Hatchett Jobs/Getting Up/A Room of His Own | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Hatchett Jobs/Getting Up/A Room of His Own 

Prop Thtr has a new managing director and Apple Tree has a new business manager. They're both Debra Hatchett.

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Hatchett Jobs

Prop Thtr's announcement that Debra Hatchett had joined them as managing director caught our eye. Last we'd heard, Hatchett was managing director at Bailiwick Repertory. Wondering why she'd jump from the prolific to the sporadic, we set out to track her down. That's when things got interesting: she called us back from Apple Tree Theatre, where, she informed us, she's just been installed as full-time business manager. Hatchett took the position at Prop before she was offered the job at Apple Tree and plans to handle both. "I was concerned that there would be a conflict, but there really isn't," she says. The job at Prop "is not a paid position. It's just me helping them out in my spare time." That's the time she also uses to run Anatomically Correct, a nonprofit group that curates production-specific art exhibits for theater lobbies and other public venues.

Hatchett left Bailiwick after almost two years because of their financial difficulties. "I think they're doing much better now, with Corpus Christi [which closed August 12] and their new show, Naked Boys Singing!, but it's a roller coaster, up and down," she says. "And in the down months, how do you decide who makes payroll, who gets the money first?" Apple Tree was so strapped last winter it had to get an emergency $45,000 grant from the city of Highland Park to carry it through the season, but Hatchett says "this is the most secure I've felt at a theater in a long time. Apple Tree has a huge following--they're more than half sold for this coming season, and at least half of those purchased without even knowing what the season was. They don't have any debt, are current with all their bills, have money in the bank. I wouldn't have taken the job here if I thought I was gonna get into another Bailiwick situation." Did the fact that she's the fourth person in the business manager slot in the last year give her pause? "Cecilie Keenan called me and said, 'Trust me, you'll be fine.'"

Keenan, former assistant artistic director at Northlight Theatre (and former artistic director at Bailiwick), was hired by Apple Tree last spring in the newly created position of producing director (she's been full-time since August 1). Along with Hatchett and development director Mary Ellen Mason, who came from the Chicago Botanic Garden, she's part of a recent surge in staff that took the theater from three to ten full-time and two to four part-time employees. Founder Eileen Boevers says the boost in payroll and a trio of plays that didn't sell in the 1999-2000 season (R & J, Via Dolorosa, and Joy of the Desolate) brought on last winter's cash flow problem--nothing but a blip "in a period of enormous growth." Another blip was Apple Tree's recent misadventure at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, where attendance turned out to be so bad Daniel J. Travanti was sometimes performing Old Wicked Songs for 30 people. "We thought we were bringing them sure things," Boevers says of the two productions they sent over in 2000 (Songs and Once on This Island). "We agreed to try it for one year. It wasn't worthwhile to pursue it. We're still offering our youth programming out there." Keenan was hired because Boevers's personal priorities changed in the last year: "I'm not ready to part company, but I'm having to delegate more," she says. The rest of the change, including expansion of the board of directors (from 8 to 19, on its way to 24), follows from a restructuring plan devised six years ago. Hatchett, still getting her bearings, says the addition of Mason, the first full-time fund-raiser in the theater's 19-year history, should have major impact.

Meanwhile, Prop Thtr is looking to purchase a building that will accommodate a 99-seat black box theater, preferably somewhere in Logan Square. Executive director Jonathan Lavan--who's also a curator, former co-owner of the World Tattoo Gallery, and an aspiring pastry chef--hopes it can include a cafe and art gallery. Now being run out of the basement of artistic director Scott Vehill's house, Prop, which produces socially conscious new or newly adapted work, bills itself as the oldest off-Loop non-Equity theater in Chicago. Founded in 1981 by Vehill and technical director Stefan Brun, Prop has been a nomad since '94, when it lost a space on North Avenue. It produces two or three shows a year and, since '98, an annual new plays festival. Its first offering this season, Jim O'Connor's Rosemary (as in Kennedy), was hatched at the 2000 festival and opens October 10 at Victory Gardens' downstairs studio.

Getting It Up

The Curious Theatre Branch is soliciting new scripts for its Scaffold Project. Curious Theatre cofounder Jenny Magnus says the company's annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival of new plays (running now through October 7 at multiple venues; see sidebar in Theater) made her and cofounder Beau O'Reilly aware that some people had scripts but didn't know how to get them produced. "They didn't have connections, a director, a cast, money, or an ensemble, and these are all things we have. We decided we'd pick one or two people every year and walk them through the process, even paying for the production." Curious Theatre's contribution to the current Rhino Fest, Bantam Lightweight, was written by one of the beneficiaries of last year's Scaffold Project, Shawn Reddy. October 1 is the deadline for this year's Scaffold entries.

A Room of His Own

Aron Packer, who split from LyonsWier Packer Gallery last May because "sharing a gallery means compromise," is having a soft opening for the Aron Packer Gallery tonight (September 7) at 118 N. Peoria. A grand opening is planned for October 19.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.

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