High Drama on the Fringe | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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High Drama on the Fringe

Doorika cofounder John Dooley: Exit, pursued by a lawsuit


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High Drama on the Fringe

Even on the avant-garde fringes of Chicago's theater community, art isn't always a priority: witness the legal feud currently raging between past and present members of Doorika Theater, a small not-for-profit theater collective. Since its founding in 1990 by John Dooley and Erika Yeomans, the company's eclectic productions have included 1992's Satellite Babushka and most recently Akogare No Pari, presented at the Bailiwick Arts Center in January and February of this year. One Reader critic described the troupe as "Chicago's true champions of the avant-garde." Bailiwick Repertory executive director David Zak concurs: "I think they are really gifted."

The legal battle began in late December 1994, when Doorika filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that after being dismissed from the theater company in May 1994 Dooley illegally continued to use the company's name and logo and retained possession of props and costumes. Among other things Doorika members objected to Dooley's taking out a classified ad in this newspaper that used the name Doorjka (a variation on Doorika also used by the company) to solicit actors for his new company, Dial Performance Group. In addition the name Doorjka remains on the door of Dooley's residence.

After hearing the testimony of Doorika members last January 6, Cook County Circuit Court judge Lester Foreman issued a preliminary injunction on January 9 ordering Dooley to "delete or obscure" the name Doorjka from the door of 218 N. Laflin--where he and Yeomans had both lived at one point and where Doorika was headquartered until Dooley's dismissal from the company. The injunction also ordered Dooley to refrain from using the word "Doorika" in connection with the advertising or promotion of his theatrical enterprises. Dooley, who cofounded the company, thinks he's getting a raw deal. "I still believe we [Dooley and the Doorika Theater] have equal rights to the name Doorika until the courts say otherwise." Dooley says Doorika members are free to remove the name from the building door, but he will not remove it himself "as a matter of principle."

Doorika legal counsel Carolin Shining, an expert in trademark law, insists Dooley is wrong. "Trademark law is very clear, and it says that rights to a mark are owned by the party that uses the mark in commerce," she says. The complaint she filed on Doorika's behalf contends that Doorika has used its name extensively since 1991 and consequently owns the rights to the name and the logo. Dooley's legal counsel Robert Zeitner did not return calls to his office.

Late last month Dooley filed a countersuit claiming the troupe owes him $20,941 for rent and administrative expenses that he covered when he was a member of the collective and served as the company's managing director. Dooley admits the company, which operated on an annual budget of about $9,000 when he was managing director, would be hard-pressed to come up with the money, saying, "This could put them out of business." According to current Doorika managing director, Celia Bucci, the company's annual budget is now around $18,000.

Yeomans says underneath all his legal maneuvering Dooley is really fighting a personal battle. "It's not about the money," she says. The rift that led to Dooley's departure from Doorika apparently began to develop when he returned from a trip to Antwerp, Belgium, in the spring of 1993 and suggested some new avenues for the theater company to explore in its work, particularly the use of film and video. Yeomans remembers things differently. She claims in her affidavit that upon returning from Antwerp Dooley announced he was "quitting" Doorika, a statement Dooley denies ever making. Yeomans claims that in May 1993 Dooley stopped attending rehearsals and detached himself from the company, another point he disputes: "Quite a few fabrications have entered into her paperwork." Yeomans also claims that throughout 1993 Dooley obstructed attempts by other company members to maintain Doorika's financial records and accounts.

After a year of trying to deal with Dooley the Doorika board of directors--composed entirely of company members--formally voted last May to remove him as managing director and as a member of the board. Doorika managing director Bucci says she was able to use the financial records Doorika company members took from Dooley at that May meeting but that they needed work. Shining says they were a "nightmare." Dooley says that he maintained the company's financial records to the best of his ability. In addition to serving as managing director, he says, he was functioning as a designer and actor and felt increasingly overextended.

Yeomans was reluctant to discuss Doorika's battle with Dooley, preferring instead to focus on the company's artistic ventures. Dooley, who appeared for an interview with a briefcase full of well-annotated legal briefs, also talked about ideas for the second installment of Dial Performance Group's Ajax Dans le Boulevard du Crime, whose first part premiered in December at the 218 N. Laflin space.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Peter Barreras.

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