Angel in the Lookingglass/ No Business Like Show Business | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Angel in the Lookingglass/ No Business Like Show Business 

Will Lookingglass ensmble member David Schwimmer pick up the tab for a new theater?

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Angel in the Lookingglass

For Lookingglass Theatre Company, a friend in need is a friend indeed. This week en-semble member David Schwimmer, who in 1994 became an overnight celebrity on the TV sitcom Friends, returns to Chicago to begin rehearsals for the Lookingglass production of The Idiot; his marquee value almost guarantees the show a successful run. And according to a source familiar with recent developments, the young actor might invest as much as $2 million in a permanent home for Lookingglass.

Schwimmer was unavailable for comment at press time, and John Morris, president of the company's board of directors, would not confirm the story. But Morris admits that $2 million is "the magical figure" needed to fund a space, and Schwimmer, he says, "has a history of helping the company," which celebrates its tenth anniversary this fall. Morris also says the board's facilities committee will hold "several meetings...over the next several months," coinciding with Schwimmer's run in The Idiot. Lookingglass, he says, could either buy a space or negotiate a long-term lease; the company would like a space that can be reconfigured easily, like Steppenwolf's studio theater.

If Schwimmer does bankroll a Lookingglass theater, he'll have several properties to consider immediately, though each has its drawbacks. Morris says the 440-seat Apollo Theater Center, at Lincoln and Altgeld, would work if it had more backstage production space, a problem that might be alleviated by removing some seats on either side of the theater's thrust stage. Producer Rob Kolson, who holds a long-term lease on the Apollo, suggested the theater as a permanent home for Lookingglass when the company approached him a few months ago about moving its production of The Arabian Nights there from Steppenwolf's studio. But according to one source, Kolson might ask as much as $9,000 a week to sublet.

Morris is also keen on the empty gymnasium above the Athenaeum Theatre, at Southport and Wellington. The Athenaeum complex already houses the company's classrooms, rehearsal hall, and administrative offices, as well as a variety of nonprofit arts groups. But Fred Solari, general manager of the Athenaeum, says the gymnasium is still used by Saint Alphonsus, the Catholic grade school next door. To take over the gym Lookingglass would probably have to build the school a new one, and the city would insist that it add more parking to the area. A third option is the long-delayed Chicago Center for the Performing Arts at Chicago and Halsted, which Morris is personally involved with as an architect. Producers Tony Tomaska and Joyce Sloane have been looking for new investment capital in recent months, and Schwimmer's bulging wallet could be just the ticket.

The Idiot opens May 13 at the Jane Addams Center's intimate About Face Theatre, configured to seat about 150. The play will be Schwimmer's first in Chicago since Friends took off, yet Lookingglass is taking care not to exploit his celebrity. Tickets will cost between $21.50 and $24.50, only $2.50 more than the company is charging for its current production of George at the Theatre Building. Penny Beatty, a spokesperson for the company, says that advertisements for the play will appear in about three weeks, listing the cast in alphabetical order. "Lookingglass is an ensemble company," she explains. Local media will be given priority over national entertainment shows. "I would definitely give Janet Davies at WLS TV first crack at David over Entertainment Tonight," says Beatty, "because I know a piece by her would do more to help Lookingglass sell tickets and develop an audience in Chicago."

Yet apparently Lookingglass did consider harnessing itself to Schwimmer's star. When the company began looking for a space to stage The Idiot, they explored both the 900-seat Athenaeum and the 500-seat Ivanhoe Thea-ter main stage. Ivanhoe owner Doug Bragan says the company was reluctant to commit because they were unsure whether Schwimmer would appear in the production. In the end Lookingglass chose the About Face, yet some involved with the company are sorry to lose the extra cash. "The additional revenue would have been nice," admits Morris, "but we do have the option to extend the run a couple of weeks."

No Business Like Shoe Business

Pam Dickler, managing director of the Terrapin Theatre, has been named operations manager of the new Duncan YMCA Chernin's Center for the Arts at 1001 W. Roosevelt. Funded by the city and the Chernin's Shoes corporation, the center is the YMCA's first arts facility, with classroom space and a 220-seat theater; one of its first productions will be a children's show staged by Lifeline Theatre. Dickler will book and manage the Chernin's Center, which she hopes to position as an attractive venue in a city pressed for small and midsize performance spaces. "We will be competitive in terms of what we charge for rent," she promises.

Only a handful of companies have tried to operate south of the Loop. Blue Rider Theatre holds its own at 18th and Halsted, but the now-defunct Interplay Theatre abandoned Pilsen after many years, moving to Pipers Alley in search of larger audiences. Dickler plans to lease the theater six months out of the year; the rest of the time it will host shows produced internally, funded in part by an annual grant of $100,000 from Chernin's.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): looking glass ensemble photo.

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