In the afternoon of June 25 Goodman board president Arnold Silvestri said in an interview that Falls was taking some time off. Silvestri also noted that Falls was in the midst of negotiating a new three-year contract with board chairman Irving Markin, but that no contract had yet been signed. Falls's present contract expires at the end of the current season.
Later that aftenoon this columnist contacted Bandle and requested more specific information about Falls's plans. Bandle said she had nothing to say and directed inquiries to producing director Roche Schulfer. In a subsequent interview Schulfer expressed satisfaction with the ambiguous note published in the Tribune and refused to provide any clarifying details. A bit later he said, "I don't want to speak to you and if I read anything more about this from you I will do everything in my power to discredit you as a journalist."
Now at the Chicago Theatre: For a Few Dollars More
The Chicago Theatre has introduced a controversial new twist at its box office. Customers who trek there to purchase tickets, as some might do to avoid an exorbitant Ticketmaster service charge, are now being charged an equally exorbitant $3 per ticket over the counter. At least one local producer claims to have pulled a booking from the venue rather than subject customers to the surcharge. The policy was put into effect by Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, the investor consortium headed by Marshall Holleb and Margery al Chalabi that continues to operate the theater while the city decides how the $13 million federal loan used to buy and renovate it will be paid off.
Money generated from the ticket surcharge is being used to pay the theater's union box-office staff, which consists of two full-time employees. A union source said these employees pull in base salaries in the low $30,000 range, plus overtime. Apparently the theater has not been generating enough revenue from rentals alone to cover such expenses.
Meanwhile, spokesman Greg Longhini of the city's department of planning and development said the department awaits a new proposal from Restoration Associates regarding repayment of the loan. The deadline for repayment is next January 1. Longhini said, "They owe us the money."
As the Oak Turns
More developments at the Oak Theatre: Former Cubby Bear booker Brad Altman has pulled out of the Bucktown concert operation, while Jeff Kwatinetz, president of Los Angeles-based Q Promotions, which has a lease on the theater and has booked concerts there with Altman's help since April, says the situation is "fluid." "I don't want anything at all to do with the Oak anymore," says Altman, who added that he had never been an integral part of the operation. Says Kwatinetz, "The way things are today at the theater it's an unworkable situation, but there are negotiations going on." Owner Andy Janusz placed a small classified ad in the June 29 issue of Crain's Chicago Business announcing that the "ownership of the Oak Theatre at 2000 North Western desires to auction the property & business." Asked to comment on developments, general manager Tom Martin said, "Every day is a new day here at the Oak."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.