Chicago’s status as a talent center has been elevated to the national level with bi-coastal Innovative Artists’ purchase of Sharon Wottrich’s 17-year old Voices Unlimited.
Wottrich will continue as director of the agency, now called Innovative Artists Chicago, or IAC.
She reports to Hollywood agency veteran Marcia Hurwitz, president of IV’s national commercial and voiceover division, who will oversee the new Chicago branch.
Innovative’s entry into the market also marks the first non-SAG franchised Chicago talent agency in 15 years.
Unlike Voices, which specialized exclusively in voiceover actors and has roster of 140, IA’s large Los Angeles and New York offices represent the full gamut of on- and off-camera talent, including some of the biggest name actors, screenwriters, producers, directors and novelists, and a range of below-the-line talent.
“It’s a smart move on Innovative’s part to come into the Chicago market and it says a lot about the respect Chicago has in the voiceover industry,” commented another talent agency veteran, Lynn Hamilton of Shirley Hamilton Inc.
Wottrich said IA’s Voices acquisition will give their Chicago actors substantially enlarged opportunities to work on projects that normally would not come through Chicago.
The L.A. office has already tapped local IAC clients to audition for national advertisers in other cities.
Innovative Artists, a member of the Assn. of Talent Agencies (ATA) of L.A. and New York, is one of the largest of the 135 ATA-member agencies, representing a complete range of on- and off-screen talent.
With the Voices acquisition, Innovative Artists now has a national staff of 153 and more than 35 agents, including IA’s founder/president Scott Harris.
Casting director Mindy Verson, who is an admirer and familiar with both companies, believes the chemistry and synergy between them “will breathe new lifeblood into the city.”
Wottrich a long-time talent industry leader
Negotiations for Voices’ sale to Innovative had been in the works for 18 months. The subject first came up over lunch Wottrich with her friend Hurwitz.
Casual talk at first about the health of the Chicago market and how it was poised for growth “turned serious and grew from there,” said Wottrich, concluding with the signing of the purchase agreement on Oct. 16.
“It was time,” Wottrich said of her motivation to sell. “I didn’t want to retire at some point and shut the doors on a good business that I had spent years building up.
“The sale to Innovative is win-win all around, and especially for Chicago. My clients are excited about the sale, because some are signed wit IA in Los Angeles, and they know its quality and good reputation.
At some point Wottrich sees herself retiring, having spent 30 years as a leader in the local talent business.
Prior to forming VU in 1989, she owned A-Plus, Chicago’s biggest talent agency at the time serving national advertisers for broadcast and print.
Its large staff of agents handled hundreds of on- and off-camera actors, many of them exclusive, and children’s, runway and beauty divisions.
From 1978-1985 the agency represented the Chicago Honey Bears’ cheerleading squad of the Chicago Bears.
In the mid-to-late ?80s, A-Plus also ran the Chicago Bulls cheerleading squad, the Lovabulls, and the Cubs Spirit, 12 young women who served as the Cubs PR ambassadors.
The Chicago Innovative staff is comprised of agents Sandy Norman, Laurie Lambert, Linda Bracilano and Wottrich; Sue Geraghty is business manager.
“Congratulations on a job well done,” said Hamilton.
Innovative Artists is located at 541 N. Fairbanks; phone, 312/832-1119.