The Villain Makes His Exit/Three Arts Update/Not Ready for Prime Time | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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The Villain Makes His Exit/Three Arts Update/Not Ready for Prime Time

Cast, crew, and venue are left holding the bag when Illuzio producer takes the easy way out.

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The Villain Makes His Exit

On Wednesday, July 23, two weeks into a ten-week-plus-previews run of the musical farce Illuzzio (or A Man's Best Servant Is Himself) at the Chopin Theatre, cast members got a plot twist they hadn't counted on: an e-mail showed up from writer-producer-director Nicholas Korn advising that the previous Sunday's performance was the last. "This is a hard piece of new[s] to report," the letter began, "but the attendance levels of the last two weeks can hardly have made this a total surprise. We are not going to be able to continue the show." Korn, acting as his own best servant, had gone to the theater the night before, packed up the props and costumes, and ducked out of town. With a few exceptions, he left the cast of ten, a couple of pianists, the crew, and the venue holding bad checks--or no checks at all. "We were floored by it," says stage manager Jen Hammond. "We projected how much he owed [the cast and crew]. If he had paid us for the ten weeks it would have been $31,600. And that doesn't include the theater." Chopin owner Zygmunt Dyrkacz says he got a deposit but that Korn still owes him about $10,000 (six weeks at $1,550 each, plus some expenses).

Korn--who's gone back home to Kentucky and admits he bounced some checks--was a stranger to most of the Illuzzio company before he showed up in Chicago this spring, script in hand and ready to do a show. "I tried to check out his background early on and it looked legit," says actor Ross Boehringer, who'd responded to a call for auditions in PerformInk. "He had a theater company in Cincinnati. He was a Northwestern grad. Pay was $300 a week--a good wage for a non-Equity contract. You try to protect yourself from this stuff, but I haven't really figured out how you do that." It's especially aggravating, Dyrkacz adds, because prior to Illuzzio's opening, Chopin's resident company, Roadworks Productions, tried to buy some of Korn's time slot so they could extend their own sold-out production of The Book of Liz. "I tried to tell him 11 weeks is a lot in Chicago--can't you do this like other companies, 7, 8 weeks?" To make matters worse, Dyrkacz says, Korn barely advertised. "I can't believe someone with experience would think one or two reviews without promotion would bring people to the theater." He says he told Korn he'd settle for 50 percent of what's owed. But Hammond says she plans on "seeing it through to the bitter end. For some of us it's not just the money, it's the principle of the thing."

"It was a business venture," says Korn. His previous theater company, Stage First Cincinnati, closed in February after four and a half seasons and at the end of its own production of Illuzzio. Stage First was suffering from dwindling audiences and a bad local economy, Korn says, but he thought Illuzzio would work in Chicago because "this was a very funny show and Chicago is a great comedy town. I hoped with [less competition] in the summer, we'd have a chance. I wish we had been better funded." Korn thought he needed $60,000 to produce the show in Chicago, but went ahead even though he was only able to raise $15,000. He says audiences of just 20 or 30 would have been enough to carry them for a while, "but we were really struggling down in the single digits, and looking ahead there weren't any reservations." He had to act quickly, he says, because he was "paying by the week at the Chopin." Korn claims he "never received a signed and dated copy of the contract back from" Dyrkacz, and he'll be discussing that with his attorney. Now temping and job hunting, he says his company, EQ Productions, is filing for bankruptcy. EQ stands for equestrian: "I'd read a quote from marketing guru Jack Trout. He said success is finding the right horse to ride. I'd say we had trouble getting out of the gate."

Three Arts Update

The Three Arts Club booted its residents at the end of July. Now the Illinois attorney general's office is reviewing allegations about the management of the landmark home for women in the arts. Former resident and attorney Sue Basko wrote the AG on behalf of Friends of the Three Arts Club, charging that the board has "not properly managed the finances or the building"; is "not living up to [its] articles of incorporation," which call for the club to "manage a home" for young women in the arts; and owes the IRS for taxes on income from special-events rentals, which fall "outside the mission that gives it tax-exempt status." The letter also stated, "We have evidence that the building may be sold or turned over to a developer very shortly." A candlelight vigil was held by friends and neighbors July 31 as the last of the women moved out. Neighbor Anton Kerner, a real estate broker and son of former governor Otto Kerner, helped collect more than 300 letters protesting the closing and offering help (from the likes of Lady Valerie Solti and Steppenwolf's Martha Lavey), which were presented to the board last week.

The club's executive director, Esther Grimm, says Three Arts has responded to the AG, is answering all of the letters, and hopes to make an announcement about its plans within the next couple of months. Selling the building "has been discussed only if we can't raise all the funds" for a renovation that would likely include apartments with kitchenettes (so much for the club's vaunted communal dining) and more support space for the artists, like practice rooms. She's not sure how much money it'll take, since discussions with developers are still under way, but guesses it's in the neighborhood of $10 million to $12 million. The first weekend the residents were gone, pipes broke and the basement of the empty building flooded. Grimm says the staff discovered it when they came in the next week.

Not Ready for Prime Time

After CAN TV executive director Barbara Popovic moved Todd Berns's eight-year-old program Songsation from prime time on Sunday nights to 11:30 PM Thursdays, Berns changed the name. It's now called Fuck You Barbara--which is exactly how Comcast's on-screen guide has been listing it, though Berns says CAN refers to it as "various shows" in its own newsletter. Berns has a new format that sometimes means an hour's broadcast of a single written directive like "Destroy Mount Rushmore." Other weeks he features selected facts ("The U.S. is third in number of executions in the world, behind China and Iran"), quizzes (Q: What was the major source of fuel in the U.S. in the 19th century? A: Marijuana hemp seed), or a chance for viewers to pick their favorite from a list of slurs. He says the biggest response to the program came after he ran a video bumper sticker that read "My Daughter Swallows." "I put my phone number on it, and people were calling me up for weeks asking if I could hook them up with her. It shows you where society is at."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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