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CHICAGO CUES : Windy City Wire

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by Jonathan Abarbanel

Plays, positions, and buildings open, close, break ground, or return. It's a busy time.

Strata Productions, a Chicago-based independent film company, has opened an office in Culver City in preparation for the Dec. 1 start date for Rebel to shoot in Cholame. The $1.9 million project is financed by Alpine Pictures, which will back additional Strata features in the $2-$3 million range. Strata will keep its Chicago-area office as well. Founder and president of Strata is Terry Green, whose extensive Chicago theatre background includes work at the Next, Stage Left, and Shakespeare Repertory theatres, among others. Green is the author of Rebel, and will also direct

Veteran actor and director B. J. Jones has been named artistic director of Northlight Theatre, succeeding Russell Vandenbroucke (once literary manager of L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum), who is stepping down after 11 years. Jones has a long history with Northlight and has acted or directed at the American Blues, Body Politic, Court, Goodman, National Jewish, Organic/Touchstone, Steppenwolf, and Wisdom Bridge theatres, plus additional regional venues. He also has an enormously successful on-camera and voiceover commercial career. Northlight is the Chicago area's fourth largest not-for-profit company, with more than 6,000 subscribers and an annual budget of $1.4 million. Jones was selected from among 70 applicants after a national search

The Goodman Theatre broke ground Apr. 28 for its $44 million new theatre complex, being built on the sites of the long-demolished Woods and Garrick theatres and the historic twin Harris and Selwyn theatres (the neo-classical facades of which will be preserved in the new structure). When open in September, 2000, the center will include two playhouses, office, shop and rehearsal space, plus a privately developed commercial wing with retail space and restaurants

The new Goodman complex will be just a block from the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre, being restored by Livent, Inc. for an Oct. 27 grand reopening with Ragtime. The $35 million project also has City of Chicago assistance to the tune of $15 million from the North Loop Redevelopment fund. Livent officials in Toronto say that the recent changes in executive leadership will not affect the Oriental restoration or the opening date of production. Indeed, just three days after Garth Drabinsky was replaced as chairman and CEO, Livent announced the appointment of Dulcie Gilmore as general manager of the Ford Center/Oriental. She takes over with a box office and marketing staff already in place, with Ragtime tickets having been on sale for several months. Gilmore formerly was CEO of the Auditorium Theatre for 11 years until her forced resignation last August, a victim of her own success and a nasty, still-unsettled court suit between two groups each claiming control of the Auditorium's assets. Due to Gilmore's upgrading of the Auditorium's facilities, and her policy of booking long-run musicals, those assets include a $4 million accrued cash surplus. Gilmore headed the Auditorium during the year-long run of Livent's Show Boat

Actor and director Richard Shavzin is stepping down as artistic director of Strawdog Theatre Company after five years, although he will remain an active member of the troupe's ensemble. The small but highly regarded non-Equity company has achieved a high profile under his leadership with such Shavzin-directed hits as Dark Rapture and A Mother, a Daughter, and a Gun. Shavzin also launched Strawdog's annual Crossing Boundaries series of one-act plays. In addition, Shavzin created the annual Chicago Unified Auditions, serves as secretary of the board of the League of Chicago Theatres, and chairs the CityArts Theatre Peer Review Panel for Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs. Strawdog has not yet chosen a successor.

Audition Cafƒ

The very auditions of which Shavzin is the father are taking place May 2-June 30 this year, consisting of four separate events. The auditions proper include the 12th annual Non-Traditional Auditions for actors of color, seniors, and persons with disabilities, and the 6th annual Non-Equity General Auditions. Up to 50 artistic and casting directors are expected to attend. Supporting the auditions will be a Non-Traditional workshop and a Non-Equity audition clinic offering tips and advice on everything from resumƒs and headshots to working with music and audition etiquette. Info on the auditions is available via the Audition Hotline, (312) 977-1669, or via Internet at www.nationaltalent.com

With the May 15 closing of Cafƒ Voltaire, Chicago lost one of its most vital alternative and developmental venues, the Voltaire Underground Performance Space. For a decade the slightly grungy, technically primitive, but cozy basement of the artsy cafƒ has nurtured hundreds of productions, theatre troupes, and solo artists attracted by the cheap rent and central location within the North Side theatre district. Active seven nights a week, the space typically offered two or three different performances each night. Among notable projects launched there--both of which transferred for extended runs elsewhere--were Barto Productions' award-winning Under Milkwood and Theatre BAM's national phenomenon, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Strenuous efforts--dubbed the ReVoltation Project--are underway to set up a bigger, better performance space elsewhere and continue the venue's useful work. Lisa Dowda, who booked and managed the space for the cafƒ's owner, is heading the effort, including a series of fundraisers

You've heard of the male and female versions of The Odd Couple? It's not the only play suitable for gender switching, apparently. Chase Park Theatre, one of several playhouses operated by the Chicago Park District, is offering "his" and "hers" versions of 12 Angry Men, the Reginald Rose script recently revived as a cable TV movie. Both directed by James M. Lynch, 12 Angry Men/Women opens May 13 and runs in rep

When Clifford Odets submitted I Got the Blues to Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, the two Group Theatre leaders told him it was unproduceable. Three years later, after several rewrites, they produced it as Awake and Sing! The Theatre School of DePaul University recently staged the world premiere of the 1932 original, directed by Peter Hobert from Odets' hand-written manuscript. The production ran in late April at the Victory Gardens Studio Theatre

A postcard from the inimitable Andrƒ DeShields saying he would be spending the summer "in chic Chicago" was our tip-off that he will be repeating his Tony-nominated role in Play On!, which opens June 29 at the Goodman Theatre. The show's conceiver and Broadway director Sheldon Epps and choreographer Mercedes Ellington will restage the musical version of Twelfth Night here. Actor, singer, writer, director, and self-taught dancer DeShields is a veteran of the original Organic Theater Company and of Victory Gardens Theatre. His rare return visits to Chicago are always most welcome. BS

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