PerformInk is Chicago's entertainment industry trade publication.
After the dam broke in the summer of 2016 with the closing of Profiles Theater, 2017 was, not surprisingly, peppered with the outing of abuses of power. Amidst a revolutionary nationwide reckoning, Chicago theater has been the theater industry’s example, both of abusers, and of a community coming together to reform and protect their own. It wasn’t all workplace injustice news, though. Chicago theater was full of accomplishments, oddities, and even a police investigation of a Facebook review. The following are our most-read stories of 2017:
#notinourhouse co-founder Lori Myers’ wrote a wish-list of sorts for PerformInk readers – action items that community members and abuse survivors can take upon themselves to make the industry a better place beyond trying to rely on an organization in its infancy. What can you do in 2018 to improve yourself and your working environment?
Chicago D(ART), or Deaf ART, hopes to be recognized as a home for art and culture for Deaf artists in the city. They plan to create works in a wide variety of mediums that reflect the underserved d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities in Chicago. The company is led by Artistic Director Christopher M. Schroeder, a Deaf advocate and artist, and Executive Director Richard Costes, a deaf long-time member of the Chicago theater community. The board of directors is said to be 90% d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
A patron’s 1-star Facebook review of Paramount Theatre triggered an investigation by the Aurora Police Department, according to a blog post by Police Chief Kristen Ziman, in which the respected community leader used the word “poopie.”
In an interview with the Tribune about the then-upcoming LINDA VISTA, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts spilled the news that he had asked Steppenwolf not invite the Jeff Awards Committee to the show. Citing other organizations that provide scholarships and do general service work for the theater community, Letts told Chris Jones “They don’t like me and I don’t like them. Plus, it’s a sea of white faces. Our theater community has changed. The Jeff Committee hasn’t changed or diversified. Our community deserves a better service organization.” The Jeff Committee replied to Letts via PerformInk in a fairly tone-deaf statement, but the public response to Letts’ action has in part led to the Jeff Committee launching a self-study and action steps to diversify the organization.
Tom Williams, the theater reviewer and proprietor of chicagocritic.com — in an epic flame-out involving blog posts, YouTube videos, and the publishing of private emails — decided to put away the keyboard, and not because several theaters had begun to refuse comps. He said that, looking at his schedule, there was nothing this fall he really wanted to see, warning that once he is gone, and when (embattled Sun-Times critic) Hedy Weiss retires, there will be nobody left to offer negative reviews of shows.
Creative Director of Stage 773 Brian Posen posted on Facebook that he would step down due to unspecified disparaging comments about him earlier this fall. That same day, he was wiped clean from the Stage 773 website, and removed from the Board of Directors. Later, it would become clear that multiple news outlets were working on articles describing abuses at the hands of Posen, and the move was a preemptive act to quell those stories. To date, 773’s board of directors has not released a statement. The board is chaired by Posen’s sister, and it is generally assumed (though not publicly confirmed) that Posen and his family members are majority owners of the for-profit entity that owns the building.
Gorilla Tango Burlesque, an ensemble of 30 artists employed by Bucktown’s Gorilla Tango Theater, quit en masse in August over a revenue split that left them without pay for weeks. Gorilla Tango had always operated under a cash-sharing model with its shows, but the company implemented new rules that required the theater to make a profit before shows get a payout. The result was a lack of pay for the Burlesque troop performers, who comprised the majority of the shows at the venue. Subsequently, the theater’s owner Dan Abate — self-proclaimed inventor of the world’s largest commercially available hot dog — announced he would close the theater. But the Gorilla Tango website is still up, and recent announcements about upcoming auditions for shows have been making the rounds on social media.
In June, Antoinette Nwandu’s blistering indictment of racial tension between black communities and police officers at Steppenwolf received some head-turning reviews that enraged much of the community. Particularly one from the Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss, who pulled an “all lives matter” on Nwandu, insisting the play didn’t do anything to address “black on black” crime, among other things. Jason Epperson’s opinion piece dissected the review, as well as two others, one playing the “what about white people” card like Weiss, and the other, a white woman who felt the urge to use the “n” word over and over in hers. In the subsequent days, a petition by the newly formed Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition (CHITAC) to stop offering Weiss complimentary tickets gained over three thousand signatures, and many theaters pledged to rescinded comp offers.
On November 2nd, a former Writers Theatre assistant director posted a revelation of sexual harassment from his time at the Glencoe institution at the hands of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam. PerformInk spoke with former staffers and numerous industry professionals who revealed a culture surrounding the theater that was described by many as sexually-charged. Writers conducted an investigation via a private consultant, who confirmed the verbal abuses by Halberstam, but nothing physical (though the original accuser described touching). Halberstam was allowed to remain in his position and is to receive executive training.
When Megan DeLay decided to drop out of Dead Writers Theatre Collective’s April fundraiser, a series of events set into motion that would abruptly close the organization. DeLay was abruptly stripped of her “collective member” status with Dead Writers for leaving the show. She took to Facebook to voice her displeasure. Artistic Director Jim Schneider replied: “You really don’t want to go here Megan. I can easily smear you with many of the theatre producers and directors in this town.” What followed was a whirlwind 24-hour investigation that unearthed nude photos taken of actors without consent, unannounced dressing room visits, groping, body shaming, pitting understudies against the main cast, racism, and other versions of mental and emotional abuses at the hands of Schnieder and his partner and Managing Director Bob Douglas. Many of the ensemble members quit, and Schnieder announced that the company was shutting down before we even published our piece one day later.