When theater becomes a PR tool for a political agenda, don’t be surprised when the audience shrinks

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I agree with a point Terry McCabe makes in his op-ed about Chicago’s shrinking off-Loop theatre scene (“Off-Loop theater scene is shrinking, but don’t blame the audience,” Aug. 30). McCabe attributes the scene’s current financial troubles partly to the fact that, after off-Loop theaters reopened in the post-COVID-19 environment, “many theaters chose to program preachy shows that lectured about racial justice and other perfectly admirable causes, theatrical equivalents of diversity, equity and inclusion training” that “made the audience feel attacked.”

I would go a step further. Many modern, off-Loop productions seem designed to promote “woke” philosophy rather than purely to entertain, enlighten or educate an audience.

I stopped going to Steppenwolf, for example, after the theater announced its first play of the 2022-23 season. Titled “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington,” the play focuses on Martha Washington’s final days at Mount Vernon and the anticipation that people enslaved by Washington had of freedom upon her death. As one review summarized, the play “asks audiences to grapple with the question of who is truly free in America and at what cost do we perpetuate cycles of oppression and abuse, even though they may fall under the guise of forward movement.” That sounded like a plot straight from the “woke” playbook to me.

Gone are the days, it seems, of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and the Forum Theatre, where productions such as the musical “Boss” and the satire “MacBird” challenged the powerful. Now, once cutting-edge, independent theater looks more like an apologist for a specific political agenda.

When theater becomes a public relations tool for any cause, the art form loses its power to reach general audiences and, in turn, attract them.

Off-Loop companies with a “woke” leaning should reconsider their programming. Otherwise, they should not be surprised if their subscription numbers fall.

— Rebecca Susmarski, Oak Lawn

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally’s tirade against the well-established, centuries-old record of cannabis as safe and effective medicine is nonsense, although more sophisticated than earlier warnings from law enforcement (“McHenry County dispensaries have to own up to pot’s mental health dangers,” Sept. 1).

Although not racist, Kenneally’s position is just as unscientific. He claims “decades of research, study after study, continue to prove the causative association between cannabis and schizophrenia.” Balderdash.

It’s true cannabis use and schizophrenia are correlated. Marijuana is medicine, and many individuals suffering from schizophrenia report they find relief with fewer side effects from cannabis than powerful pharmaceuticals. Correlation is not causality.

Amazingly, Kenneally refers to the “bygone drug war.” “Bygone?” Last year, more than 1 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, including hundreds of thousands on marijuana charges. Presidential candidates are proposing sending U.S. troops to Mexico to fight the cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s budget this year will be the biggest in history. This is a “bygone war”?

— Paul Kuhn, Chicago

I was saddened to read Tribune reporter Brian J. Rogal’s Sept. 1 story about DePaul University’s misguided plans to tear down many of the beautiful vintage Chicago apartment buildings it owns and uses for student housing to make way for another ugly $60 million building catering to its lackluster basketball team (“DePaul to construct $60M basketball practice facility”). The school sadly seems to be living in a dream world in which throwing money at its basketball program will somehow resurrect the glory years of coach Ray Meyer’s proud leadership, now 40 years behind us. That delusional thinking has already saddled Chicago taxpayers with the white elephant stadium the school conned the city into building almost 10 years ago at McCormick Place.

The school’s parallel announcement — that it is also establishing three new institutes, including one dedicated to environmental sustainability — is a cruel joke and the tiniest of fig leaves. Perhaps university leadership never heard that the greenest buildings are those that are already standing. That DePaul is pursuing this folly at a time of plummeting college enrollment and crippling debt for graduates should make the school’s namesake — St. Vincent de Paul — roll in his grave.

— John Holden, Chicago

At some point in her professional career, did Chicago city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin receive advice from former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown? Their behavior patterns are strikingly similar and appalling.

— Jack LaBolt, Chicago

I am all for the new skip-the-line program reported in a Sept. 3 Tribune article (“Secretary of state starts requiring appointments at driver service facilities”). Who wouldn’t want to save time by booking an appointment rather than wait for hours to renew your driver’s license? It’s a no-brainer (especially since the office says there is still a phone number for people unable to do it online).

This is part of Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias’ plan to modernize the office and make it more efficient so that it can innovate. Another option that is in use — and heavily in use during the pandemic — is to skip lines altogether and go online for many services. Skipping the line is great, but taking care of your needs online is even better. However, currently we are penalized with a “payment processor fee” for online credit card transactions. (An e-check fee is waived — but not everyone has a bank account.) Using your credit card at the facility doesn’t incur a processing fee, so why receive this charge when paying online? “Convenience fees” are antiquated when paying online is convenient for the public agency and for the individual.

If Giannoulias wants to quicken the consumer’s process and minimize crowds at driver service facilities, now is the time to incentivize utilizing the online portal by removing those fees. Don’t make it more expensive to do our business online. If we don’t have to pay those online fees, we’ll be more likely to skip the lines altogether and stay out of the way of those people who booked their appointments. Everybody wins.

— Lynn Steiner, Chicago

I am simply amazed at the accounts I’m reading and hearing about from “sanctuary cities” such as Chicago and New York and the crisis they are facing because of the influx of immigrants.

Chicago Tribune Opinion

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Read the latest editorials and commentary curated by the Tribune Opinion team.

Everyone is asking for more help from the government to cope with this crisis. If I had a water pipe burst in my home and it was flooding the house, would I ask for more buckets to get the water out or perhaps maybe consider plugging the leak? Kind of obvious to me which I would choose.

So maybe instead of more buckets, people should ask the government to stop the leak.

— Bob Weber, Mishawaka, Indiana

Regarding “Tribe to get back Minn. land where their ancestors died” (Sept. 4): I think the whole country should be given back to the Indigenous people since they know how precious it is. They were doing a fine job till the Europeans came.

— Barbara Dwyer, River Forest

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