Annoying Little Show Turns Big Profits/Another New Director for the League of Chicago Theatres/Art Expo Goes West/Richard Gray's Tough Times | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Annoying Little Show Turns Big Profits/Another New Director for the League of Chicago Theatres/Art Expo Goes West/Richard Gray's Tough Times 

The League of Chicago Theatres has a new executive director--again. This time it's Tony Sertich, who brings experience in both commercial and not-for-profit theater.

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Annoying Little Show Turns Big Profits

Annoyance Theatre's The Real Live Brady Bunch is set to go bicoastal. The hit spoof's original cast, who've been performing the show in New York for the past several months, will open it at the 500-seat Westwood Playhouse in suburban Los Angeles on April 16 under the banner of New York-based producer Ron Delsener. Last week another batch of 17 Annoyance actors took over their roles in the production at New York's Village Gate. "We auditioned actors in New York and couldn't find anyone as capable as the people from Annoyance," says Delsener, who admits he's still worried whether the Annoyance replacements will prove as good as the original company.

The silly little show that Annoyance produced for the piddling sum of $1,000 has suddenly become big business for both Delsener and the theater company, which will collect $3,000 a month in combined royalties from the LA and New York productions. The original Chicago production opened in June 1990 in the 110-seat Annoyance space at 31M N. Broadway and ran for 18 sold-out months. The Village Gate production, which opened in September 1991 and is set to run at least through May 31, has paid back its investment and is turning a profit. Its been playing to around 75 percent of capacity at the 375-seat Village Gate and attracting a crowd that averages between 23 and 32 years old--mostly young professionals, Delsener says.

Now Delsener is prepared to risk a hefty investment of $585,000 to find out whether The Real Live Brady Bunch will play as well in Los Angeles as it has in New York and Chicago. He plans to take out some of the seating in the front of the Westwood Playhouse, lay down indoor-outdoor carpeting, and bring in couches for the audience. "We're going to call this section of the theater the living room," he says. Delsener had intended to cast west-coast actors to save money, but when the New York company said they wanted to play LA Delsener said yes, which meant he had to find housing for the company.

Delsener thinks the Los Angeles-area Brady Bunch could lead to a lucrative television or even movie deal for the material. So far he hasn't found anyone willing to buy such an idea, but he hasn't given up. "I think a deal with Paramount is a possibility."

Another New Director for the League of Chicago Theatres

The new executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres is Tony Sertich. The low-key Sertich is the third person to hold the post in the past two years; his predecessor was Keryl McCord, who quickly moved on to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Among Sertich's most immediate challenges is the League's deficit, which now totals around $50,000. Both Sertich and the League board say they plan to look at new ways to boost the revenue generated by Hot Tix, the organization's one and only cash cow.

Sertich brings to his new position credentials that may help in dealing with the League's problems, including experience in both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors of the business. He handled a number of tasks for the Nederlander Organization in Detroit, and subsequently served as director of touring for four years at the not-for-profit Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis (the nation's largest children's theater). He played a key role in rebuilding that organization, which was floundering in the wake of criminal sexual misconduct charges brought against one of its executives. Sertich put together an international tour for the company that drew attention away from the scandal and helped pull in new funding as well. He left the children's theater to become executive director of the National Theatre of the Deaf in Chester, Connecticut, where he stayed for 18 months before opting to move back to the midwest.

Sertich, who started his new job last Monday, says he anticipates no further staff reductions for the moment. "I want to concentrate on stabilizing the organization," he says, "and getting rid of the deficit, even though that may be an unglamorous thing to raise money for."

Ad Expo Goes West

The 13th annual Chicago International Art Exposition will include substantially more gallery representation from the American west and southwest than last year's edition. The number of California galleries in the upcoming expo (May 14 through 18 at Donnelley Hall) totals 13, up from 7 last year. Seven galleries from the Santa Fe and Tempe/Scottsdale areas are participating in the 1992 exposition, up from only three in 1991. Observers say art sales are growing in the west. "We have a lot of young collectors around Los Angeles," maintains Kimberly Davis, owner of the L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, California. Others attribute the growth to the concentration of established wealth along the west coast and the increasing number of good art museums there.

But not every California dealer was anxious to participate in this year's Art Expo. San Franciscobased John Berggruen, one of the largest dealers outside New York and a major presence at past Art Expos, decided to sit out the 1992 event. "I'm a bit of a contrarian," says Berggruen, "but I think arts fairs have grown too exhausting and too competitive." Berggruen also didn't think it financially prudent to spend $50,000 or so to set up shop at Art Expo. "We're trying to be more conservative."

Visitors at this year's event will arrive through a new entrance on the lower floor of the south side of Donnelley Hall rather than the upper floor of the north side. Tom Blackman, executive director of the Lakeside Group, which produces Art Expo, said the entrance was changed to expose more visitors to booths on the lower floor. "Last year we had trouble getting people to go downstairs," admits Blackman. The new entrance also is closer to the parking lot.

Richard Gray's Tough Times

So how bad is the recession in the art market? Bad enough to keep art dealer Richard Gray from selling out his first major show of David Hockney paintings. The show, which just closed, included 19 Hockneys, of which only seven were for sale. Gray found buyers for four of the seven works, which ranged in price from around $225,000 to $350,000. Only one of the four buyers was a Chicagoan. "If this had been 1989 or 1990," says Gray, "this show would have sold out before it opened. The buyers who can afford a Hockney still have their money, but they just aren't spending it as quickly."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander Newberry.

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