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June 25, 2008


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Rob Kozlowski

See, I don't think Wicked *harms* Chicago theater. I don't see it as detrimental, per se. "Detrimental" suggests that Wicked is taking away existing audiences from Chicago theaters, and it's not. It's just not helping any. Like Blue Man Group and Tony-n-Tina's Wedding before it, it's a self-contained audience that will never ever trickle down to Chicago theaters. Because they're morons.

Michael Clark

Interesting, [the original blogger's post - Ed.] is gone. And been removed from Google's cache as well.

Kris Vire

Michael's correct—although it's still visible in my feed reader, the post seems to have been removed from the [original - Ed.] blog.



Ok, I may be biased because I work there, but it bothers me to hear the Blue Man audience referred to as "morons".
I agree that the audience 95-99% of the time does NOT trickle down to Chicago Theaters... but not because they're MORONS, it's simply because they aren't interested!

Calling them morons makes you appear elitist and snobby - and if I were one of those audience members and knew that's how you felt about them, why would I spend my money to go to your snobby theatre?

(don't shoot the messenger - I work in storefront theatre as well - BMG simply helps pay the bills - but the relentless back and forth between the "Wicked"-style crowds and the Theatre Community drives me NUTS. "Wicked" may not be detrimental, but adding fuel to the fire IS.)


My apologies, Dianna. You're right.


At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, I am pretty pleased when anyone goes to the theatre, period. In some--okay, probably just a few--cases, couldn't Wicked be a "gateway" for folks who don't often go to the theatre to eventually seeing *more* theatre?

Scott Walters

Bravo, Dianna! Could you speak to the other 3/4 of the theatre artists in the world?


Megan - I agree that it "could" be, but I can't say that it is. As long as we're talking "gateway" here, allow me to spin out the drug metaphor further--big shows like Wicked are the crack cocaine, the Turkish heroin, of the theater. You pay top dollar for them because they give you an immediate, visceral rush of light and sound and spectacle. After that, why would you mess around with the slower and less predictable acid trips of the storefront scene? What does it offer you? So you pay another hundred dollars to see Mary Poppins, because you're sure to get your big fat fix from such a big fat show.

Okay, so that's not perfect. And I'm not talking about people who like Wicked in general, I'm just talking about people who refuse to try anything that was produced for less money than Wicked.

Kris Vire

Dianna and Rob are both right to a degree, and I'd like to think Megan is too. Wicked and Blue Man and Tony n' Tina's aren't actively stealing audiences that would otherwise be seeing Steppenwolf or storefronts. Blue Man and Tony n' Tina's both thrive largely on group sales at this point in their long, long runs.

As for Wicked and Jersey Boys, they're not so much directly hurting our own theater as much as they're not helping it, which to me was the more salient point of [the original blogger's] now-deleted post. Time Out and the Tribune and the Reader all write regularly about the great theater being made here, as do outside critics like the Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout (who's lately raved about shows at Strawdog, Writers' and Chicago Shakes) and the NYT's Charles Isherwood (who'll be in town this weekend to catch Superior Donuts and some other shows), and Steppenwolf and Shakes's Tony Awards this season should be reinforcing the idea of Chicago as a great destination for homegrown theater. But these 800-lb. downtown gorillas, with their years-long runs and massive promotional muscle and huge investments from the city, attract a different crowd—the type that's willing to spend hundreds of dollars to see these same shows a dozen times over but isn't interested in smaller-scale work—and leech attention from Chicago theater while reinforcing a different idea that infects both tourists and locals: that Theater equals big money and big spectacle, that Chicago is a Midwest outpost for New York hits, and stuff that's more modest or more intimate probably isn't worth your time.

That's the way I see it, anyway. And [the original blogger's - Ed.] post was an on-the-ground perspective on the fact that, three years into its run here, Wicked's audiences aren't interested in anything but Wicked. I have nothing against Wicked or Jersey Boys as shows nor against Broadway in Chicago as an entity. But as much as sit-down runs of these hits may be good for our city's economy, I don't think they're doing any good for our city's theater.


no harm, no foul Rob...
I think we can safely admit that there are morons on both sides of this - for every drunken BMG patron,I've also had the occasional idiots at a show who thinks its ok to touch the set or a prop just because its SO DAMN CLOSE!!!!!


I think some of us in the community have a certain amount of culpability for the attitude that theatre is only worthwhile if a ton of money gets spent on it. I point to myself as an example unfortunately. I'm in a storefront production right now ("Six Character is Search of an Author," if anyone's curious), and I've been trying to get people from work to come see it. One of my coworkers told me she's thinking about going to see it the weekend of the fourth with some friends/family of hers. I was delighted, but I also was cognizant of the fact that most of the time she goes to see shows like "Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" (Her top choice for the weekend of the fourth was "Shout!" before it posted its closing notice). So when she told me she was thinking about coming, I was appalled to catch myself apologizing to her in advance for what it would be like- stuff like "I just want you to know before you go, that the show is a lot different from Jersey Boys- we definitely are a much smaller production, the show does have some laughs but is a lot more cerebral and much more of a drama..." I guess my point was I didn't want her to go, and feel disappointed or 'tricked' when the theatre experience was vastly different from that of most of the other shows she's seen. It makes me wonder, do I (and others in the community) actually have an inferiority complex of sorts about the resources we have at our disposal? I'm proud of my work, but I appreciate that some people are just going to prefer to see a huge mechanical wizard of oz head or some green girl flying (heck, I saw "Wicked" twice- I see practically everything), and I'd rather not have them sitting in my audience pissed off at me for not being able to compete with that. Speaking of shows as gateway drugs, I almost feel like people have to be weaned away from that type of theatre- rather than asking them to jump straight from seeing Wicked to seeing some cutting edge new work at the side project studio space, maybe we could help them work their way down. I.e., "You liked Wicked? Great. Go see this show at Chicago Shakespeare. Now see this smaller show with Porchlight at Theatre Building. Next see this House Theatre show on the Chopin mainstage. Next see this smaller, more cerebral show with Remy Bumppo at VG (whatever they're calling it now). Finally, try this cool new piece at this little venue up in Rogers Park." Time consuming, but would it work?


Ed, I think you’re on to something with the “work-your-way-down” idea. Rather than picking up a couple dozen Wicked fans and shoehorning them into, say, Strawdog, they probably would be better off being gently eased across a trajectory of Chicago theatre. A cross-section. I suppose I was optimistically (and probably unrealistically) suggesting a “can’t we all get along?” ideal, but I still harbor a tiny hope that there’s got to be some way to bridge the gap. If we build it—they may come? And yeah a starting point is selling our own work. Your anecdote and admission about shortchanging your work in the storefront strata is part of this puzzle, too. In general, I guess Chicago’s gotta decide to sell Chicago theatre in ALL its forms and shapes and budgets sizes (meaning, not necessarily equating higher ticket prices with higher quality). Who “Chicago” is in this matter—well, that’s another story entirely…

Mark Jeffries

Of course, in some ways, it's an old story.

Back in the mid-to-late 80s, the enemy besides "Cats" was Michael Cullen, Sheila Heneghan and Howard Platt's long-running comedies and musicals like "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and "Driving Miss Daisy," which seemed to dominate the mid-size commercial houses (Apollo, Briar Street, Royal George, Ivanhoe) and led to grumbles about off-Loop theater being commercially despoiled. At least Cullen, Heneghan and Platt were Chicagoans and cast Chicagoans in their shows. Cullen liked to say that he considered "Pump Boys" a gateway to other theater, which some people felt meant to see "The Taffetas," "Forever Plaid" or "Pump Boys" again (in case he sees this, I know Cullen didn't produce the original Chicago runs of those first two shows).

And then CH&P had an unlucky streak, Cullen opened the Mercury but became more occupied with being a saloonkeeper and the enemy became Cameron Mackintosh, who fed Dulcie Gilmore at the Auditorium with the long-running "Les Mis" and "Phantom." The storefront people said that they were going to die, but they survived. In addition, there was no BIC combine--the Auditorium, the Shubert and the Chicago were separately programmed (the Blackstone had been sold to DePaul and became the Reskin).

And now we have BIC (which is less corporately fearsome with LiveNation out of the picture, but still has a virtual monopoly on downtown commercial theater). And they're seen by some as the enemy. Plus ca change...

Kerry Reid

Ed, I wonder if your co-workers would also find "Six Characters" challenging if it was produced with bells and whistles at the Goodman. Or do you think the fact that it was being done by a "name" operation at a marquee facility would give it an edge? (As an aside: I can't find anyone who remembers seeing a production of "Six Characters" in Chicago in the last several years. Maybe it's become one of those pieces more talked about and studied than produced? Anyway. Disgression.)

It seems to me that there are different kinds of accessibility issues that come up with storefront theater. It's cheaper than downtown, but it also entails going to neighborhoods and parking in places that not everyone is familiar with (under the viaduct for Viaduct, for example). Not all theaters are great for people with physical disabilities, compared to the downtown houses. Some don't have restaurants or coffeeshops close by. Some don't have good-size lobbies where people can stay out of the elements before the house opens. (Stage Left comes to mind here.)

I think most storefront operations have stepped up their game as far as climate control (again, looking at you, Viaduct -- got that A/C working yet?) and keeping their environment as clean and inviting as possible. And it also seems to me that many more smaller companies are keying into the idea of selling their patrons on an entire evening -- come see this show, get a drink at this great little pub down the street where you can meet some of the actors afterward -- which is definitely NOT something audiences can do with the "Jersey Boys." So maybe that's a selling point to exploit a bit more -- the work may not be immediately accessible, but maybe having the artists around to talk about it informally with audiences afterward helps bridge the gap.

But accessibility of material is also something that I think is problematic for a lot of theaters of all sizes. I've heard anecdotes about Steppenwolf patrons walking out at intermission from "The Pillowman" because they found it too dark. That certainly wasn't a show that suffered from storefront resources. So when we talk about "accessibility," I think it's helpful to try and pinpoint the different places where that issue may get in the way of someone taking a chance on a show.

Mark Jeffries

The Gift did an adaptation of "Six Characters" called "6" back in 2003 at the little space at Raven. Before that, the only professional production I can think of was Absolute way back in the 80s, when they were on Clark a few doors down from the original Stage Left.

Saturday night at the Chopin, I noticed that 5 people walked out during "The Strangerer." The lady who runs the T shirt counter told me that it's been common during this run, but she also noted that the people walking out Saturday night were laughing and smiling instead of scowling and wanting to lay blame. I don't know if they couldn't keep up with the Oobleck rambling or if they wanted more of an isn't-he-a-moron improv revue treatment of Bush than the more sinister treatment that "The Strangerer" gave them.

discount coach

everytime you hear the rolling thunder
You turn around before the lightening strikes
does it ever make you stop and wonder

Backstage On The Esplanade

I tend to agree with Megan - I am sure there is a wider 'potential' audience of theatre-goers that would normally not spend the money for this form of entertainment. If it takes a show like Wicked to introduce them to theatre, so be it.

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  • Kris Vire
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