Those of you who've been discussing the Unnamed Theater Company in the comments here—I suspect some of you have been euphemizing out of politeness, others out of sarcasm—can stop being coy. Those unseemly, doomsday-sounding, Sarah Palin-invoking fundraising emails are in fact coming from the House. I concur with Christopher Piatt's thoughts at the TOC blog.
As others have rightly pointed out, every nonprofit does an ask at this time of year. I've been solicited by many theater companies in past weeks, as well as other arts organizations and social service agencies. But it's the mixture of desperation and presumptiveness in the House's missives that makes them feel so tacky.
Despite what some may say, it's not about the fact that it's the House. Yes, the blogosphere has been host to both honest criticism and jealous sniping about their meteoric rise and fawning media coverage; so, I imagine, have any number of dressing rooms, post-show bars and email chains. I like the House, both as a company and as individuals, even if I'm not always a fan of their artistic or administrative decisions; I want them to succeed. But my hackles would be raised by seeing any theater company, from Steep to Steppenwolf, declare their own importance to the future of Chicago theater, threaten to cancel their next show as a fundraising enticement, or compare their ability to mount said show to the election of Barack Obama.
And that's what's most imprudent about the message from board member and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal in a House e-blast last week. Even presuming Sagal meant it with tongue firmly in cheek, suggesting moral equivalence between the House's ability to produce Rose and the Rime (its next and apparently endangered show) and the office of the presidency leaves a sour aftertaste. And the Sarah Palin reference is right out. If the House is having trouble meeting its financial goals, it isn't because some horrid woman from Alaska is accusing it of palling around with terrorists or of not being from Real America. The company may have used "Fight Evil" as a longtime rallying cry, but there's no evil to fight here that isn't also being faced by every theater company, theatergoer and arts-covering media outlet around. Sagal's employer, WBEZ, laid off nine employees on Friday, citing a huge drop in pledges. Think those nine would agree the way to save Chicago culture is by giving money to the House? Times are tough all around. The House would do well to remember that in its fundraising campaign.