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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Where’s the Art in Elgin?

Art-ShowI’ve lived in Elgin for over 15 years and have a working history with Elgin arts organizations that goes back over 23 years. I can attest that not much has changed in a quarter of a century. Groups and artists come and go, leaving what has always been a small, typical community arts base. Pretty much what you’d expect to find in most communities this size, anywhere in America.

Imagine my amusement while watching a broadcast of a city council meeting, as a speaker made a statement to the council that went something like this:

Elgin has the best, vibrant, world-class arts community outside of Chicago and possible New York. Everyone knows our reputation.

I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

I laughed out loud.

I don’t want to belittle the talent and creativity or the blood, sweat and tears of Elgin artists. I just want to draw attention to some of the misperceptions of what the arts community really is, in relation to other communities. It’s wonderful to be proud of your community– and it’s a totally different thing to be completely unrealistic.

I’d say Naperville has an up and coming arts scene… Oak Park’s art scene is pretty impressive…. but Elgin?

Maybe there’s just something I’m missing here.

Where is the ART in Elgin?

If I live here and I don’t know about it– That’s a problem. If I look for it and still can’t find it– That’s a bigger problem.

Visibility I looked at the city calendar. If I go by what’s listed, there isn’t much happening in Elgin for the next six months.

Calendar Check:

Elgin Art Showcase Calendar & Special Events– Lists no art related events for at least the first six months of 2015. This calendar is an offshoot of the main city calendar. There is a link on the Art Showcase main page to upcoming performances which only includes a prayer breakfast in January.

City of Elgin Calendar– Includes Holidays, Board and Committee Meetings and ‘all’ city- wide events; Aside from the Winter Blues Bash at Hemmens this weekend, the calendar only lists Elgin Symphony Orchestra performances on it’s calendar. Coincidentally, the ESO owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans on top of ongoing city backed financial support.

The Hemmens calendar and Art Showcase calendar are (perhaps unfortunately), a subset of the city calendar.

Downtown Neighborhood Association – No events are listed on the DNA calendar for the first six months of 2015 except : (pre-populated) First Friday Improv at Hemmens (listed every month). Their website shows past events but is not promoting any upcoming events in 2015.

With no luck finding art on the city sponsored sites and as someone that doesn’t subscribe to a printed newspaper any more (Does anyone?) –I turned to the only other place I knew to look…

Art-is-Life-Life-is-Art-Philosophy-Photography-Art-by-PLATUXGoogle Anyone? Google searches aren’t terribly revealing either. I searched live entertainment in Elgin and live entertainment in Elgin, IL and only a few bar bands popped up. I did learn that several Elgin eating establishments offer occasional musical entertainment. Art in Elgin, IL brings up a couple links to gallery/performance spaces but mostly martial arts studio links. Top searches for Fine arts in elgin il bring up Westminster Christian School first, the Art Center at Elgin Community College (ECC), Larkin High School, and lots of links to groups in St. Charles and Naperville.

A search for music in Elgin IL lists mostly repeated bar links, music lessons and finally, halfway down the second page the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Searching for theatre in Elgin IL ( and theater) is a little more successful: Elgin Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre of ElginJanus Theatre (site not updated since June 2014), ECC, Side Street Studio Arts, and the Marcus Cinema movie theater come up before many links to other communities outside of Elgin.

Now here’s probably the most important: I searched art in Chicago suburbs, art in Chicago Northwest suburbs, theatre (theater) in Chicago suburbs, music in Chicago suburbs, dance in Chicago suburbs, things to do in Chicago northwest suburbs…. going 5 pages deep on each search, only one Elgin-related link came up and only in one of the searches.

This is distressing because Elgin needs to bring in people from other communities for economical success.

Facebook or Twitter? I follow a number of organizations, city pages and Twitter feeds and the use of social media by Elgin arts groups is pretty unsuccessful. Of those that use it, none seem to be aggressively targeting audiences, if at all.

Appearance is Everything. I searched for and checked out the websites of a number of Elgin groups and most of the websites are pretty unappealing.Some aren’t even up to date. Many look like no effort was put into them and do a poor job of marketing their art.

The best looking website belongs to Side Street Studio Arts. It’s visual, informative and features an up to date listing of events.

There are a ton of events listed on the Art Center at Elgin Community College link– but it still takes some navigating to find, the pages are not visually appealing. The descriptions of the events are minimal and not very enticing as well.

Snail Mail? We get a periodic newsletter, from the City of Elgin, sent to all residents. They do a good job of publicizing their seasonal festivals in it– but not other arts events. We also get a postcard publicizing upcoming events from one group. That’s about it for snail mail.

City Representation? The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission exists primarily as an advisory committee. They accept applications for artist and organizational grants and make their recommendations.

One of their purposes states:

Provide a vehicle for publicizing all arts related events of various organizations as well as community, state or national events related to the arts, and provide a strong public relations program for communicating the commission’s goals and their impact on community life.

In my research, I cannot find any evidence that they are having any success in this very important area. I can’t even find a list of arts organizations in Elgin. Shouldn’t that be a priority?

According to their last publicly available meeting minutes, from last November (2014); they are looking at creating a stand alone website, separate from the city’s where they could provide more information and links. This would definitely be beneficial. Especially if it gave them control over content.

Art.So WHAT’S the SOLUTION? First, I don’t mean to sound like I’m solely blaming the city for the lack of visibility. BUT– This is a symptom of a major problem in Elgin. The downtown area is dead. Yes, new businesses have opened… and many have also quickly closed. Not enough is being done to revitalize the downtown area. Token efforts are made like the River Walk redevelopment and the huge financial investment the city made in the Elgin Artspace Lofts — but without any big picture, comprehensive plan– stand alone efforts are not going to bring back a prosperous downtown.

One park, business, or space is not a community. The city should really look at building a niche market and focus on nurturing businesses and spaces with open public access. Investing in one thing without a comprehensive plan for the community is not going to make a difference.

I state this, because the arts community, if visible, can have a huge economic impact on the city. There are a few restaurants in the downtown area but all don’t keep regular hours. At five o’clock, most of downtown– shuts down. It leaves a dark, seemingly unsafe neighborhood.

If someone comes to an event downtown, they might also eat in a restaurant. They might shop in a store. These places have to exist, first. Second, people need to know they exist. Third, patrons need to feel safe in the neighborhood. Without all three of these conditions, the downtown will continue to flounder.

I don’t mean to limit the focus on downtown. It’s just that it’s supposed to be the hub of activity. There are arts opportunities all over the city– at least so I’m told. I might know for sure if I could find them.

I just looked at a Courier News article, online titled, Five Things To Do Around Elgin Jan. 16-22 and not one them listed, is in Elgin.

So tell me–



Remembering Roxie: One Year Later

Roxie loved laying outside on the cool concrete. (2005)

Roxie loved lying outside on the cool concrete. (2005)

Roxie the Hunter. (2003)

Roxie the Hunter. (2003)

One year gone.  I can’t even begin to recount the many ways I miss her. She’s been in my head constantly this past week. I celebrate her daily. She was one of the greatest gifts in my life.

Even as a puppy, Roxie had the most expressive eyes. There’s truth in the saying, the eyes are the window to the soul. Her eyes were always full of love, mischief and wonder.

January 11, 2014Michael left for work and I’m sitting here in silence feeling numb but thankful. It’s been three days.

My boys are curled up, Collins in the crook of my arm, eyes half closed– purring. Cash is snuggled against me with his head in my lap. I think he slept like I did last night, tossing and turning. The slightest sound and he’d raise his head– looking for her.

Laying on Cash, Snuggling as usual. (2006)

Roxie on Cash, Snuggling as usual. (2006)

Roxie and Cash were brother and sister from the same litter. Roxie was the runt of the litter which might have contributed to a number of her health issues over the years. She was always much smaller than Cash and never really had the traditional Boxer’s physique.

Roxie was the hunter. If there was a critter in the yard– she’d find it. Roxie would track them down and alert Cash, who would go in for the attack.

This was particularly troublesome with skunks. Roxie usually found them– but Cash always got the worst of the spray.

Roxie was the one who found and rescued Cozette, as a newborn kitten, in our backyard.

I also think she instigated most of the duos adventures, getting them into trouble. She was just better at not getting caught.

Roxie and Cash play-fighting in the snow.

Roxie and Cash play-fighting in the snow. (2004)

Roxie loved the snow. She loved to run and play in it; and of course, eat it.

She loved to eat! She was always hungry– Furniture, toys, books, Christmas ornaments, pillows, sticks…. it was all a buffet to her.


September 17, 2014A stuffed monkey head. What’s the big deal? It’s just a chewed up monke– Scratch that. Her monkey head. I found myself going through the toy box cleaning it up, time to throw out some of the old. worn out toys. Another step in letting go.

Roxie, May 2013.

Roxie, May 2013.

As time passes I see her so differently in my head. The image of her spirit and soul take over and blur my memory. I see the younger, more vibrant Roxie. I see her love and affection. My mind has started to erase her frailties. It’s startling to see pictures of her from her last few months. It’s not the way I remember her.

December 18, 2014That moment when you’re decorating and you go to hang an ornament… And it spins around and you see where Roxie chewed it, her last Christmas and the waterfall starts and doesn’t want to stop. ‪#‎loveneverdies‬

No matter what the challenge– even after she was diagnosed with diabetes insipidus, she was always happy and affectionate. Though her body started to age rapidly, she remained a spirited puppy at heart.

Today, in remembrance, I want to put the grief aside and celebrate the pure joy she brought to our lives. I’m remembering her playful mischief. I’m smiling, remembering her crazy excitement, twisting her body– doing her kidney bean dance, whenever we’d come home. I’m thinking about hours of warm snuggles and wet sloppy kisses. My sweet, sweet, angel- baby girl.

Roxie, November 2013.

Roxie, November 2013.

Napping with a much younger Roxie, 2003.

Napping with a much younger Roxie, 2003.

My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Stage to Screen

With the recent release of the film version of Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to share my top three favorite film versions of musicals that originated on the stage.

A number of adapted musicals have enjoyed big box office success and some are quite good; both for their stand alone entertainment value and in their homage to their source material. My Fair Lady and Grease are two good examples.

For me, there are three that stand above the rest for a variety of reasons. In two of the three cases, I think the film adaptations are actually better than the original stage versions.

marquee number - 3Dreamgirls (2006) Directed by Bill Condon and adapted from the Tony Award-winning original 1981 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dreamgirls was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two Oscars: Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.

Suggested by the rise of The Supremes, Dreamgirls is an exuberant tribute to the sights and sounds of the 50’s & 60’s.

Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls (2006)

I find the film version superior to the stage production because of the visual, on location advantages and smoother scene/time transitions. The screenplay (by Condon) stays true to the original.


4500-number2Chicago (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods). Screenplay by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse, Kander & Ebb musical, whose stripped-down 1996 revival, far exceeded the success of the original. Still running on Broadway after 18 years.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago (2002)

I’m not a fan of the stage version. I find it drab and dull. On screen though, Chicago is an exciting, vibrant song and dance masterpiece. By far, the best example of a film adaptation being much better than the original.


Fire Letters A-ZWest Side Story (1961) Based on the classic 1957 stage musical, the film is a true representation of the original stage material and by far, my favorite movie musical of all time.

West Side Story is a contemporary re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet love story, told against the backdrop of the gang-controlled streets of New York.

Ground breaking in so many ways with some of the best choreography ever created, West Side Story is perfection.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961)

The result was honored with a record 10 Academy Awards– the most of any other movie musical and the fourth biggest winner, overall in Oscar history.

I’ve loved West Side Story since I was a kid. When I finally saw it live on stage for the first time, I was completely blown away. It’s one of the few works that I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. The film and stage versions are equally brilliant.

I’m always shocked when someone says they’ve never seen West Side Story. If you’ve honestly never seen it. Put it on the top of your list now.

My Epiphany

In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a new thought. It was so obvious and had been in my head for a while. Sometimes though, a clear realization suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks. I waited before I shared because I felt like I needed to let a few things play out first.

No more theatre.

Let me explain.

If-you-really-love-something-set-it-freeIn addition to trying to find gainful employment in the industry for the past year and a half, I had spent nearly six months of the past year, working on a plan to produce my own season of five shows– that was to begin the end of January 2015. After waiting for months, I’d finally received dates but by then it was too late to market, sell and produce a theatre subscription series effectively and be ready to open by the first set of dates. I could have still thrown something together for the first show– but with no assurance of an audience. I’m not in the financial situation to do anything that is a likely, losing proposition nor do I want to. (There were more “complications” that I’ll go into in another blog post.) So, I felt I’d reached another dead end.

My epiphany was quite simple. I’ve come to the realization I don’t need to do another production. I want to– but want and need are two totally different things.

If I never have the opportunity to work on another show– I’ve done pretty much every thing in every area of theatre that anyone can possibly do. With over 30 years and more than 200 productions under my belt; including the production of my top two bucket list shows– I think I can say, I’ve pretty much done it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not lost an ounce of my passion or creative drive for live theatre. I just feel I’ve come to a point that it’s time to let it go. If opportunities come up– great. If they don’t, I’m okay with that too. I’m not going to obsess over it anymore.

I don’t really want to work on vanity productions… work for less than I’m worth without substantial creative rewards… or donate my time to efforts where my passion and commitment is greater than that of anyone else involved.

My last production, Spring Awakening, was a thoroughly rewarding experience. Maybe that’s the best way to go out.

After a year and half, the job search– inquiries, applications, interviews have been a huge disappointment. Especially when I see so many of the people being hired are younger, inexperienced and/or friends of somebody making the hiring decisions. I’ve watched a number of the positions for which I applied and was past over, be reposted a short time later. I’ve watched organizations hire the wrong people and a short time later– they are looking for a bail out. Other positions, particularly those a substantial distance away, don’t pay well enough to make the commute worthwhile or only offer poverty level wages for exempt, full time hours.

CreativityDefI’ve also noticed a large number of organizations are only seeking part time without benefits but with full time expectations; or unpaid interns to fill what should be full time paid positions. I understand for many organizations, this is their only choice, or final attempt, to stay afloat. Quite a few long-standing organizations are on the edge of financial collapse and a number have shut their doors in the past few years. Many arts organizations are struggling to survive. What they really need is someone like me, with the experience and background to help them stabilize their company and infuse their efforts with new growth.

Office politics and financial instability are killing many fine arts institutions. That, and poor leadership without vision.

So I’m going to stop frustrating myself in the search and instead, focus on being productive through other facets of my creativity.

Less looking and more doing.

leo-burnett-on-creative-peopleI know the right situation is out there, whether it’s yet to be discovered or I create it myself. The time for me to act is now. I’m really tired of waiting.

Maybe that right management or creative theatrical position will turn up. Who knows? I’m not going to wait for it though.

It’s a new year. So, on to new challenges, new adventures and new discoveries.

Writing, photography, design… creative management, consulting, branding, marketing… who knows where I’ll end up. I have more creative interests and talents than I have time to pursue. Maybe pursuing one of my often overlooked interests will leading be in an entirely different direction.

Wherever it is, I’m sure the journey through 2015 will be an exciting one.