Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Episode 20: Patsy Cline in Hell

Donna Perrino, aka Horror Show, has put out an audition notice for another production of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, the show she mangled and mismanaged last season. The funniest part is that she's holding auditions for the five-piece band as well, apparently not aware that theatres do not generally audition musicians.

Significantly, Gail Bliss who starred in the production at the Ivory last season, is not returning. That can hardly be a surprise considering the wild and bizarre abuse Bliss and the rest of the cast and staff suffered under Perrino's pudgy hand.

But now the folks who saw the show last year may well buy tickets to come see it again, thinking they're going to get the remarkable Gail Bliss in the title role. As talented as the talent pool is here in the Lou, is there anyone here who can sing and look like Patsy Cline? We're told that Cline's husband has seen Bliss do the show and told her he had never seen anyone capture Cline like she does. Odds are there's not another performer like that here in town. Cline had a very unique voice...

But all that aside, who in the St. Louis theatre community would work with Perrino after the gobs of press coverage about her abuses and insanity? Let's hope whoever considers auditioning will take a look at this humble compendium of horrors first... And if they do get hired, let's hope they demand to be paid in cash and in advance! Perrino has a nasty little habit of bouncing checks and refusing to pay people... Just ask the folks who did the Patsy Cline show last time...

The adventure continues.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Episode 19: Predator vs. Family Musical Theatre

Family Musical Theatre, a community theatre group, was the last of the local companies to agree to use the Ivory before all the bad press hit the public. Though they usually only produce one show each summer, Horror Show pressured them into agreeing to do three shows a year.

And she also lied to them through her crooked yellowed teeth. Surprise!

The Ivory has a very small stage for a legit theatre, big enough for a small concert or even a very small show, but not a big, old-fashioned musical. And that's what Family Musical Theatre does -- big, old-fashioned musicals with casts of 40-50 people, including kids and seniors. Unfortunately for them, the Ivory's dressing rooms can accommodate only about fifteen people comfortably. And there is no Green Room and there is very little room backstage. When the Family Musical Theatre folks first came to see the Ivory, a few well-placed ears overheard Horror Show lying to them about how many the dressing rooms could hold, how many the stage could hold, how much room there was backstage, how much she would help with promotion and PR, etc. And because the man who runs the company uses a wheelchair, he was unable to get up on stage or backstage to see that Horror Show was lying. Leave it to Horror Show to take advantage of someone's disability.

Although I'm told that before they moved in, they did read this blog...

Of course, while FMT ran "Anything Goes" in July, they ran into some of the same abuses everyone else has suffered through -- no one ever came to clean the bathrooms or restock them, no one cleaned the theatre, and they received virtually no support whatsoever. Horror Show loves telling people the Ivory is a "professional" theatre, yet how many professional theatres have no support staff and never get cleaned? How many professional theatres house only community theatre groups? Then again, how many professional theatres are run by compulsive liars? Hopefully only this one.

It's fun to check out the comically lean Ivory calendar of upcoming shows -- it includes "Anything Goes" in June even though it was actually in July (Horror Show gets dates wrong a lot); and a one-weekend FMT event, the Rodgers and Hammerstein revue, "A Grand Night for Singing" in September. They had had a two-weekend show in October scheduled called "Deeper Shade of Blues" produced by something called "The Producers Group," but it disappeared from the calendar (I guess the producers heard about Horror Show!). Then there are two performances of one of Horror Show's awful kiddie Halloween shows; and four performances in November of FMT doing a community theatre musical called "Something's Afoot." And that's it. For the whole season. If you click on the "Coming Attractions" link on their website homepage, it takes you to a blank page. How fitting.

So the Ivory will be open only 16 nights in the next several months. I wonder exactly how they'll make the $6,000 a month they say they need to break even... Does Horror Show have any plans at all on how to fill this theatre and with what...?

I'm sure there will be more stories to come. Until then...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Friday, June 13, 2008

Episode 18: Lock Up Your Kids!

Horror Show is now peddling a "Summer Theatre Forum." Of course, it's not really a forum (a public meeting to talk about public issues); it's actually cluelessly ill-conceived classes for kids. I guess she doesn't know what "forum" means... but all things considered, that's not really a surprise, is it?

This "forum" is under the auspices of the Ivory's Kids On Stage program, a name she half-stole from Robin Berger's Leaping Lizards On Stage, from back when Robin had agreed to work with her. This is a program Horror Show has been running ads for since last fall, even though it has never yet even existed -- mostly because she expected Robin to do all the work for her (which is a longstanding pattern with Horror Show) and Robin has run away from the Ivory along with everybody else.

At a recent performance at the Ivory, Horror Show distributed these amateurish-looking packets, just sheets of paper stapled in the corner, to promote her summer program. On the front page they say, "All KIDS ON STAGE students will learn theatre arts and technical stage crafts and will also be a part of the FINAL SHOW PRODUCTION on August 3rd -- MAKE A WISH -- at the IVORY Theatre. Register for 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks of strong and professional performing arts instruction at the new IVORY Theatre. It's an exciting way to meet new friends with similar interests, work with caring theatre professionals while experiencing theatre arts." Then in bold, italics, AND underline, it says "Don't miss this opportunity!!"

Holy cow! That sounds like a threat! And will someone tell her the term is "stagecraft," not "stage crafts." We're not talking about macaroni pictures of comedy and tragedy faces... or are we? Also, why is "IVORY" always in all-caps? Is it an acronym for something? Like maybe "I'm very obnoxious and a real yahoo"...?

The best part of the packet is A Brief Synopsis of a "Hands-On" Performance Program (also bolded and underlined, though not italicized this time). When you read this, you'll swear I'm making it up because much of it doesn't make any sense, but this is really what she wrote. Notice how much she loves using meaningless quotation marks. Here it is, exactly as it is in the packet, clumsy punctuation and all:

KIDS ON STAGE combines the artistic skills of acting, music and dance in a theatrical environment in order to assist and provide young people with a more defined approach to:
-- Positive Behavioral Understanding;
-- Good Decision-Making Skills;
-- Situation Analysis;
-- Comprehension and Appreciation for the Arts.
-- Character Building and Self-Esteem

In today's society -- community violence, peer regard, television/movie products, computer accessibility, divided homes and educational difficulties have led our youth into great confusion concerning their life path and the choices they need to make in order for it to develop into a productive existence. It has become increasingly more difficult for young people to advance in positive directions due to their lack of understating and analysis of situations and people in their community and what they "perceive" to be their surroundings. Young people start out with the same dreams, hopes, and aspirations as Mozart, Mick Jagger, Kennedy, Whitney Houston, Stan Musial and Ted Drewes; however, their path is much more confusing today and it demands more decision-making skills.

KIDS ON STAGE is a theatrical program that takes all theatrical art forms such as acting, music, dance, costuming, lighting, set design, and group management and utilizes them for the benefit of providing a fun and accessible learning product and experience for youth. This theatrically artistic vehicle is able to mirror a set of circumstances that are pertinent yet detached from the student, introduce conflict and complete the process with positive resolution thereby introducing the "actors/students" to alternative ideas, behaviors and patterns that will lead them to positive life-long productivity and happiness -- as well as be great fun.

Theatre skills and the artistic use of music can successfully combine thereby introducing the support platform of "audible" emotional control, inspiration and association. For example: It may be disturbing to combine a picture of a delicate flower with a drum solo -- the flower is usually associated with "beauty" as well as supported emotionally with the lush sounds of strings, piano and harp. These same types of pre-conceived, learned associations are prevalent in daily life. Learned concepts are found within family groups, educational classroom settings, and basic society structures. They are around us daily and have increased dramatically with the complexity of our society -- yet the definitions and positive decision making skills have become cloudy and young people are lacking in their understandings.

KIDS ON STAGE program takes a positive step toward combining theatre arts and the youth of today and allows the young people to learn to make mistakes as well as have experience successes without the dangers of permanent punishment or failure. By utilizing the strength of "Make-Believe", that is common to all young people, we can shape understandings, encourage their desire for achievement and assist them with their daily living units such as the family and school to make a continued positive impression that is laced with skills that will carry them throughout their lives.

Please peruse the following brief structure for the KIDS ON STAGE Workshops. We feel that all young people enrolled in the program will improve their concentration and focus skills as they continue to draw from their imaginations. The students will also understand that all "projects" are formed through the collective efforts of many people with many different types of skills. The IVORY Theatre is an excellent example for the students in order to expose them to the power of lighting, sound, direction, costuming, set design, music and backstage help. All work as a fine tuned engine -- one is never more important than the other.

Theatre is team attitude, team efforts, team support, and team achievement. Thank you.
I don't know what "permanent punishment" is, but it sounds like something you could find on Cinemax late at night. Also, I think young people can "learn to make mistakes" without anybody's help. In fact, that's always been a specialty of young people, hasn't it...?

Horror Show is offering six different classes, all Monday-Friday for four weeks, which she'll never be able to fill. The class descriptions are so funny and illiterate that I have to quote them too. She's heard a lot of theatre terms but doesn't exactly know what they mean or how to use them... Notice the meaningless use of quotes again in the last description...
Acting for the Stage, ages 7-10. Learn to create characters in a story, become familiar with staging and acting directions and play a role in the... (Builds character and self-esteem.) Final Performance. (Snacks included.)

Acting for the Stage, ages 11-14. Learn to create characters in a story, become familiar with stage phrases and directions and play a role in the... Final Performance. (Snacks included.)

Acting for the Stage, ages 15-17. Character analysis, scene blocking, presentation and projection, performance and role understanding -- (Great college prep course.) Final Performance

Technical Theatre, ages 12-17. Assist with designing professional lighting and sound systems for final performance project with professional designers. (Students learn that all "roles" are valuable in all endeavors.)

Music/Vocals, ages 9-16. Professional music instruction -- reading and voice. Be a part of the IVORY's Children Chorus! (Great fun!)

Contemporary Dance, ages 9-16. Special workshop studying "dance" from 1700s to date. It incorporates the music, dress, styles and "reasons" for movement in human society. (This is really educational and great fun.)
Did you know that the 1700s were "contemporary"? I did not. And why are "dance" and "reasons" in quotes? Did someone say those, or is she being sarcastic? Also, me personally, I think it sucks that the older kids don't get snacks. If I was 16, I'd be pissed!

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Episode 17: The People Respond

April 21, 2008

Poison Ivory

Good theater, bad landlord: In Aimee Levitt's article about the Ivory Theatre, "Stage Fright," theater manager Donna Perrino tries desperately to make the case that all the various individuals and companies who have suffered through problems at the Ivory are just overreacting or lying. In other words, it's everyone else's fault but hers. But the real shocker came at the end of the article, when Donna Perrino said, "Honey, it's community theater." No, honey, it's not. In fact, all the companies that have suffered through the abuses at the Ivory have been professional companies, including New Line Theatre and the NonProphet Theater Company. Perrino knows this, but perhaps she thinks her condescending dismissal of St. Louis theater artists makes her look better in this whole sad mess.

For the record, New Line is now in its seventeenth season of professional, alternative theater, and has been treated with enormous respect and professionalism by the press, funders and previous landlords — everyone, in fact, except the folks at the Ivory.

Scott Miller, artistic director, New Line Theatre

Put a gag on her: WOW! I can't believe Donna Perrino still has a job. And I can't believe that Mike Allen would be backing this horse. It sounds like much of what she says is lies. I have seen shows by both New Line and NonProphet, both professional companies, not "community theater," as she falsely states. And it makes me sad that this woman is allowed to get away with treating these companies with such disrespect and disregard. St. Louis has a great theater community filled with talented people, but it is small, and pissing people off who are fairly influential is a bad PR move by Peter Rothschild, Allen and Perrino. Maybe they should gag this Perrino lady. She obviously shouldn't be allowed to talk to the press. Pity. It could have been a great space and a great addition to Carondelet.

Appalled, via the Internet

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Episode 16: Horror Show Fights Back!

From today's Riverfront Times -- as you might guess if you've read this whole chronicle, much of what Donna Perrino (aka "Horror Show") and Mike Allen (aka "The Lackey Owner") say below is largely or entirely untrue. And contrary to Horror Show's lies, the NonProphets and New Line are both professional theatre companies, not community theatres as she pretends. And yes, she knows they're not community theatres. That's just another lie among thousands...

The Riverfront Times
May 7, 2008

Stage Fright:
The Ivory is turning into a horror show
for some St. Louis theater companies
By Aimee Levitt

Marble Stage Theatre's artistic director, Greg Matzker, recently learned that after lengthy discussions -- and what he considered a verbal agreement with the Ivory Theatre's managing director Donna Perrino -- his group would not be permitted to stage its upcoming production of Bye Bye Birdie at the Ivory after all.

Matzker says he's aware of problems other local theater groups have had with the Ivory. Both New Line Theatre and the NonProphet Theater Company left the Ivory after various disagreements with Perrino and Red Brick Management, the company that owns the building.

"Repairs needed to be done with the relationship between the theater community and the community in general with the Ivory," Matzker says. For the past month, he adds, he talked often with Perrino about arranging a series of theatrical programs at the Ivory, including a fairy-tale theater for small children and a performance of The Sound of Music to honor the Ivory's previous incarnation as St. Boniface Catholic Church.

Matzker says Perrino asked him if he'd be interested in choreographing and directing an all-Actors' Equity production of The Fantasticks. But Perrino claims otherwise. "I don't know the kid," she counters. "I met with him twice to talk about Bye Bye Birdie. He started tap-dancing on the stage and I took him to lunch. I had to meet with him and talk with him and find out where he was coming from. But I can't commit to anything until I talk with my partners [Red Brick's Pete Rothschild and Mike Allen]."

She couldn't lease the theater to Marble Stage, says Perrino, because "there were conflicts with scheduling." Marble Stage wanted exclusive rights to the Ivory during Bye Bye Birdie's weeklong run, while Perrino preferred to allow two or three groups to share the space in order to maximize profits.

The news came as a shock to Matzker. He and Marble Stage had already invested several thousand dollars into Bye Bye Birdie, part of which they raised by selling fresh eggs from door to door.

"Now I have to go back to the group and say, 'We've been dropped like a hot potato, guys,'" Matzker says. "Now we're without a place to do our show. I'm scared to death now that we may have to cancel the season. I'm literally fighting back tears right now."

Like many local theater companies, Marble Stage has no permanent home. For the past few years, it had staged shows at Bayless High School in south county, the best facility it could afford. But this summer Bayless will be under construction, so the Ivory seemed an ideal solution.

Open since last summer, the Ivory, located in the Carondelet neighborhood, is the product of an $800,000 renovation of St. Boniface. Red Brick had purchased the church from the archdiocese, and the theater was meant to be, in Perrino's words, "a
functional professional theater. We plan to upgrade as we go."

Though the Ivory has mostly housed community productions, Perrino hopes to attract touring professional companies. Its first Equity show, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, opened last winter to positive notices and minuscule audiences. Still, Perrino considers the show a success. "Patsy Cline brought us up to ground zero," she says.

Perrino's relationships with the local groups were less successful. "We let New Line pay the same rent at the Ivory they paid at the ArtLoft [their previous home]," Perrino explains. "I personally put up the blackout drapes and paid for things they said they had to have. We did so many things to make them comfortable. But kindness can be mistaken for weakness. Maybe that's what happened."

New Line, naturally, tells a different story. "The Ivory had no one involved in any aspect who understood theater," says Scott Miller, New Line's artistic director and one of the Ivory's most vocal critics. In Miller's opinion, the theater itself was inadequate. The doors were too narrow, he complains, so the crew had to build sets directly onstage. Plus, he says, the raised electrical outlet covers on the stage made choreography nearly impossible.

When New Line took possession of the Ivory the day after Patsy Cline closed, the company found a theater full of leftover sets, props and trash. Red Brick's Allen says management came in the following day to clean up.

NonProphet also took over a messy theater, but its biggest problem with the Ivory concerned rent. NonProphet's managing director, Tyson Blanquart, claims that he had a verbal agreement with Perrino that another group could use the theater on days when NonProphet wasn't there. In exchange, NonProphet would receive a reduction on its rent.

Instead, the NonProphet actors and crew returned to a trashed theater. The set had been destroyed and the public spaces, including the lobby and the bathrooms, were full of garbage. "After the dust settled and we received our bill for rent," Blanquart writes in an e-mail, "we noticed that management never reduced the rent for us the way they said they would."

Untrue, counters Perrino. "NonProphet didn't pay their bill. It got blown up out of proportion."

After New Line and NonProphet left the Ivory and word spread about their mishaps, Perrino became a persona non grata in St. Louis theater circles. Members of other groups, including Matzker, posted complaints on New Line's listserv, and an anonymous blogger composed a lengthy chronicle of Perrino's misdeeds on a Web site called the Ivory Theatre Horror Show.

Perrino has worked in theater for twenty years and says she's never experienced anything like this. "They don't treat it as a business," she says of Marble Stage and other local groups. "They take it so personally. There's nothing personal. They took every allegation to the max."

She sighs. "Honey, it's community theater. That's what I've learned."

What a crazy bitch!

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Friday, April 25, 2008

Episode 15: Fresh Victims

Posted to the St. Louis Theatre Discussion Group today:

Well I must say that I am on board with so many of you now. Marble Stage has officially been burned by the Ivory as well. We had been under negotiation for over a month now to use the Theatre at the end of July. We had a verbal agreement for the last week of July for the space. They were so hopeful and so willing to get my company in there. They spent weeks pumping me for information on how to repair the relationships with the theatre companies and the surrounding community. Donna Perinno was so happy to talk to me and was ready to start so many projects that Marble Stage and the Ivory would work on together.

Well we were just dropped like a hot potato with no explanation other than "we don't want to rent to you." I can't help but wonder if that was all she was doing was pumping me for info and help to get lines of programs set up so she could take credit for them herself. We had talked about a Youth Program, Cabaret Shows, I was working on getting a World Premiere of a new musical in there, a Fairy Tail Theatre. All things that I had talked with Donna in depth on how to start and how to run. I will be very interested to see if these programs now go into effect.

Shame on Donna and the Ivory. The Ivory is a horrible blemish on this wonderful community.

I know that Scott [Miller of New Line Theatre] and I almost never see eye to eye, but in this case I have to side with him and the other theatre companies that the Ivory/Rothschild is severely hurting. So needless to say, as of today we are without a home for our summer production of Bye Bye Birdie. I would do anything at this point to find a location. I admit I am scared. Marble Stage has worked so very hard for everything we have. And the people who do shows with us are some of the most hard working people I have ever worked with, community or professional. It's not that we don't have money to rent a space, it is simply that either all the spaces are filled or they simply will not rent them out. If anyone out there thinks they could help recommend a space, please email me off the list.

Greg Matzker
Marble Stage Theatre
Artistic Director

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Episode 14: More Press

April 16, 2008

Many St. Louis theater companies are homeless
By Aimee Levitt

In the good old days, if Hollywood musicals are to be believed, all an aspiring impresario needed to stage a successful show was an abandoned barn and a dream. Of course, St. Louis is strangely bereft of abandoned barns, which means managers of small theater companies have to make do with churches, schools and community centers.

The Ivory Theatre is nicer than a barn and was, indeed, intended to be one of the nicest small theaters in the city. For 145 years, it was St. Boniface Catholic Church in Carondelet. Then the archdiocese sold it to Red Brick Management, which announced last summer that it planned to spend $800,000 to convert the structure into a state-of-the-art theater. For local theater companies strapped for performance space, it seemed like a godsend.

Even before construction was completed, three avant-garde groups — New Line, NonProphet and Hydeware — had signed leases on the Ivory. Six months later, only Hydeware remains.

"It really sounded terrific," says New Line's artistic director Scott Miller. Over its seventeen seasons, New Line has had six homes, most recently the ArtLoft Theatre on Washington Avenue. "We do musicals — only musicals," Miller stresses. "We need more space for a band and a bigger cast, and we need a fairly good-sized house, 150 seats, to make our budget balance. Our shows have adult content, so we can't use the Catholic schools or the secular schools."

New Line hoped that the large, secular (and student-free) Ivory would solve its perpetual homeless problem, but the arrangement turned sour almost from the moment the company moved in last August to begin rehearsals for its fall show, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll.

"We didn't have a good relationship with New Line from the beginning," admits Mike Allen, co-owner, along with Pete Rothschild, of Red Brick. "The construction was supposed to take ten or eleven weeks, but it ran a little later, and New Line had to push their rehearsals back. After that, it was one thing after another, in my view, all small things. The more we did, the more New Line found to complain about."

To Miller, though, the problems weren't just "small things."

"They installed outlet covers on the stage that stuck up so we couldn't do choreography," he complains. "And the outlets were on the front half of the stage. We needed them in the back where the band would be." Also, the doors to the stage were too narrow, so the crew had to build sets directly onstage. The counters in the dressing rooms were at bar height instead of table height, so actors were forced to stand while they attended to their hair and makeup. Worst of all, the Ivory had only one backstage toilet, which had to accommodate the entire cast and band during intermission.

"It's not like they said, 'Let's make this difficult,'" Miller says. "It's just that there was no one involved in any aspect who understood theater."

If Red Brick's lack of understanding of the requirements of a functioning theater irritated New Line, Miller's lack of understanding of construction equally irritated Allen. "We built the theater in an old church with state and federal historical tax credits," Allen explains. "The rules were that we couldn't change the way the building looks. We had to build within the confines of the church space. Scott Miller admitted he had never been involved in building anything. We built what we thought was appropriate. Scott saw the plans. He never complained until he got in there."

The tensions between New Line and Red Brick during Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll might have been attributed to opening-night jitters, but they only escalated during New Line's second show at the Ivory, Assassins.

When the company prepared to move in for rehearsals in February, it discovered that the theater was full of sets and props from the previous show, the Ivory-produced A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, which had closed the night before. Allen says the Ivory management removed the Patsy Cline material the following day.

The NonProphet Theater Company, which mounted two plays at the Ivory, confronted similar obstacles. They, too, took possession of a messy theater and had to spend rehearsal time cleaning. The Ivory's management conducted tours during a dress rehearsal that were so loud, claims Tyson Blanquart, NonProphet's managing director, the actors had to stop performing.

During the week between performances of NonProphet's second show, second, Blanquart says, NonProphet agreed to allow another group to use the theater, provided it left the second set undisturbed. In return, Red Brick would reduce the rent. "When we came back to the theater," Blanquart writes in an e-mail, "we were met with a truly disturbing sight: Our set — which was screwed into the floor — had been moved. Not only was it moved, but it was broken. There was broken glass on the stage and in the carpet in the house. There was trash literally all over the theater."

Blanquart says the company also never received its rent reduction. "We attempted to air concerns with the owners," he writes, "but the owners of the property refused to rebuke management for any of the problems that we'd had."

The Ivory's managing director, Donna Perrino, could not be reached for comment.

Hydeware, the third company to rent out the Ivory, completed its first production there two weeks ago and will open its second, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, next weekend. Ember Hyde, the director, declined to comment about the state of the theater. Instead, she writes in a recent e-mail: "I don't think it would be fair to Hydeware, the Ivory, or any potential audience members, to have any preconceived notions about any aspect of the space or possibly our performances."

The Ivory has not been especially hospitable to audiences, either. The theater's stadium-style seating keeps viewers suspended over the stage and seems more suited to a concert than a play, says Riverfront Times theater critic Dennis Brown. "Both at second and Assassins, I felt removed from the production."

In the end, both New Line and NonProphet have decided to pick up stakes and go elsewhere. "We agreed it was in their best interests for them to move out," says Allen. NonProphet has now returned to its previous home, the Tin Ceiling. New Line will stage its next show, High Fidelity, at Washington University's A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in June, but will be homeless again come fall.

This is not the first time a St. Louis theater has disappointed its tenants. In 2005 the Soulard Theatre lost all five of its resident companies. But the theater did not remain dark for long; other groups took over the space.

"The great problem in this town is performance space," Brown says. "No question about it. All these vagabond companies are looking for a home."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Episode 13: The Press

New Line Theatre sent out a press release after they escaped the Ivory Theatre, announcing that their summer show, High Fidelity, would no longer be presented at the Ivory. High Fidelity would be at Washington University's blackbox theatre. And that announcement made the press want to know What Happened at the Ivory?

Judith Newmark at the Post Dispatch was the first to write an article. Unfortunately, several of the players involved couldn't or wouldn't tell her the whole story of what happened, although several told her a lot "off the record," so though she couldn't print those details, she understood what was going on. Here's the article:

Sunday, Apr. 06 2008

Two theater troupes leave Ivory Theatre
By Judith Newmark

New Line Theatre has left the house.

The NonProphet Theatre Company split, too.

Both long-lived St. Louis troupes say things didn't work out at the Ivory Theatre, developer Pete Rothschild's new house in Carondelet, the way that they hoped or expected.

Landlord-tenant disagreements led both New Line and the NonProphets to make an exit.

At the same time, however, other troupes plan to perform at the Ivory, and Rothschild's company, Red Brick Management, is making plans to expand the theater's offerings."We are setting up arrangements to do more things like 'A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline'" said Mike Allen, Rothschild's partner. "(Elvis impersonator) Steve Davis is going to do shows here, and we are developing a new property with him based on Buddy Holly."We've also started discussions to bring back ('A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline' star) Gail Bliss. We'd like to do more shows like that, properties that work in a smaller venue."I don't think we'll have a problem getting people to come."

Last summer, it was a different story. Scott Miller, New Line's founder and artistic director, felt he had found a real home for his troupe, which specializes in edgy musical theater. New Line was to be the resident company at the Ivory, an elegantly refurbished former church at 7620 Michigan Avenue.

But New Line staged only two shows there: "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll," a revue that sparked a minor dust-up with the St. Louis Archdiocese, and "Assassins," a biting political satire by Stephen Sondheim.

Although both productions fared well, Miller says that backstage problems never let up."I think two things went wrong," Miller said. "First, there weren't any theater people involved in the planning and creation of the space. And we expected the theater to be run in a more conventional, professional way."

In particular, he said, backstage restroom facilities were inadequate and New Line's property, including musical instruments and stage props, was not protected "in the way that we were used to."

New Line's summer production of "High Fidelity," a musical based on Nick Hornby's witty romantic novel, will play at Washington University's Hotchner Theatre instead of the Ivory. Because of the move, the show will open June 12, a little later than planned.

The NonProphets have moved on, too. Its next production, a bill of one-acts followed by the troupe's signature sketch-comedy show, will open this week at the tiny Tin Ceiling instead of the Ivory. Its holiday production, "Second," played at the Ivory.Robert Mitchell, the NonProphets' founder and artistic director, says, "The future is unclear, but (the Ivory) is a great space. Maybe down the line, we'll work there again."

But the Ivory isn't going dark. This weekend, Hydeware Theatre was scheduled to perform "The Boycott," a one-woman tour show about global warming. Its production of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" by Bertolt Brecht opens April 25.Ember Hyde, Hydeware's executive director, said that, so far, she and her colleagues have no opinion on how the Ivory is run. "We haven't been there yet," she said. "We'll see what it's like."

Other troupes, such the Unity Theatre Ensemble, also plan to perform at the Ivory.Although the theater belongs to a portfolio of properties that Rothschild recently put up for sale at $95 million, Red Brick has a long-term lease on the theater. "We will continue to run it," Allen said.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Episode 12: Let 'Em Eat Cake

By the end of February, the owners of the slowly imploding Ivory Theatre had heard dozens of horror stories from the NonProphets, from New Line, and from the Patsy Cline people, as well as from others who will remain unnamed for now. Stories about countless lies both big and little, many bounced checks, violated contracts, broken promises, tantrums, and in general, behavior that was unprofessional, dishonest, and in many cases, childish.

Some had realized over time that Horror Show's behavior was literally that of a child -- refusing to take responsibility for her actions, lying when she thought she might be in trouble, a lack of understanding of the consequences of her actions, and mood swings that would make Tarzan dizzy. Everyone really thought the overwhelming evidence now accumulated and documented would convince the owners that Horror Show just had to go.

Everyone was wrong.

The Big Owner wrote a long letter to New Line, which said in part:

Many, many of the allegations that have been raised about [Horror Show] that have specific examples have turned out to be flatly untrue, were taken out of context, were issues about which [Horror Show] had no control and actually fell on [The Lackey Owner] or me or are things that, had I known about them in advance, I would have supported or at least not been concerned about.

That was it. Game Over. The theatre companies lost. Everyone was lying except Horror Show.

But there was more insanity on the horizon. The last rehearsal before New Line's Tech Week turned out to be the biggest surprise yet. The Lackey Owner scheduled a Democratic Caucus in the lobby during New Line's rehearsal. Yes, you read that right. Without telling New Line, they invited about 40 people into the theatre during a rehearsal.

Over the course of the evening, the New Line people heard them talking, yelling, laughing. And for about 20 minutes, New Line had to endure two children screaming continuously as they ran around the lobby. During the night, about a dozen of the Democrats drifted in and out of the theatre itself because they "wanted to watch." And when they left they set off the alarm and disappeared, so New Line had to stop their show to disarm the alarm. When New Line complained the next day, the owners told them that not only had they told New Line this would be happening, but that New Line had actually approved it. A big, surrealistic lie.

At one point late in New Line's run, someone came in during the day on a Saturday and sabotaged the two refrigerators behind the concession stand -- turning one off and turning the other to "freeze." So that when New Line arrived, half of the concession drinks were warm and half were frozen. Some soda cans had swelled up and exploded covering everything in frozen soda.

New Line started counting down the days to their escape. On closing night, March 29, the New Line people took everything of theirs out of the theatre, did the cleanest, most thorough strike they had ever done (doing their best to take the high road), and left the Ivory forever.

By this time, the NonProphets board had already decided they would never return. Others who were supposed to be doing individual shows there also had walked away. The Hydeware people had decided they would do their scheduled production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Ivory, but would not return after that. The Ivory was slowly emptying...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Episode 11: What a Dump!

New Line moved back into the Ivory Theatre in mid-February 2008 for their spring show... to the worse mess they had ever seen -- food left sitting around, trash pretty much everywhere, lots of stuff left behind from the Patsy Cline show. No trash cans have been emptied and some of them were literally overflowing with food, liquor bottles, etc. The exact same thing had happened to the NonProphets in the fall.

Here's a list of some of what they found and reported to the owners and the other resident companies:

1. The thermostat in the house was set at 79 degrees and was locked somehow so that they couldn't change the temperature -- it was so hot in there that they had to leave the back door open while they were working, to keep the room at a reasonable temperature.

2. The bathroom backstage was totally disgusting. There was some black stuff in the sink that they couldn't clean off. The tub was really gross. There was a disgusting trash can in there with some nasty unidentified stuff still in it.

3. The lobby bathrooms were also gross, and one toilet in each restroom was left unflushed, one full of shit and toilet paper, the other full of urine. There was urine and toilet paper on the floor, the sinks had not been cleaned, and all the restroom supplies were run out and not restocked.

4. The stage was not painted back to neutral black as everyone had agreed, as New Line had been promised, and as is standard, and tape was left on the stage marking out the Patsy Cline set.

5. A table was left backstage with a pile of coat hangers, a plate with food on it, used glasses, and trash underneath it.

6. No trash was emptied anywhere in the building. Trash was left on the floor in the dressing rooms, the backstage hallways, everywhere. And there were used water bottles absolutely everywhere, all over backstage, onstage, in the house, and in the lobby. Almost every trash can in the building was literally overflowing onto the floor.

7. There were big piles of curtains, chains, lighting instruments, screws, an ash tray, tinsel, used soda cans, baggies, sandpaper, food wrappers, and lots of other stuff left on the stage. Not only did they not paint the stage back to neutral, but no one even swept the stage or picked up their trash.

8. A large trash can in the lobby was literally overflowing with bottles, food, etc., and empty beer bottles were left in the concession stand sink. Perfect for bugs and mice.

9. There were cookie crumbs and other food crumbs on the carpeting in various places in the house, along with empty cups, bottles, soda cans, etc. Apparently, no one even looked at the house, much less cleaned it.

10. There were also many stains on the carpeting now in various places, in the house, hallways, and lobby. The theatre was only five months old at that point and was already looking like a crack house.

11. The edging on the front of the stage had been removed in some places, leaving bare wood. One piece of the edging was there and they could reattach it -- but the other edging was missing.

12. The pipe and drape that used to mask the rear entrance of the stage was gone.

13. An ironing board was left backstage, piled with stuff, including an open bag of cookies.

14. The sound board and lots of equipment was left in the balcony. It would be left there throughout New Line's entire four-week run. Other equipment was also left backstage.

15. All the chairs from the lobby had been moved into the cross aisle in the middle of the house (they found out later that this was because Horror Show had over-sold the last few performances of Patsy Cline and had to add chairs wherever she could, violating fire codes in the process).

16. There were big, long curtain tracks laying in the house aisle, and a juke box standing in one hallway.

17. About a quarter of the numbers on the audience seats were gone. Because Horror Show tried to do everyting on the cheap, she had bought cheap stickers for the seat numbers instead of permanent numbering. So these stickers would come off on patron's clothing, leaving seats un-numbered or in some cases mis-numbered because a two-digit seat number became a one-digit seat number. Several rows had a seat 1 on both ends... This would not get fixed until the day New Line opened.

18. They found out a few days after moving in that Horror Show and Friends had also run out the charge on the Genie Lift, which is necessary to reach the lighting grid, and they had not plugged it back in to recharge it. So New Line's lighting designer arrived Wednesday afternoon but could not do his work on the lighting grid because the last people to use the Genie Lift didn't bother to prepare it for the next users.

New Line began to look seriously for a new home, knowing this had to be their last show in the Ivory, and the tragedy of this whole thing really hit them. What a shame that a brand new theatre could be in this condition so soon after opening...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Episode 10: The Sting

In January 2008, the New Line Board of Directors had a meeting with the Ivory Theatre's two owners -- both commercial real estate developers. I heard from one of the people in that meeting about what happened:

The New Line people told the owners that they just could not stay in the theatre if Horror Show remained as theatre manager. They had been lied to, screamed at, threatened, manipulated, conned, and generally treated like crap. At first, the owners tried to convince them to give Horror Show "one more chance," but New Line reminded them that they had been giving her "one more chance" repeatedly for more than a year, and things were getting worse, not better.

Finally, the more powerful and richer of the two owners -- we'll call him the Big Owner -- told New Line that if it was really that bad for them, he would agree that he would be their direct contact from then on, that they would never have to talk to Horror Show again, that she would not be allowed in the theatre during New Line's time there. He told New Line to call him with any problems or concerns, to call him if they needed anything at all. He gave them his home phone number, his wife's email address, his wife's work number, and his secretary's extension number. He even told them that if they called and he was in a meeting, they should ask his secretary to interrupt that meeting. The New Line people told him that last bit would not be necessary.

At the end of the meeting, the two owners stood up shook hands with each board member, looked each of them in the eye, and promised that everything would be different now, and that Horror Show would never bother them again. Then they all went across the street and had a drink together. The New Line people felt pretty good.

Of course none of them knew yet that Horror Show had already taken bolt cutters and broken into New Line's musical equipment back in the theatre. That little gem had not been discovered. And of course none of them knew yet that the owners would go back on their word barely two months later and back out of their pledge.

Then a couple months later, the NonProphets had a similar meeting with the two owners. The difference was that the NonProphets already knew by this time that the owners were not to be trusted. The Big Owner started by telling them what a huge success the Patsy Cline show had been (which they already knew was a lie), and what a terrific theatre manager Horror Show had turned out to be (despite the lies, bounced checks, temper tantrums, and general incompetence).

The meeting went basically like the earlier one with one exception -- the NonProphets called the Big Owner on each of his lies, telling him that they knew these things weren't true. That seemed to throw him momentarily but not for long. Finally, the Big Owner excused himself to go to another meeting, and then the other owner -- we'll call him the Lackey Owner -- presented the NonProphets with an invoice.

If you've read this whole blog from the beginning, you already know that the NonProphets had been promised a big rent reduction for their fall show because of the damage done to their set and props by Horror Show. Since then, they had repeatedly asked the owners and Horror Show to tell them how much they actually owed in rent. No one ever gave them an answer.

But now that the Big Owner had escaped their meeting, the Lackey Owner gave them this invoice. First of all, the NonProphets had only been in the theatre for four weeks, but they were being charged for six weeks. Second, there was no discount as had been promised over and over. Third, and most bizarre, there was almost $1,000 in "late fees" on the invoice. They realized they had to get a lawyer.

Back in the New Line camp, the New Line people had moved in for their spring show to find the most disgusting, filthy theatre they had ever walked into. When they emailed the Big Owner with a long list of the terrible conditions they had found in the theatre, he wrote back,
From this point on I would appreciate it if you can deal with [Horror Show] on minor issues like this. As earth shaking as it might seem to you, it’s not something I am able to deal with and that’s why we have a theater manager. I've gotten the point ad nauseum that you don’t think [Horror Show] is a professional theatre manager and I could care less what you think about her. She is, and will continue to be, the theatre manager. As I've told you in the last three emails if you don’t like it, then get out. As you can probably tell your latest whine is the cherry on the top of our relationship. Do not darken my email again.

Really? "Darken my email"...??? Yes, that's what he wrote. Almost overnight, he had gone from a friendly puppy to Bill O'Reilly. What had happened to the promises and handshakes?

Pretty much everyone was figuring out they had to get the hell out of there, and fast!

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Episode 9: Murdering Patsy Cline, Part 2

The Patsy Cline story gets even worse. Here are a few more tidbits from their time in the Ivory Theatre…

During the first two weeks of the run of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Horror Show bounced quite a number of checks to the actors, musicians, tech personnel, and staff. The Patsy Cline people had to insist that they be paid in cashier's check or cash from that point on (and so Horror Show would sometimes deliver big piles of cash to the actors' hotel). Some of the staff demanded to be paid in cash as well. Apparently, Horror Show had bounced checks to venders before this, which made it difficult to get the technical equipment they needed for the show. This problem forced them to delay opening night -- which Horror Show blamed on the actors.

Horror Show couldn't find the production staff she needed until very late because stories about her abuse and tantrums had already been circulating among the theatre community. She actually hired a stage manager through the drive-in window at Starbucks, without seeing a resume or anything. But the stage manager insisted that Horror Show meet with her, talk to her, and look at her resume before being hired.

Horror Show asked production staff to sign contracts with false dates and other information on it. Though the actors and stage manager were all members of Equity, the actor and stage manager union, Horror Show did not note this in the program, as she is required to by the Equity contracts. She told Equity they would reprint the programs later in the run, but never did. She also sold program ads that she never put in the program. (Isn't that called fraud?)

She was habitually late to production staff meetings, sometimes as much as several hours, with no explanation or apology.

One night, Horror Show picked a fight with the stage manager and, in front of cast, musicians, and staff, she yelled, "I can take a big shit on stage if I want to! I am the producer and can do whatever I want!" Later, Horror Show would file a formal complaint with Equity against the stage manager. But the Patsy Cline people would also contact Equity to tell them what a great job the stage manager had actually done.

Horror Show had bought a very old lighting board to save money when the Ivory opened, and it wasn't adequate for the Patsy Cline light plot. So Horror Show went to Cine Services to buy a new board. Then the checks to the artists started bouncing. So she called back Cine Services and told them that she thought she was only renting the board, not buying it. Which they knew was a lie.

After the show finally got a couple reviews late in the run and attendance improved, Horror Show double-sold seats and over-sold the house, selling seats that did not exist. She sold wheelchair seating to non-disabled patrons and sold patrons with wheelchairs regular seats. And because the numbers on the audience seats were very flimsy stickers (that often came off on people's clothing), many of the seats were not numbered after a while. This led to multiple fights among patrons over where they were sitting during the last week of the run. And of course, Horror Show never held back "house seats" for emergencies, the way every other theatre does.

Everyone heard later that the staff at Metrotix hated Horror Show as much as the theatre companies did. All through the run of Patsy Cline, Horror Show would call Metrotix and she would scream at them that she wanted her money, conveniently forgetting that they had told her it takes a week for Metrotix to process settlement checks. Yet it would happen a day later all over again, more yelling, more threats. It was kind of like Horror Show had no short term memory. Like an Adam Sandler movie. Except the real reason was that Horror Show is a crazy bitch.

Almost impossible to believe, isn't it? But there's more...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Episode 8: Murdering Patsy Cline, Part 1

Horror Show and Her Developers decided they wanted to produce their own show at the Ivory Theatre.

Of course Horror Show knows literally nothing about theatre, less than my dog really, so she had to ask some actual theatre people what shows would be appropriate for the Ivory. Too bad they hadn't talked to actual theatre people when they were designing and planning the theatre. That would have prevented a whole lot of problems.

They eventually settled on a show called A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, and they hired a director and actor team who had toured the show and performed it in many cities, to recreate the show here in St. Louis in January and February 2008. (Originally, they scheduled it to overlap the dates New Line was supposed to be in the theatre, and New Line had to fight to keep their promised dates.)

It would turn out to be a genuine disaster in most respects. Horror Show abused and pissed off everyone involved in the show, both local people and non-local, several of whom were more than happy to share their stories, complied here in abbreviated form. They ran this show 32 performances over four weeks, and for the first three of those four weeks, they had pitiful crowds. They spent a fortune on this show, big ad buys, lots of union people, a full union band, the whole shebang. But because Horror Show knew nothing about producing, she totally screwed it up. There were performances with only 8 people in the audience, 15 people, 13 people. One performance had 16, and 10 of them were comps. During the first three weeks, they only broke 30 four times.

Maybe the problem was that Horror Show just forgot that she doesn't know anything about theatre. Or she thought she could just bullshit her way through it, which is how she had gotten this far. Earlier in 2007, New Line had given her their press list, some sample press releases, a detailed list of deadlines, and a list of specific names to pitch feature stories to, but she didn't do any of that. As far as anyone can tell, she just lost all that information.

In fact, no information at all about the show got to the press until well after the show opened. Press releases never went out at all. A week before opening, members of the press were calling New Line asking for information, which New Line didn't have. Later, one of the owners would defend Horror Show by claiming that they had hired a professional marketing manager, but she got sick two weeks before the show. Perhaps Horror Show didn't know that marketing and PR are different things, but she should have. Perhaps she didn't know that two weeks before the show is already way too late to send out a press release, but she should have.

Because there were never any press releases sent to the press, they totally missed out on reviews. They did get one short review after opening, from the RFT, because they had bought ads with them. (Not exactly the right target audience for Patsy Cline, the RFT readers, but who's counting...?) Halfway through the run, they finally begged the Post for a review and got one, as a pesonal favor from Judy Newmark to the developer. So with a nice review, the last week of the run, ticket sales picked up, and they ended up selling out twice -- not that great for a 32-show run in a 230-seat house with a show that sells out most performances in other theatres.

They also bought ad time on KMOX (again, not the best target marketing, but KMOX does have a big audience). But the radio ads did not mention a phone number for tickets! That's a pretty big oversight. And the ads focused mostly on the theatre and its "two bar areas" rather than on the show. I guess no one told Horror Show that people don't buy tickets to see a bar, they buy them to see a show. She also neglected to get approval of the ads from the actor/director team, as their contract stipulated, which delayed the ads and cost extra money.

A week before opening someone discovered that there were 53 unanswered messages on the theatre phone's voice mail. Horror Show didn't know how to access the messages, so she just ignored them. Even after the show opened, they apparently didn't know how to erase messages either, because the theatre voice mail was full and wouldn't accept any more calls for the entire run of the show... which of course made patrons irate.

And then they opened on a matinee, a really bad idea. They did this because Horror Show had screwed up and did not have the technical aspects of the theatre ready in time for the cast and band to rehease on stage before the originally scheduled opening (reportedly because of bouncing checks to venders in the past). Later, Horror Show would blame the actors for this. Of course.

One performance during the run, in early Feburary, had to be canceled due to illness. But to this day, no one has yet received a refund for their tickets for that night. By the time New Line left the Ivory after Assassins in late March, they were still getting irate, screaming phone calls from angry patrons wanting their money back...

But these screw-ups would pale in comparison to the hell visited directly upon the poor actors, musicians, and tech people during the run the show. There was more drama to come...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Monday, March 31, 2008

Episode 7: The Next Victims

A couple weeks after New Line moved out of the Ivory Theatre in fall 2007, the NonProphet Theatre Co. moved in to bring back a show they had done earlier in the fall: Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather. And they experienced much of the same nonsense the New Line people had been through. No one had cleaned the theatre, all the marketing Horror Show had promised disappeared into thin air, and they were getting lied to just like New Line had. Still, Corleone opened and closed without major problems.

But according to New Line, Horror Show was still terrorizing them from afar. When New Line had moved out in late October, they still had not been given the locked storage area they had been promised many times since December 2006. So one of the owners told New Line to go buy hardware and a padlock and lock up their musical equipment in a large wardrobe cabinet off stage left. Barely a week after New Line moved out, Horror Show decided she wanted to use that cabinet too. So even though she knew the owner had told New Line to put locks on it, even though she knew New Line had the key, she got bolt cutters and cut off the New Line locks. Better still, she crammed all the equipment into one end of the cabinet, damaging New Line's very expensive keyboard, and then left the cabinet wide open during the next four shows. Miraculously, the only things that were stolen were some patch cords. New Line would not find out about this until January.

Then just a few weeks after Corleone, the NonProphets moved back into the Ivory for their show second, and they finally experienced the full force of Horror Show's ineptitude. According to two members of the NonProphets I spoke with, Horror Show had gotten them to agree that she could put on a children's show during the day, one day between the NonProphets' two weekends, exchange for a reduction in the NonProphets' rent. She promised she would not touch their set or any of their belongings or props, and that the theatre would be thoroughly cleaned.

Then the NonProphets returned to the theatre for their second weekend. To a big mess. Some of the actors got to the theatre early that night in order to run lines, but instead found that their set had been vandalized -- a once functioning door unit no longer worked because it had been ripped out of the floor where it had been anchored. Apparently, Horror Show had decided there wasn't room enough on stage for her children's show without moving the NonProphets' set (which she had promised not to do). And her people were so incompetent that they stripped the screw heads trying to remove set pieces, so they literally just ripped them out of the stage deck, ruining the set pieces and damaging the stage.

Props were missing, including a purse with a CD player in it. Later, one of the owners would claim that the props weren't really "missing" since they were found in the theatre a couple months later; that those props weren't found during the run of the show seemed not to matter to him.

More than that, the house was a mess, littered with programs and paper, pieces of clothing, etc. There was broken glass on the stage and also in the audience. The restrooms were disgusting, urine on the floor, toilets unflushed, all the bathroom supplies run out and not restocked, and the lobby desperately needed a vacuum.

They complained to the owners, who chose not to give a shit.

Welcome to the Ivory.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Friday, March 28, 2008

Episode 6: The Fundraiser From Hell

On Saturday, November 3, 2007, Horror Show produced (in the loosest sense of that word) a fundraiser performance for the Ivory Theatre. No, strike that, the invitation said it was a fundraiser for the Ivory, but she was telling people that it was a fundraiser for her nonprofit company, TAFFY (Theatre Arts for Formative Youth), that produces bad children shows that she writes. She swore these children's shows were going to make tons of money for the theatre, which would in turn fund other projects. Yeah, right. None of that would even happen.

It turned out it was actually an amateurish backer's audition (I'm talking Guffman amateurish). She convinced the owners to invite their rich friends, so that she could put on staged scenes from several bad musicals she had written, in hopes that these rich folks would fall in love with her work and offer to produce her shows on Broadway. No, that's not a joke -- she told several people that she really believed that would happen. For her, the Ivory was a place to develop her work before it went to Broadway. That's how delusional she was and is.

The NonProphets agreed to be part of the fundraiser as well, as did Leaping Lizards. New Line and Hydeware declined. What follows is an eyewitness account of this bizarre, tragicomic evening that was forwarded to me (and somewhat edited here) by one of the parties involved in the Ivory mess at that time. I'm amazed any of these people still had a sense of humor about this ongoing nightmare...

The show wasn't just bad; it was Plan 9 from Outer Space bad. What transpired that night was an act of accidental cultural terrorism so brazen, so utterly clueless, that it demands to be written down and recorded in the annals of theatre history. Never before has one person done so much to set back the cause of live theatre in our time.

First, there's a loud chord on the piano from behind the drawn curtain. The audience, numbering 42, scattered among the 230 seats, hushes and waits. (Horror Show was convinced this would sell so well they'd have to do two performances. Oops.) And nothing happens. Nothing continues to happen. Nothing happens for quite a stretch. Eventually the audience collectively realizes that the show isn't starting after all. Oops again.

Finally the lights dim and they hear the voices of two kids. They're coming down the aisles from the balcony, having a cute-as-kittens conversation about the language of theatre: "This is where the audience sits. It's called The House." It went on from there. And on and on. The most valuable information the kids taught the speechless audience was that The Wings are used for storage, waiting to enter, and sight lines. Huh???

The kids yammer on in front of the curtain about nothing and finally execute an awkward segue: "What do you want to be?" "I want to be HER!" And they gesture awkwardly to the curtain. And nothing happens. And nothing... wait... yep, the curtain is slowly, fitfully creaking open to reveal a well-known local musical theatre performer in black sequins (who will remain mercifully anonymous) singing "Welcome to the Theatre" (a song from the musical Applause about how nasty and back-biting the theatre is -- an odd choice to open the show). Soon the kids are singing too. Sort of. And they navigate this jungle gym of dirty black platforms, step units, and ramps randomly strewn around the stage. And then... Big Finish! Sort of. Applause. Sort of. More like golf claps.

Then Horror Show's writing partner enters as Emcee for the evening. (She had actually asked a well-known local singer to emcee the show, but then decided he wasn't good looking enough, so she put out an audition notice for an "attractive" emcee -- without telling the singer she didn't want him.) The Emcee is holding a wireless hand mic and talking into it dutifully, despite the fact that it's not on. And he's really soft spoken. We catch every third or fourth word. The audience soon discovers that he's one of those people who actually possesses negative charisma -- he actually sucks charisma out of others. So he starts telling them all the wonderful things the Ivory's gonna do -- classes, a concert series, weddings, a list of proposed programs so long and nonsensical and monotone that it reminds those in the crowd who are still awake of that Bubba character in Forrest Gump.

Then the audience is subjected to a slide show about the Ivory Theatre. On the bottom of each slide is a charming caption. For example, under the slide of the church's original altar, it says, "Thoughts...... this would be a great place for the stage!" To the audience's great (unintended) amusement, each caption starts with "Thoughts....." The last slide is an artist's rendering of the finished seating area. And of course they leave this last slide up, so it hovers inappropriately in the background of the NonProphets' scene which follows...

So the Emcee introduces the NonProphets, who perform a couple scenes from the play Corleone (with that slide still in the background). They do as good a job as possible, having never had a chance to rehearse the scenes on the stage and all the while navigating that pointless jungle gym of platforms, step units, and ramps that Horror Show has created.

And then the Emcee returns to lull the audience back to sleep. He starts to teach them about How a Musical Is Written. And Exhibit A is his and Horror Show's Halloween Extravaganza Things That Go Bump In the Night. Six or seven kids come out and sing this bland awful song, actually screaming once each verse (is that supposed to be cute?) and running around the jungle gym set like there are child molesters in the wings (you know, where they keep the sightlines).

Then the audiences gets treated to a string quartet from Webster University. A not very good one. And there is a stationary mic set right in front of the stage. Right next to the cello. The cello which can't seem to hold a pitch if it had tar on it.

Then the Emcee returns to introduce the director of Leaping Lizards performing a tap solo. She does a nice job of it but again has a hell of a time navigating the jungle gym. Sadly, there's still more than ninety minutes to go...

The Emcee comes back and announces comically (he thinks) that this is the "fund part of the fundraiser." And he half-heartedly and awkwardly reads his pitch for donations off a sheet of paper. Then throws the piece of paper on the ground. Maybe that's supposed to be funny or something?

Now a whole new part of the evenings begins. The Best Part. No wait, that's wrong, it's the Worst Part. This already suffering audience is going to be assaulted by songs from musicals written by Horror Show and the Emcee. And really, it's not fair to call them songs. They're amorphous "pieces." Or maybe more like "musical scenes." Reeeeeally extended musical scenes. Extended like fifteen minutes long and unbearably boring and generic and bland, so bad that a few audience members consider forcibly cracking their own skulls open on their cup holders just to avoid the unrelenting agony of listening to this crap. Or so I'm told.

It starts with Equus: The Musical. Terrible. Really bad. Not even Guffman bad. Worse than that. Then, While You Were Sleeping: The Musical. More ambitious but also more bad. Then, Dr. Lao: The Musical (based on The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, a bad and fairly racist 1964 Tony Randall film). Worser still. Much worser. And finally an "original jazz opera" which had precious little to do with jazz. And these four pieces (of unadulterated crap) take about an hour to perform, an hour no one in this theatre will ever get back. Horror Show has assembled 10-12 local actors to do these scenes, all of them reportedly walking away afterward hating Horror Show as much as everybody else does.

Now here's the funny part. About an hour into this abomination -- which ultimately clocked out at about two hours with no intermission -- all the rich folks in the balcony are Gone. There's not a soul up there. Which pretty much cuts the audience in half. Of course, the rich folks are the target audience tonight, since Horror Show is really just trying to find investors to take her shows to New York. Then the audience hears them all laughing like hell out in the lobby, which of course carries into the theatre just in time to muck up the Original Jazz Opera -- some woman singing about rain, rain, nothing but rain. As the second hour of the show staggers on, the audience starts leaving one by one, occasionally in couples. Just getting up and leaving. When the Original Jazz Opera and some wholly forgettable final words from the Emcee are done, the 12 people left in the audience (no joke, only 12 out of 42 stayed for the whole show) staggers out into the lobby to find that all the rich folks have actually left the building and gone home. Including the wildly embarrassed owners.

I guess Horror Show won't be going to Broadway after all. At least not this season.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Monday, March 24, 2008

Episode 5: The First Meltdown

It was September 22, 2007, when Horror Show finally demonstrated just how crazy-out-of-her-mind she really is. Up until that point, various people had seen the telltale signs of stark lunacy, but on this particular day all became clear. I know one of the people who actually witnessed The Meltdown, so I heard most of the story back then, and have gotten more details since then.

New Line was supposed to have their lighting cue-to-cue rehearsal that day for the first show in the Ivory: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. For those not fluent in theatre-talk, a cue-to-cue is a (usually long) rehearsal, in which the actors walk through the show slowly, and every time they get to a lighting cue, they are stopped, and the cue is adjusted, notes are taken for future re-focusing, etc. Some shows have 200-300 cues, so it's a tedious process, but necessary if you have a complicated lighting design.

On that day, Horror Show had promised New Line that the windows in the theatre would be covered first thing in the morning with heavy black fabric to shut out the sunlight, so the lighting designer could work in the darkness he needs. (There were supposed to be curtains already, but she had forgotten to order them on time.) The actual cue-to-cue rehearsal was to be at 1:00 p.m. but was moved back to 6:00 p.m. because of previous delays installing the lighting system (some of this was due to construction delays, some due to Horror Show's incompetence). This would mean a shorter rehearsal, but it would allow the designer to finish hanging and focusing the lights before the actors got there, something he would normally have already finished at this point.

At 4:00 p.m. that day, New Line's artistic director called their lighting designer to check in with him. The director was told that the windows weren't yet covered! The director called Horror Show and asked her why they weren't covered. He told her that the lighting designer needed to focus lights and he needed darkness in order to do that. She began to scream hysterically at the director about New Line postponing their rehearsal without telling her about it. She told him that if he didn't get to the theatre immediately, she was closing the theatre down and there would be no show, and then she hung up on him. He tried to call back several times but she refused to answer her phone. No one could figure out why she cared what time rehearsal was -- it didn't affect her in any way. They just needed her to get the windows covered so the designer could work!

So the director drove to the theatre, found her and asked what was wrong with her and why she had been screaming at him on the phone. She started screaming again (now sounding a lot like Linda Blair in The Exorcist), threatening to close the theatre, even threatening to take New Line to court! And all this over changing a rehearsal time that had nothing to do with her...? At one point during her rant she picked up this big piece of concrete laying next to the stage door and held it while she screamed. The director wasn't sure if she thought this looked threatening, if she really intended to throw it, or if it was just more unexplained lunacy.

New Line called one of the owners at home and left a message for him that they had a pretty serious crisis at the theatre. Because there was still no darkness in the theatre, the designer could not do the work necessary to prepare for the rehearsal, so they had to cancel the cue-to-cue entirely, something that would bring hardship on all of them (but especially the designer) in the week to come.

After the director got back home, Horror Show called him, all calm now, pretending like she had not just had a nervous breakdown in the middle of the theatre. She said the owner had called her, told her the director had called him, and told her to "find out what's wrong." The director reminded her of her multiple threats less than an hour before. And the lawsuit. She apologized and promised to be more respectful in the future. In retrospect, that now seems like the biggest joke of all.

In fact, she would continue to treat everyone who worked there the same way: unprofessionally, unethically, dishonestly, and with enough bizarre incidents just like this in the ensuing months that most of the people working at the Ivory concluded that she was genuinely mentally ill. Of course, none of us will ever know for sure, but from this vantage point, it's a pretty good bet.

Soon, other companies would start working there as well -- and they would suffer similar nightmares.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

P.S. For details on the drama New Line endured from the St. Louis Archdiocese and their attempts to shut down New Line's first show, I refer you to the director's blog. Since this lunacy was not directly Horror Show's fault, it seems inappropriate to retell the story here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Episode 4: The First Load-In Day

New Line's adventure continued. They were supposed to move into the Ivory Theatre for the first time on Sunday, September 9. Ha, ha.

On Friday, September 7, the New Line people called Horror Show and she assured them that everything was in great shape and on schedule. They agreed to meet at the theatre to get a key. But when the New Line people arrived at the theatre, Horror Show was outside, handed them a key, and then told them she didn't feel well and had to leave. The New Line people insisted that she walk through the building with them before she left. Of course, this was exactly what she was trying to avoid.

According to a report from New Line, the place was a total disaster area, no lights anywhere backstage, no working toilet anywhere in the building, no front door on the building, and the whole place was filthy dirty. It was still a construction zone. There was no way they could move in, and it disturbed them that either: A. she thought this was “ready” to move into, or B. she was a genuine pathological liar. Sadly, the answer turned out to be C. Both A. and B.

New Line decided not to move in on the 9th, and to wait a week (they had built some padding into their schedule just in case). Horror Show swore the building would be totally finished the following weekend. New Line knew by that point that she was lying. The next day, September 8, Horror Show emailed New Line and wrote, “All backstage, stage, and house areas will be finished by the 16th so you can take possession.” This would turn out to be one more in a long series of lies. But they would get used to that...

Finally, on September 16, New Line moved in. To a big mess. The stage, backstage, and house were still largely unfinished, and the lobby was still under major construction. Horror Show had promised the New Line board back in January 2007 that they'd have a locked room in the theatre at least 12’ x 12’ for storage. Just one day earlier, she had told them they would have a 10’ x 10’ storage room upstairs – and that she had measured it herself. In reality, it wasn't a room, just a landing for a staircase that goes up to the bell tower, not even half as large as she promised. Of course. And this stairwell was also filthy dirty. Horror Show told them it was their job to clean it if they wanted to use it. She also told them that they would have to pay extra rent if they wanted to keep that storage room, even though she had been promising it to them since January.

She had also told them they could use the garage as a scene shop, but it was filled with church pews. and was far too small to ever build anything in there. There will be no scene shop.

But wait, there's more! They also found out that instead of six body mics, as promised at that first meeting with the New Line board in January, and then again in June, the theatre will only have four. The New Line people found this out only because they happened to ask about it. She wasn't planning to tell them about that change. So they had to quickly arrange to rent more microphones.

Then Horror Show declared to the New Line people (including board members) that she was an owner of the building. She even repeated the claim for emphasis. Later, New Line asked one of the owners if this was true and he said it was not. Then New Line confronted Horror Show about the claim and she admitted it wasn't true. Then the New Line board met with both owners in January 2008 and they asked both owners about this claim -- they both repeated that Horror Show was not an owner of the building. Yet she would continue to make the claim. And in an even later meeting with the NonProphets, the owners would tell them Horror Show was an owner of the building. It's like living inside an Edward Albee play. No one can tell what the truth is.

Back on Move-In Day, Horror Show also told New Line that "none of this" was her responsibility, that her job “doesn't really start till opening night.” If that was true, then why had they been dealing with her for the past nine months? She also said at one point, to their collective horror, “Maybe you should have stayed at the ArtLoft. Maybe you were better off there.” They began to realize the whole affair was a giant con game. Promises were never meant to be kept. They had seduced New Line, the NonProphets, Hydeware, and others into the game in order to look legit and get press, then once the building was open, they would throw them under the bus. This is exactly how it would play out.

But she would be very surprised at the coming fallout from her abuses...

The majority of the things promised to New Line would never happen. Horror Show had promised them in February 2007 – more than once – that there would be a way to get from backstage to the back of the house without the audience seeing the actors, in order to stage entrances from the back of the theatre. That would never happen. Horror Show had promised them a heated scene shop – she told them this entire building out behind the theatre would be a scene shop. In fact, most of that building houses a boiler, and all New Line got was a garage that was already half-full of other stuff. In fact, there would never be a scene shop. Horror Show had promised them a center aisle, but that would never happen either. Horror Show had promised them in March extra tall, extra wide doors into the building and onto the stage, to load in scenery. That would never happen. The doors are all small enough that companies have to build their sets onstage. Everyone now suspects that Horror Show never even told the architects about any of what she promised.

This was when New Line realized they had made a horrible mistake in moving to the Ivory, and they let the other companies involved know what was going on. But there was more fun still to come...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Episode 3: The Seating Chart

Here's how everybody first had it confirmed that Horror Show really knew absolutely nothing about theatre. This comes from an email sent by New Line's director.

Back in August, the New Line people had been begging Horror Show for a seating chart so that Metrotix could put their tickets on sale for their show opening in September, Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. The developers and Horror Show insisted that New Line use reserved seating at the Ivory, but they couldn't do that without a seating chart. For weeks, Horror Show swore on various occasions that she had given the seating info to Metrotix, even though she actually had not. Everybody involved in the Ivory would soon find out that was a pattern. First fuck up, then lie about it to cover your ass. Problem is, she always gets caught because she's such a clumsy liar.

Finally she sends New Line a seating chart, but with no numbers on the seats! Metrotix couldn't build a house of reserved seating without seat numbers! Also, New Line had been promised a center aisle down the middle of the house (New Line likes to play scenes out in the audience). In fact, Horror Show had actually drawn a center aisle onto an architect's rendering of the house when she promised the aisle would be there. In the end, it would turn out that there would never be a center aisle, despite months of promises. In the end, there would be a cross aisle between the third and fourth rows, but because Horror Show doesn't know the vocabulary -- or mechanics -- of theatre, she thought that was pretty much the same...

Then finally in mid-August, after three months of begging, Horror Show sent New Line and Metrotix a seating chart. And the real horror began. On this chart, Horror Show had numbered the theatre seats consecutively up through the house, starting at seat 1 and going up to seat 230, so that each row would have entirely different numbers:

Row A, seats 1-15 (left to right)
Row B, seats 16-30 (right to left)
Row C, seats 31-45 (left to right)…
You get the idea...

It made everyone wonder if Horror Show had really ever even been in a theatre before…! New Line told her that she had to number the seats like other theatres do, every row, 1-15. She wasn't sure if she liked that idea. She wanted "to do something different."

And though this is a small, 230-seat house, all one section, she also wanted to label small, 4-row sections of the theatre as "orchestra," "mezzanine," "lower balcony," etc.

Why would she do that, you ask? "To make it special," she told them.

Can you imagine a better way to piss off audiences than to make them feel like they’re being manipulated, to use labels that don’t mean anything, to let someone buy a mezzanine ticket and then arrive to find there is no mezzanine…?

But the fun was still only beginning...

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Friday, March 7, 2008

Episode 2: The First Contract

New Line Theatre (they call themselves an "alternative musical theatre company," whatever that might be) was the first into the Lion's Den, and the first to deal with Horror Show in detail. Though there had been a few meetings where lots of promises were made (only to be broken later), the rubber was about to meet the road. The following details come from a report New Line put together for its board and the other companies working at the Ivory.

The nightmare officially started with the negotiation of New Line's contract. Before the contract would ultimately be signed, the poor New Line people had to suffer through six ever-changing drafts of the contract, according to a report I read -- not because the deal was particularly complicated, but because Horror Show just would not make the changes New Line and the owners agreed to in each draft. Each time a new draft was presented, New Line would identify items in the contract that they just could not agree to, all of which the owners agreed to delete. Then with each subsequent draft, Horror Show would change a couple of the things they had objected to, but not all of them. And with every new draft, she would also add bizarre new items.

One draft suddenly said New Line could not give out any comps at any time (not to the press, donors, funders, etc.). This had not been in previous drafts. It just appeared out of the ether without a word of explanation. One draft suddenly said the owners would extract New Line's rent payment from Metrotix, instead of New Line paying rent directly. One draft suddenly said New Line had to pay the landlord $10,000 if they have to cancel a show.

There were many other items like that, all of them completely unacceptable, all of them snuck inside of new drafts, even as Horror Show promised them each time that there was nothing new in the contract. Every time she blamed it on "the lawyer;" it was never her fault. This was a pattern everyone would soon find very familiar. Also in every draft, from the very first one on, she had some version of the landlord having approval power over New Line's choice of shows. Every time they told her they would never sign a contract with that language in it. For five drafts she promised to delete it, but never did.

Finally, on the sixth try, she emailed New Line a draft that had all the problems fixed. They called her and told her everything was great and that they were ready to sign. When they got to the office to sign, she swore this was exactly the same contract she had emailed them – but it was not. Now the provision about the landlord getting approval power over their choice of shows, which had been finally removed after five drafts, was BACK!

Finally that provision was removed -- again -- and they signed it. But the owners weren't there to sign it. So New Line was told one of the owners would sign it later and they'd mail a copy.

When New Line was mailed the final executed contract, they noticed that the front page of the contract had been replaced -- after New Line had signed it. (Isn't that illegal?) The New Line people could not see that anything had been changed, but they obviously found it very troubling and inappropriate for a page of the contract to be replaced after being signed…

The New Line people also discovered during this bizarre and frustrating contract process that Horror Show knows almost nothing about theatre – she knows a few words she can throw around, but she doesn't really know even the most basic vocabulary of theatre, she doesn't know anything about theatre tech, about how a theatre company is run, how a rehearsal process works, what happens backstage, how theatre buildings operate, how theatre is marketed and sold, how ticket services work, how the arts media operate, the difference between for-profit and nonprofit theatre, the difference between “art” theatre and commercial touring theatre, how theatre is funded, what theatre patrons expect and need, what actors and musicians expect and need, how to estimate potential ticket sales, and far too much more… My grandma would be better qualified and she's been dead for twenty years.

Yet this is the person chosen to manage a brand new theatre. New Line should have known then that they were in trouble. The other companies would soon have similar experiences.

But this was only the beginning...

Sic semper tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Episode 1: In the Beginning...

This will be a blog about the crazy nightmare that is the Ivory Theatre in St. Louis, a new venue created in St. Louis in 2007 out of the old St. Boniface Church. Redeveloped by some high-powered St. Louis real estate developers, the project was inexplicably laid in the hands of perhaps the worst theatre manager in the history of St. Louis theatre, a woman so incompetent, so dishonest, and so lacking in experience or knowledge of theatre that in this blog we'll refer to her -- as many others do -- only as "The Horror Show," you know, to protect the idiotic, or however that goes.

If you'd meet her, you'd understand.

This epic misadventure, which I'll dub The Ivory Theatre Horror Show, began back in 2006 and looks likely to end (badly) in 2008. It began with Donna Perrino... oops, I mean Horror Show... calling local theatre companies asking them to be a part of this Exciting New Theatre. What none of these companies knew at the time (but they sure know now) was that Horror Show was making promises never meant to be kept, that she rarely tells the truth, and that in fact her reputation as a confirmed lunatic preceded her in St. Louis. But three local companies, oblivious to all that, signed on anyway.

New Line Theatre was the first to suffer through her continual and increasingly bizarre abuses, throughout the summer and fall of 2007, but many others have gone down this sad, surrealistic road since. The NonProphet Theatre Co. suffered through two shows; several local actors suffered through a failed fundraiser showcasing scenes from the (painfully amateurish) musicals she's written (attendance was 42 when the show started, 12 when it ended with her "jazz opera"); several individuals in the theatre community suffered their own private hell with her; and finally, when she brought in a production of A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, both local and non-local artists suffered through her abuse and incompetence.

(After foolishly scheduling a run of four weeks, eight shows a week, Horror Show neglected to send out any press releases, so three of the four weeks of the Patsy Cline run played to houses of six people a night, eight people, fifteen, twelve... Attendance for the first twenty-something performances only broke thirty twice.)

As far as this blogger knows, watching this catastrophe somewhat from the outside, everyone who suffered her abuse -- three different theatre companies and several individuals -- has reported everything to the developers, including the artists from out of town. And the developers have done virtually nothing.

Most of the people and companies involved with the Ivory Theatre are now trying to escape, and sadly, this beautiful theatre may soon be without any tenants at all. The developers are convinced that Horror Show is Just Terrific at her job, that the Patsy Cline show was a tremendous success, and that they owe their tenants neither protection from the abuses nor explanation.

This blog will attempt to record the history of this mess going back to late 2006, as accurately as it can be reconstructed. Luckily there are lots of records since most of the victims wrote long letters to the developers detailing the lunacy and sent dozens of emails back and forth to each other, to their boards, and to others involved (me included). New Line also kept detailed notes on all of this, which were emailed to their board, to the owners of the Ivory, and to the other companies and people involved; a lot of the details in this blog have come from those emails.

If this chronicle can help others avoid the horrors that have already terrorized so many, then it will have accomplished its goal.

Sic semper tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor