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.