Nan Charbonneau Exits, But Body Politic's Drama Goes On/Selling Subscriptions at the Northlight/The $700 World Premiere/Ravinia '91: What Flew, What Blew/People's Potter | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Nan Charbonneau Exits, But Body Politic's Drama Goes On/Selling Subscriptions at the Northlight/The $700 World Premiere/Ravinia '91: What Flew, What Blew/People's Potter 

Mary Marre, pictured with Robert Steel (left and right) and Robert Bailis (center), demonstrates how she mounted the world premiere of The Culture Counter on a total budget of $700.

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Nan Charbonneau Exits, but Body Politic's Drama Goes On

After months of speculation about her fate, Nan Charbonneau has exited the post of producing director at the Body Politic Theatre. The terse press release that announced her departure, attributing it to "financial streamlining" within the troubled theater company, did not begin to tell the story. But sources on the board of directors are finally admitting to the prolonged war that erupted within their ranks over the issue of whether Charbonneau should be let go or kept on.

While the battles raged, some board members feared to speak publicly (and still do), apparently because they were worried that Charbonneau would seek legal redress. Fueling the board's debate were more than 30 pages of data collected by Body Politic board members and staffers--everything from past-due phone bills to company members' resignation letters--supposedly documenting mismanagement on Charbonneau's part. Her strongest supporters considered the charges trumped up, while opponents saw the documents as evidence that Charbonneau's management was weakening an already vulnerable theater company. Some of the board members who finally came down against Charbonneau were swayed by a number of former employees who said they left because they no longer could work with her. Charbonneau did not return phone calls asking her to comment.

The Body Politic that Charbonneau left behind has a 50-50 chance of survival, estimates one board member. The theater, one of the city's oldest not-for-profit companies, has around $130,000 in debt, about half of it in accumulated payables and the rest in a mortgage on the building at 2261 N. Lincoln. Body Politic and the Victory Gardens Theatre each own 50 percent of that structure, which has a current market value of around $1 million. The Body Politic board is in the midst of a concerted fund-raising drive, but the theater's survival will also depend on the public's response to the upcoming season chosen by Albert Pertalion, who remains as artistic director. The theater is conducting a search for a business manager to handle its financial affairs.

Selling Subscriptions at the Northlight

If the story of one former Northlight Theatre subscriber is any indication, it's getting tougher than ever for local theater companies to maintain a subscription base. The former subscriber says he was contacted eight times by zealous telemarketing representatives attempting to renew his and his wife's subscriptions. Dissatisfied with last year's Northlight season, the former subscriber declined the offer every time, even though he was repeatedly offered a money-back guarantee. Former Northlight marketing director Julie Goodyear (she resigned earlier this week) said last week that the money-back policy has been in effect for four years and that to her knowledge only one disgruntled subscriber wrote asking for a refund during that time. Goodyear declined to release current subscription renewal figures. Asked whether he was satisfied with Northlight's subscriber renewal rate, artistic director Russell Vandenbroucke responded, "I'm never satisfied." Goodyear said new subscribers were being signed up at record levels, but she also declined to release those figures.

The $700 World Premiere

Let the history books note that Mary Marre was the producer who mounted the world premiere of Robert Steel's opera/musical theater piece The Culture Counter for a mere $700. The first performances of Steel's piece about the relationships between six markedly different Wicker Park residents will take place this weekend in conjunction with the Around the Coyote festival in Wicker Park, in a theater at 1309 N. Ashland that formerly belonged to the Polish Women's Alliance. When Around the Coyote festival organizers informed Marre there was no money in the budget for her production expenses, she still managed to bring together a cast of six, two directors, a three-piece orchestra, and a set that includes rear-projected images. Would Marre do it all again for the thrill of presenting a world premiere? "That's the $64,000 question," she says. "Ask me in two months."

Ravinia '91: What Flew, What Blew

An extended season that included ten days of jazz programming, along with some balmy weather, helped the Ravinia Festival establish a record box-office total of more than 6 million and a new attendance record of 504,546. Ravinia executive director Zarin Mehta said he will continue the aggressive programming initiative he introduced this year. The early-season jazz series is likely to stay on the schedule, and Mehta would be happy to find another film and orchestral extravaganza to mount; the August screening of Alexander Nevsky with the Prokofiev score played live was one of the most popular events of the season. The Hubbard Street Dance Company sold well, but Mehta said the Martha Graham Dance Company was a tough ticket to move. Even so, Mehta wants to do two weeks of dance again next season, but he hasn't decided what companies to present.

People's Potter

With the recession going full tilt and art buyers more price-conscious than ever before, the work of potter Warren MacKenzie is sure to be a popular draw at the annual Chicago International New Art Forms Exposition, slated for September 20 through 22 at Navy Pier. The exhibition of decorative and applied arts includes pieces that cost up to $150,000, but MacKenzie's pottery will be priced between $40 and $200, despite a growing recognition of his work among art aficionados. "It's a political thing with him," said one New Art Forms staffer, explaining that MacKenzie views his pottery as primarily utilitarian. At MacKenzie's workshop in Stillwater, Minnesota, a sign instructs customers to wrap their own pottery--most of it even lower-priced than the offerings at New Art Forms--and deposit money for purchases in a basket by the door. "If you have questions, come to the workshop," it says. A new book on MacKenzie and his pottery written by David Lewis is being released in conjunction with the New Art Forms show. This year's show features 52 exhibitors, down from 62 last year.

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

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