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Home Features Theatre Abarbanel: Two Year-Ending Stories
Abarbanel: Two Year-Ending Stories Print E-mail
Theatre
Written by Jonathan Abarbanel   
Thursday, 30 December 2010 11:00
It’s been a mostly-quiet year: a few major changes-of-the-guard in the works (Victory Gardens, Remy Bumppo, Porchlight Music Theatre); some general belt-tightening as the 2008 economic collapse finally caught up with non-profits; the usual number of bricks-and-mortar stories (the Mercury Theater sold, Black Ensemble breaks ground for new arts center, eta Creative Arts doesn’t, Profiles takes over former Stage Left space); the usual number of deaths in the family (James Deuter, Robert Thompson and George Keathley among them). But by-and-large 2010 has been free of scandal or sensation. I don’t even think there’s been a good feud!

And then, in December, with the year almost over, two stories broke of more than usual interest: the virtual dissolution of the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the barely-announced withdrawal of Frank Galati from the Goodman Theatre.

The DCA story hasn’t been covered in the usual theatre channels. Even potent blogger and ace arts business reporter Chris Jones missed this one, and yours truly as well (a not-so-potent blogger). Pop music critic Jim DeRogatis broke this one in his December 16 column at the WBEZ blog, with a follow-up on December 20. DeRogatis reported that the DCA has fired 29 staff members since October, among them Director of Theater Clare Geall Sutton. DeRogatis also found that the City’s 2011 budget combines the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events into one unit, dubbed “DCASE,” with Special Events in the driver’s seat in terms of budget and staff.

The functions and programs of the DCA will be split between DCASE and the Chicago Tourism Fund, a non-profit entity within the DCA which helps fund the Chicago Office of Tourism (CTF) also a unit of the DCA (as it used to be). The CTF never actually has run anything, but now will take over programs for visual/public art, cultural programs and grants, tourism, events, production, retail and some finance/administration, according to City spokesperson Peter Scales. The CTF also has hired somebut not allof the 29 laid-off DCA staffers.

Why has Richard M. Daleyan arts enthusiast by any measurementengineered this in the closing days of his watch? And where is the City Council’s Committee on Special Events and Cultural Affairs? The Committee appears to have signed off on this gut job with no public discussion and no council debate as part of the usual rubber-stamp approval of the Mayor’s budget. That committee of 14 aldermen includes at least a few who represent arts-rich wards, among them Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Joe Fioritto (2nd), Vi Daley (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th, Committee Vice-Chair).

OK, what does all this mean for Chicago theatre? The most visible DCA theatre programs are the Storefront Theater and the Cultural Center Studio Theater, which are programmed on a calendar year basis. My sources within the DCA confirm that the line-up of theatres and productions for 2011 already has been determined and will proceed as expected, even without Clare Sutton.

But the long-term future is less assured. No one can say who will be running things or how money will be allocated. Will Clare Sutton be rehired as Director of Theater? Will a new director be named by CTF in her place? The greater danger is implicit in the language of the City’s 2011 budget, discussing the new DCASE: “Whether it’s onstage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or under the Family Fun Festival Tent on the Chase Promenades, programming will continue to expand throughout Millennium Park as programming expands from seasonal to year-round. In 2010, DCASE will offer 704 free programs at Millennium Park. In 2011, this number will increase to a target of 726 programs over the same programming time period.”

What’s missing from this language? How about “neighborhood?” How about “Off-Loop?” How about “theatre?” How about “CityArts Grants?” If DCASE and CTF present and promote only Downtown and major venue events, then the all the arts throughout the city will suffer.

In early December, the Goodman Theatre announced the addition of Rebecca Gilman to its Artistic Collective of seven (plus Bob Falls). In a brief afterthought without explanation or comment, the press release also announced that long time Goodman associate director Frank Galati had cycled off the Collective. Sorry, that’s not good enough, not for an artist of Galati’s stature and not for an artist who goes back 35 years with Robert Falls and came with Falls to the Goodman in 1985.

True, Galati’s principal home for the last several years has been in Florida, but he retains a Loop apartment just steps from the Goodman. If there IS a storyand no one has said there isit’s in the fact that Galati has been far more active in recent years as a member of the Steppenwolf Ensemble (which he joined in 1987). Since 2005 Galati has participated in four Steppenwolf projects as actor (Prospero in The Tempest), director (Beckett’s Endgame) and adapter/director (After the Quake, Kafka on the Shore) vs. only one Goodman project (Oedipus Complex, 2007). Have Falls and Galati grown apart artistically or personally? Does Galati simply feel it’s time to put all his Chicago eggs in a single basket? We, who are friends and admirers of both Falls and Galati, would like to know.