Site for Sore Eyes/ SexFest Pulls a Boner/Time to Subscribe? | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Site for Sore Eyes/ SexFest Pulls a Boner/Time to Subscribe? 

SexFest director Tim Fiori yanked two porno collages after performance artists complained that Nathan Mason's work was too steamy for the lobby.

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Site for Sore Eyes

The controversial, long-delayed Music and Dance Theatre now looks to be heading south--to the South Loop, to be exact. After ditching plans last March to build the 1,500-seat, $33 million facility at Cityfront Center, the theater's board of directors is focusing on a city-owned parking lot at the southeast corner of State and Congress, catercorner from the Harold Washington Library Center and a block west of the Auditorium Theatre.

Theater representatives are reportedly negotiating with city officials for tax-increment financing funds, which Mayor Richard Daley has recently been doling out for theater projects in the North Loop, including the Oriental and Palace theaters. TIF funding, along with a low-priced deal for the property, would help the board close its nearly $10 million shortfall in fund-raising for the new theater, which will be the primary performing space for a dozen of the city's midsize music and dance organizations, including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Music of the Baroque, and Chicago Opera Theater.

If the South Loop deal goes through, the site should be large enough to accommodate the theater's already-designed interior configuration, but the exterior design would probably have to be adapted to the new site. No matter what happens next, the 12 organizations planning to call the theater home will have to wait at least several more years to move in. With the exception of Performing Arts Chicago, which admits to having some financial problems, the groups committed to the facility appear sound enough to weather the delay. When organizations were asked for usage commitments, PAC executive director Susan Lipman reportedly committed to only a few dates in the new theater, an expensive, unionized operation that would surely tax her organization's resources.

SexFest Pulls a Boner

Sex sells, but it can also draw controversy, even where least expected. Nights of the Blue Rider SexFest, an elaborate, multidisciplinary performance art series at Pilsen's Blue Rider Theatre, delves into topics as risque as sadomasochism; it runs through November 9 and includes 96 groups appearing in 69 performances. To complement the varied work onstage, Blue Rider hastily assembled a lobby exhibit of art with sexual themes, including five collages of photographs from gay pornography magazines, some of men with erect penises, by artist-curator Nathan Mason. But when Mason showed up at the Blue Rider to look at his work, he discovered that two of his collages had been taken down.

According to both Mason and Blue Rider artistic director Tim Fiori, at least five SexFest performers--male and female--objected to Mason's work for reasons that were not entirely clear, and they refused to perform until the collages were taken down. Artworks featuring heterosexual intercourse and female genitalia were left up. Mason was told that the loudest complaints came from a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute. Fiori says he decided to remove the collages because the contretemps "threatened to overwhelm the work we were doing onstage." He also justified his action by noting that Mason had five pieces on display, more than any other artist in the exhibit. But Mason was not pleased. "I thought the collages were rather mild, and I find it appalling that an academic would engage in such petty behavior and censorship."

Time to Subscribe?

Are theater subscriptions obsolete? That question will be a key topic at a League of Chicago Theatres retreat on August 16. Some arts-marketing mavens contend that today's audiences are too busy to bother with subscriptions that lock them into set attendance patterns. But the Lyric Opera's Danny Newman will have none of it. "Anyone who maintains lifestyles have changed is making a statement that is not well thought out."

Newman has been touting subscriptions for more than four decades and will join in the discussion to defend them.

He insists that audiences will buy subscriptions if they feel "some commitment" to an institution that can consistently deliver quality productions, a tall order in this era of shrinking budgets. Newman also argues that not-for-profit performing-arts groups need subscriptions to remain financially viable. "You can't make it without them unless you have an unending succession of hits, and that never happens."

Victory Gardens is one theater that believes in Newman's gospel; managing director John Walker says his theater, acting on advice from a marketing consultant, concentrated on selling more single tickets last season. The results were not good. "I now think it was a mistake, because of the work we are doing," adds Walker. Committed to staging new plays with no critical track record, Victory Gardens has little chance of turning out hit after hit. "Our theater organization is not driven by hits," notes Walker. Next season Victory Gardens will focus on increasing its subscriber base.

While some in the local not-for-profit theater industry agree with Newman, others are doing fine without subscriptions. Explains Jackie Taylor, artistic director at the Black Ensemble, "It all depends on the kind of audience you are trying to serve." Taylor says her core customer base is not used to buying subscriptions and maintains it would be too costly for her small company to get its audiences to buy them. In the end, she says, marketing should take a backseat to art.

"I believe the concentration should be on the work."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Tim Fiori and Nathan Mason photo by Stephen Arazmus.


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