Chicago Theatres

It’s snowing like a mother out there, so we’re stuck in the hotel for the better part of the morning. barring a visit from Languatron, I have some time to describe the events of the day.

I’m touring live theatres as a consultant for the City of Sandy, Utah, which is looking to build a theatre in their own downtown. When I worked full-time for Sandy, they sent me on a similar trip five years ago to Seattle and San Diego to review different models for a different kind of theatre. back then, the idea was to build a community space to accommodate local arts groups. Today, the idea is to build a large road house that would present large Broadway-style shows put on by touring companies. The thinking is that this kind of theatre would add more prestige than a smaller community house, and since the city would not be in the position of producing the programming, the theatre could actually pay for itself. 
Except that it won’t. 
The lesson we’re learning – or re-learning – is that theatre doesn’t pay for itself. If it did, someone somewhere would be doing it. Nobody is. All the theatres we’re seeing here operate with some kind of subsidy, and everyone on the trip seems to be surprised by that. 
The first theatre we visited was the Rosemont Theatre ton the outskirts of Chicago – a 4,300 seat behemoth that has accommodated a number of rock concerts along with theatre productions, including a week-long stint of the Tonight Show. It’s a big blue box that feels a lot like a mini version of the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake. They’re subsidized to the tune of a million bucks a year. The next theatre was right in downtown Chicago, the Harris Theatre, which was a whole lot funkier and more urban. they built the thing six stories underground, and they keep having to work to keep water from soaking in from Lake Michigan. It accommodates most of the local arts groups and also receives a significant subsidy. 
Neither one is a great model for what our city is trying to do. 
Whether or not you think art should receive public money is almost irrelevant. I’m really not trying to argue that one way or the other. I just wish that folks could recognize what is, not what should be. If you’re uncomfortable building a subsidized facility, then don’t. At the same time, recognize that reinventing the wheel and pretending the facility will pay for itself is utter foolishness. I think everyone’s figuring that out, and we’re trying to come to terms with what that means. 
We’re also eating great food. We went to Gibson’s Steakhouse for lunch and had Giordano’s stuffed pizza for dinner. I dig big cities. I would love to live in Chicago if I had a boatload of money. If I were a Dennys short order cook, it might be a lot harder to survive. 
My wife is mad, because tonight we’re all going to see Wicked at the Oriental Theatre, and she’s dying to see it, as are my daughters, who’ve memorized the score.  Look for a Wicked review in this space tomorrow. 
‘Til then, brethren, adieu. 
Fun Day in Chicago

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