Will Chicago Community Trust Solve the Midsize Theater Problem?/Support Problem at the Goodman/Aspects of Love in Chicago?/AIDS Theater Branches Out/Coup at North Pier | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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Will Chicago Community Trust Solve the Midsize Theater Problem?/Support Problem at the Goodman/Aspects of Love in Chicago?/AIDS Theater Branches Out/Coup at North Pier

From the Belmont Rocks to the March of Dimes: Board member Ray Wohl says the AIDS Educational Theatre will change its name and deal with a wider range of health problems in the future.

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Will Chicago Community Trust Solve the Midsize Theater Problem?

The Chicago Community Trust is spearheading an effort to develop a midsize downtown theater, one tailored to meet the needs of music and dance organizations that don't have a satisfactory central venue available to them year-round.

Sources familiar with the project say architectural consultants hired by the Trust have examined the viability both of existing sites, including the empty Selwyn-Harris theaters at Dearborn and Lake and the Fine Arts Theatre (formerly a legitimate theater called the Studebaker), and of sites that might be built out, such as Navy Pier. Of all the sites mentioned, the favorite is reportedly Dearborn Station in the South Loop, because of a shed attached to the rehabbed station that could be built out into a theater with the requisite stage dimensions, equipment, and seating capacity to handle a large range of events.

Groups planning to use the site will have a major say in determining the location finally chosen, sources say. The Hubbard Street Dance Company, Ballet Chicago, the Dance Center of Columbia College, Chamber Music Chicago, and Music of the Baroque have all been working on the project.

Sources present at the meetings say that some arts organizations involved in the discussions have expressed concerns about the Dearborn Station site. One is that public transportation is too sparse in that area; supporters believe there is time for the city to buttress transportation service to the site before the project reaches fruition, in about two years, Others favoring Dearborn Station argue that the South Loop will continue to grow in popularity with the opening of the Harold Washington Library and all the new housing that's gone up there recently.

Depending on the site chosen and the specific plans drawn up for the theater, the project could cost between $9 and $15 million. Apparently the Community Trust, which would be the major funder, has also sought the backing of other major foundations. A source at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the city's wealthiest philanthropy, said it has expressed support for such a project and is awaiting further developments.

Support Problem at the Goodman

The Goodman Theatre appears to be wavering in its commitment to the Selwyn-Harris theaters as the site for its new home. A source on the Goodman board of directors said there is growing concern within the organization about the exorbitant cost of building a tower above the existing stricture to house the company's administrative and production offices and rehearsal facilities. The tower's foundation supports would have to be sunk around the existing subway tubes beneath the theater, an expensive process.

The source said the Goodman board has been quietly exploring other sites; one possibility is the nearby vacant site of the former Woods movie theater. But such a site would not come cheaply either: the Goodman would have to buy the property, worth in excess of $10 million, and then build its own complex from scratch.

Aspects of Love in Chicago?

Negotiations are under way to bring the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's romantic opera Aspects of Love to a downtown theater for a long run that would likely begin in May. The Canadian production debuted in Edmonton, Alberta, earlier this fall before a planned December 3 opening at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. It stars Linda Balgord, a Chicago-based actress who appeared recently in the Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre revival of Funny Girl. A source familiar with the negotiations said the Chicago run of Aspects would be the first of a planned American tour of the show. When it premiered in London in 1989, critics warmly greeted the bittersweet story--a romantic triangle set mostly in modern-day France--but the show opened to much harsher notices on Broadway a year later. The New York production closed within a year. The Canadian production boasts a new director, Robin Phillips, and new sets and costumes.

AIDS Theater Branches Out

As of January 1 the AIDS Educational Theatre, the group that created the musical The Wizard of AIDS, will change its name to HealthWorks Theatre. The group, founded three and a half years ago by a group of theater professionals committed to the fight against AIDS, has started to get commissions from other organizations, such as the March of Dimes, which has given it $6,000 to develop a theater piece on prenatal care.

The group that would become AET first opened its original show The Wizard of AIDS at the Belmont Rocks in the spring of 1988. A subsequent extended run at the Raven Theatre convinced the group there was a genuine need for such material, and in August of that year AET was formally incorporated. "We were the first full-time theater company in the nation dealing with AIDS education," remembers AET board member Ray Wohl. The group has since toured in seven states and taped The Wizard of AIDS for cable. Wizard also is playing week ends this month at Puszh Studios.

Coup at North Pier

Last month the Rosenthal-Newton restaurant group took over a large space on the lower level of North Pier Terminal formerly occupied by the defunct Boat Club. Within days the space was redecorated and rechristened Chris & Abe's, a quick move that brought the new operators a rent break and elicited sighs of relief from North Pier executives who didn't want a vacant space in the complex. Chris & Abe's, a sports bar and restaurant, was intended to be a temporary filler while Dan Rosenthal and Cathy Newton finalized details of an American cuisine restaurant scheduled to open in the space next spring. But the response has been so strong that they have opted to retain and possibly expand Chris & Abe's with live folk music and/or comedy on certain nights of the week.

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

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