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Scruples On Stage

Theater Quiz

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Is business taking the "show" out of your "show business"? If you're a Chicago theater, chances are you struggle to keep the bottom line from thwarting your artistic aspirations. But has your moral compass gone south anyway? Find out if your theater's survival is worth any sacrifice with this handy quiz! Each question is based on a real situation faced by a local theater or organization in 1997.

1. At a press conference you announce your plans to merge with a well-known but foundering theater, move out of your present space, and occupy the building of the other theater--which sits on valuable real estate and contains offices, three theater spaces, and four retail stores. What do you do next?

A. Move in and manage the new theater as efficiently as the boards of both theaters had expected.

B. Admit that you can't manage two spaces and ensure that another suitable theater occupies the desirable space.

C. After a token occupancy, sell your first building to the highest bidder, who will tear it down and replace it with condominiums.

2. Your theater is facing foreclosure. What do you do?

A. Go public with the problem in the hope of gaining time to pay off the loan.

B. Declare a moratorium on productions in order to work out a deal with the bank.

C. Practice business as usual, rehearse actors for a show, and then, five days before its opening, suddenly cancel it--and a second show--when the bank padlocks the theater, locking out actors who show up to work.

3. You've had a bad year at the box office. How do you recoup your losses?

A. Perform fewer scripts and only those you strongly believe in.

B. Find like-minded theaters with which to coproduce.

C. Form an alliance with a Christian ministry and present a one-man Bible reading to pander to fundamentalist audiences.

4. You want to win a prestigious playwriting prize offered by the state of Illinois. How do you get it?

A. Submit the best script possible.

B. Pick a play that will honor and encourage a local writer.

C. Select a scattershot script that pretends to address a dozen Chicago subjects and illuminates none of them.

5. You're a Chicago theater awards committee. Four major theaters threaten to withdraw from the awards unless you change the selection process. How do you respond?

A. Defend your right to determine theatrical excellence and refuse to alter your rules just so four prosperous theaters can win more awards.

13. Argue that protecting the self-esteem of nominees is less important than identifying the best artists or productions in each category.

C. Capitulate and permit multiple winners.

6. You're an e established university and you hold title to a famous theatrical auditorium. What do you do?

A. Refuse to accept anything more than a break-even rent for the architectural jewel that you're privileged to possess.

B. Invest a fair share of profits back into the theater so it can continue to prosper.

C. Gouge the theater for as much as you can and plow the loot into your suburban campus.

7. You desperately need publicity for a one-man show about a famous writer. How do you get it?

A. Buy ads to promote the good notices and ignore the bad.

B. Set up radio interviews so the actor can intelligently discuss his character and the challenges of the role.

C. Announce a seance in which the actor will contact the ghost of the man he plays.

You're producing a play about porn stars and the movies they make. How do you generate audience interest?

A. Call attention to the moral issues addressed by the script.

B. Produce beefcake posters that speak louder than words.

C. Hire a real porn star who attacks another actor in the lobby during intermission and gets arrested.

You'll have to figure out your own score, because life isn't a quiz, unless you're the Cosmo Girl.

The Answers:

1, C. The theater is Organic Touchstone Company; the now-sold building is the Buckingham Theater. Since 1980 it has hosted scores of shows, established and experimental, produced by dozens of theaters (including, for the record, a play of mine). But now it's toast.

2, C. The closed houses--the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Forum Theatre--mean band news on Harlem Avenue. The bank was Harris Bank and the show, canceled in previews, was Cash on Delivery. Happily, the Actor's Equity Association praises the Candlelight's handling of its ultimate demise, in which all union actors and stagehands were paid in full. The Portillo's restaurant chain has bought the building.

3, B and C. Pegasus Players suffered a hard season, losing income mounting of

The Kentucky Cycle. Pegasus then collaborated with Light Opera Works on One Touch of Venus before coproducing Genesis, starring Max McLean, with help from the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, a proselytizing Christian-theater ministry. At least Godspell had music.

4, C. Victory Gardens Theater submitted Charles Smith's The Sutherland for the Governor's Awards. Smith was an Illinois resident at the time but now teaches in Ohio. Victory Gardens has premiered many of Smith's scripts and in September produced The Sutherland. Given its lack of focus, Smith apparently assumes that the audience suffers from attention deficit disorder.

5, C. The Joseph Jefferson Committee cave in to the "Gang of Four"--Steppenwolf, Goodman, Victory Gardens, and Marriott's Lincolnshire--which had withdrawn from awards consideration in 1996 rather than abide by rules that had been in effect for more that a quarter century.

6, C. The Auditorium Theatre is owned and, a suit has contended, exploited by Roosevelt University.

7, C. John Astin, star of the Mercury Theater's Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight, participated in a well-publicized seance to contact Poe. Having read the reviews, Poe was out of heaven--or hell--at the time.

B and C. The play was Making Porn, produced this fall at the Theatre Building. It briefly starred gay porn star Ryan Idol, who ended up auditioning for Cops.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Archer Prewitt.

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