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Behind the Curtain
Written by Kerry Reid   
Friday, 03 September 2010 12:53

After years of planning, Black Ensemble Theater officially breaks ground next Friday, September 10 on a new $16 million home at 4440 N. Clark. The 2 p.m. ceremony, open to the public, features performances from past Black Ensemble hits, remarks from founder and executive director Jackie Taylor, and the honored guests include Mayor Daley, Governor Quinn, 47th Ward Alderman Eugene Schulter, and actor/director Harry Lennix, whose past work with Black Ensemble includes directing a production of Julius Caesar. The facility, slated to open next fall, will include a 300-seat main stage (double the current capacity at 4520 N. Beacon), a 150-seat studio, and space for classrooms, a rehearsal hall, dance studio, dressing rooms, and an additional lobby space—along with an indoor garage. The building, designed by architect John Morris, will also feature a "green" roof and other eco-friendly elements.

Mayor Daley has spoken often of the need for arts in the neighborhoods (including in his remarks at the TCG conference in June), but he still gets props from many for revitalizing the downtown theatre district. Broadway In Chicago, which has had the greatest role in keeping those big spiffy palaces filled, and the Goodman Theatre, the nonprofit flagship in the Loop, honor Da Mare throughout the month of September by putting his face (and that of our very arts-friendly first lady, Maggie Daley) on the cover of Playbill for BiC and Goodman shows, and lovey-dovey features on them will also be in the Footlights program for many other League of Chicago Theatres members. As one who remembers what it was like to be downtown in the mid-’80s, when there might as well have been tumbleweeds blowing down State Street on a Sunday afternoon, I’ll risk street cred and say that the downtown theatre district has proven to be a big plus for the city. (Now let’s all make sure that we make our voices heard about keeping the funding in place for the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Storefront Theater, which is currently running Emily Dendinger’s Hideous Progeny, produced by LiveWire Theatre.)

Some news out of American Theater Company: Mary Ruth Coffey is the new executive director, replacing the recently departed Michael Thomas Newberry. Coffey will be just down the street from her last gig—she comes to ATC from the Old Town School of Folk Music , where she served as director of institutional giving. Old Town has some expansion plans of its own going on—next fall, they will open a new $18 million facility with expanded classroom space, dance studios, and a 150-seat concert space, all right across the street from their current home. In other ATC news, Kristoffer Diaz’s Welcome to Arroyo’s, which received its world premiere at ATC this past spring, will play the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. And playwright Dan LeFranc, whose play The Big Meal gets its world premiere with ATC this winter, just received the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright award for his script 60 Miles to Silver Lake.

The Joffrey Ballet has a new music director. Scott Speck, who guest-conducted the Chicago Sinfonietta during their Joffrey collaboration on last season’s Othello and Cinderella, will take over all conducting duties at the Joffrey, beginning with the All Stars program at the Auditorium Theatre, October 13-24.

20% Theatre Company Chicago has named Lindsay Bartlett as artistic director, replacing Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwald. Liz Cooper and Laura Oleska will be co-managing directors, splitting the tech and business duties, respectively. Company member Lucinda Alipio, who has handled most of the publicity duties, leaves Chicago at the end of October, and Melody Ruder will be the new marketing director. Melissa Albertario Peck as literary manager rounds out the leadership for this company, which is dedicated to producing and highlighting work by women writers (and yes, we also noticed that no female playwrights were in the “best new work” category for the Jeff Awards).

Noble Fool Theatricals has decided to get serious—at least when it comes to the name. Originally located in the downtown theatre district (and the one infamous casualty of the high rents there—their former theatre is now the Argo Tea shop next to the Oriental), the company has thrived since relocating in 2004 to Pheasant Run Resort. In recognition of their settled location, the company, starting in January, will be known as “Fox Valley Repertory.” Their focus remains on comedies and family-friendly musical fare, and they will kick off their first season under the new moniker with Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s bittersweet comedy Leaving Iowa.

Saturday Night Live” has been busy cherry-picking talent from Chicago the last month or so. Second City main stage performer Shelly Gossman, who most recently appeared in Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies on Wells Street, has been hired as a writer. Chris Jones reported in “The Theater Loop” on August 25 that Tom Flanigan, who has been appearing in The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life with Second City e.t.c., is also going to New York to write for “SNL.” And Annoyance Productions announces that Vanessa Bayer, who has been appearing in the long-running hit Swear Jar, has been picked up as well. She is scheduled to appear in the closing-night show this Saturday, September 4, so stop by and wish her bon voyage if she is actually around and hasn’t already been shanghaied to the Big Apple by Lorne Michaels. Chicago comedian Paul Brittain also apparently will join the cast, according to a Jones item of August 27 quoting Charna Halpern of iO (Bayer and Brittain are both alums). And of course we’re also tickled that South Side gal and Second City/Annoyance alum (she was Carol Brady in “The Real Live Brady Bunch”) Jane Lynch took home an Emmy in such gracious and witty fashion for her work on “Glee.”

Some late-breaking season announcements: Project 891Theatre Company opens their second season with Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo in an environmental staging at the North Lakeside Cultural Center November 27. In March, they will stage Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane in a space TBA. Griffin Theatre opens Stephen Sondheim’s Company at Stage 773 September 25, directed by Jonathan Berry, and they will also present William Massolia’s adaptation of Gordon Korman’s young-adult novel No More Dead Dogs at Theater Wit in the spring. A third show is TBA. Filament Theatre Ensemble, formed by five Northwestern grads, will offer touring productions of Jack Novak’s Alice and Me!, based on the Lewis Carroll classic, along with Choose Thine Own Adventure by Allison Powell and some dude named Shakespeare. In the spring, Filament will present Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice and, as a late-night complement, Orpheus, written and directed by Omen Sade and set in a night club. Filament has named new members Peter Oyloe as marketing director, Allison Powell as business manager, and Shayna Kamilar as production manager. (Click here for more season preview listings.)

Extensions: The Gift Theatre Company keeps Andrew Hinderaker’s Suicide, Incorporated up through October 10 (so it will be closing right before his drama Kingsville opens up Stage Left Theatre’s first season at Theater Wit). And A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company has extended its Classic TV Re-Runs series—it now plays the third Tuesday of every month at Mary’s Attic at 5400 N. Clark, through December 21.

Next Theatre presents Rohina Malik’s acclaimed solo about Muslim women in a post-9/11 world, Unveiled, September 10-19 (which should offer some balance and perspective after the “victory mosque” hysteria). And speaking of boogeymen, the Cold War comes back to life in an ambitious undertaking among 25 Chicago arts organizations, spread out over 16 months. The Soviet Arts Experiment, spearheaded by The University of Chicago Presents , highlights artists who created work under (and in response to) the Politburo of the Soviet Union. It kicks off October 1 with a special performance of the Tokyo String Quartet, featuring Russian composer Lera Auerbach, at U of C’s Mandel Hall. Other highlights include the complete string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by the Pacifica Quartet; Mark Morris Dance Group performing Romeo & Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare with Sergei Prokofiev’s original score and scenario; and an exhibit of Soviet propaganda posters at the Art Institute, along with many other lectures, exhibits, and performances. More information is available at

The School of the Art Institute announces that fashion design chair Nick Cave (not to be confused with the goth singer/songwriter of the same name) will have his fantastic “soundsuits” (full-body wearable art containing material that makes noise when rubbed together, thus crossing the divides between fashion, installation art, and sound art) featured in an eight-page spread in the September issue of Vogue. (Cave’s work was also featured in a fabulous exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center a few years ago.) From September 10-17, a video installation of the soundsuits, entitled “Drive-by,” will be visible at 23rd Street and South Michigan Avenue each evening at dusk.

Evanston shows off its artistic side on Sunday, September 12, 4-7 p.m., with the first “Backstage Evanston” showcase of local artists. It runs at the Northwestern Theatre and Interpretation Center, 1949 Campus Drive, and admission is $20, which includes food and a cash bar. Participating groups include Light Opera Works, Piccolo Theatre, Piven Theatre, Next Theatre, Actors Gymnasium, the Evanston Dance Ensemble, and the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, among others. Each attendee will receive a $20 voucher that can be applied toward tickets and subscriptions. For information, call 847/448-8260 or visit

Some upcoming fundraisers: the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus honors State Representative Sara Feigenholtz and Broadway star Mara Davi (vet of A Chorus Line, The Drowsy Chaperone, and White Christmas) at the 8th annual “Donor Appreciation Evening” on Monday, September 20. It runs from 6 to 8 at the Hoover-Leppen Theatre at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted. It’s only open to those who can donate $250 or more, but if you’d like to be a BFF with the CGMC, they’d love to hear from you—call 773/296-0541 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

And Skokie Theatre, which has been on the financial ropes, hosts a fundraiser this Sunday, September 5, with blues great Eddy Clearwater and friends. Tickets are $25, the doors open at 6, and a “blues jam” gets underway at 9. You can purchase advance tickets at

Who says bowling isn’t romantic? NightBlue Theater offers its second “Candlelight Bowl.” For $25 per head or $150 per lane (six bowlers per lane), you can knock over pins and polish off some comfort food (fried chicken, Italian beef, etc). The company produces The Rocky Horror Show at Stage 773 October 13-30.

The Chicago United Film Festival returns for a second year, September 10-16 at the Music Box. Among the highlights are Ballhawks, a documentary about the guys who chase the balls outside Wrigley, narrated by Bill Murray; HouseQuake, a documentary about the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 (those were the days, huh?); and Official Rejection, a humorous insider look at the world of the film festival. Talkbacks accompany many of the screenings.

Congrats to Randy Gener, the senior editor of American Theatre magazine and a former recipient of the George Jean Nathan prize. Gener has been named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. The judges said of Gener’s work, “Some of the best journalism is being done outside of traditional newsrooms and by people covering niche areas. Gener's writing on theatre, especially as it interacts with LGBT lives, is beautifully done, knowledgeable and almost lyrical in its language.”

And finally, condolences to Matt Conlon, longtime house manager for Victory Gardens who has more recently been handling front-of-house duties at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts . His mother, Cammie King, who played Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind, passed away on September 1 in Fort Bragg, California. Our warmest thoughts to Matt and his family.

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