Let's take a look back at what was happening in theater and film in 1985 ...
Pictured The Baton Show Lounge girls in the late 1980s. Seated: Leslie Rejeanné, Chili Pepper. Standing: Chanel, Kelly Lauren, Ginger Grant, Roski Fernandez, Shanté ( now Alexandra Billings ) , and Maya Douglas. Organizers for a 1980s benefit for AIDS Alternative Health Project included the artist Gabor ( lower right ) , who has since died.
So it's 1985, and I'm already a not-so-young critic and dramaturge in my first full year as a freelance arts writer with no other visible means of support. Thank goodness I'd purchased a Boys Town three-flat in 1978: at least I had a roof over my head with enough rental income to pay the mortgage and taxes because, as I recall, I was lucky if I broke $8,000 in earned income that year. I was writing a monthly column ( plus occasional additional stories ) for Ruth L. Ratny's Screen Magazine and also covering Chicago for Stages, a national monthly publication. I was a year out of a long relationship and beginning to enjoy the pleasures of Boys Town life, seducing young men with the glamour of opening nights at Chicago's theaters. I was very successful.
Harold Washington was mayor and had just established the Department of Cultural Affairs, which almost immediately began to make small grants to Chicago arts organization ( something it still does; see Stage Door Jonny in this issue ) . Up at Wisdom Bridge Theater in Rodgers Park, wunderkind director Robert Falls staged his nationally celebrated Hamlet, with Aiden Quinn in the title role. Falls also took his startling production of In the Belly of the Beast, starring William L. Petersen, to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and then to London. As 1985 closed, Falls was selected as the new artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, a position he still holds.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company was headquartered at 2851 N. Halsted and had a huge success with Orphans, directed by Gary Sinise and starring John Mahoney, Terry Kinney and Kevin Anderson. It moved to New York's Off- Broadway. The 'wolfies also took Coyote Ugly, starring Laurie Metcalf, to the Kennedy Center.
A few blocks away, the Briar Street Theatre opened for business ( now home to Blue Man Group ) , while in the Western suburbs, the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace Theatre set up shop.
Bernard Sahlins, co-founder and owner of The Second City, sold the famous comedy club to Andrew Alexander and partners ( who still own and operate it ) for $2.2 million. Sahlins and his wife then focused on creating the first International Theatre Festival of Chicago ( 1986 ) , a biennial event that brought Sir Ian McKellen to town a few years later.
There was little in the way of specifically GLBT theater that year. The Drama Shelter long since had shuttered, and Lionheart Theatre, the occasional producing wing for designer Rick Paul, was inactive. However, GLBT theater professionals were busy everywhere from the Goodman and Steppenwolf theaters to suburban dinner theaters. On Devon Avenue, gay artists Dan LaMorte and Dale Calandra spearheaded the creation of the Center Theater, while close by Stormfield Theatre staged the world premiere of Never the Sinner, by out playwright ( and now Oscar nominated screenwriter ) John Logan. The infamous Leopold-Loeb murder trial has inspired numerous plays and films, but Logan's play was the first to expose and examine the sexual relationship between the two young men.
Alexandra Billings, entertainer: 'I had been at Club Victoria [ at 3153 N. Broadway ] , a female impersonator bar, for two years.
'The late-night theater scene was just hopping. The late '80s was when the Factory Theater, Annoyance and Torso exploded—and this was just before I did Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack. Now, there's kind of a resurgence—but we'll never see those days again. People talk about today's theater scene being edgy; this is cookies-and-milk compared to what we were doing in the late ''80s.
AIDS changed everything. In 1985, I was two years away from being diagnosed. Everybody was dying; that was it. In the '90s, all hell broke loose; people stopped doing anything after 10 o'clock. It was really frightening. All the theaters just shut down. There'll never be another time when the late-night scene will blossom.'
— Amy Wooten
1985 Tony Awards
— Play: Biloxi Blues
— Musical: Big River
— Reproduction, Play or Musical: Joe Egg
— Actor, Play: Derek Jacobi—Much Ado About Nothing
— Actress, Play: Stockard Channing—Joe Egg
— Featured Actor, Play: Barry Miller—Biloxi Blues
— Featured Actress, Play: Judith Ivey—Hurlyburly
— Featured Actor, Musical: Ron Richardson—Big River
— Featured Actress, Musical: Leilani Jones—Grind
— Director, Play: Gene Saks - Biloxi Blues
— Director, Musical: Des McAnuff - Big River
— Special Awards: Yul Brynner; Edwin Lester; Steppenwolf Theatre; New York State Council on the Arts