The Playgoer: Sibling Rivalry

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

By Suzy Evans

Chicago theater is like one big family – which is great when everybody gets along but makes for some very public gossip when things go slightly awry. In the wake of American Theater Company’s HUGE FALLOUT earlier this year, the latest riff is happening over at Theatre Building Chicago, an organization that both provides a venue for emerging companies' work and produces its own, primarily musical theater. The Steppenwolf staged its first Chicago production there in 1979.

TBC’s board fired executive director Joan Mazzonelli, who had been with the company since 1985, because she wasn’t the person to take the company to the next level. This action set forth a slew of drama as longtime artistic director John Sparks stepped down in solidarity, and co-founder Ruth Higgins (who now lives in the Europe and hasn’t been involved with the theater for 10 years) sent a public letter to the board in which she argued for stability amidst the current financial crisis.

For all its longevity, Theatre Building Chicago is still fragile. Like all small and medium-sized arts organizations, its future is tied ideas, ideals and good people who make sure that the necessary work gets done. It does not take long for such organizations to fall apart. What a travesty to have 33 years of work become a parking lot.
She then suggested the board members (most of whom are newcomers according to the Chicago Reader) resign.
Please, for the good of all, step aside and allow those who understand how things should be done, to get on with it. Your immediate resignations would facilitate this organization to continue its service without jeopardizing the work of so many. Make a responsible decision.
The board responded, somewhat passive aggressively, to Higgins letter with an open letter of its own.
We are happy to see her renewed interest in the organization from which she has been absent for 10 years. It is our hope that even though she is far removed from Chicago in the Netherlands she will continue to support the organization beyond this current situation.
The letter goes on to talk about how TBC “belongs to no one person” and “a call for a new board is not the answer.” However, Board President Craig Wilson, offered to step down if Sparks would agree to stay on. But TBC announced that Associate Artistic Director Allan Chambers would be taking over Sparks’ position last Monday.

Sounds like a big family feud if you ask me.

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