Category Archives: Neverwhere

Upcoming events!

The spring and summer are always busy here at Lifeline, and this year is no exception. Join us in the coming months for some wonderful events, festivals and special programming…

On Sunday, April 10th at noon, Arnie the Doughnut author/illustrator Laurie Keller, will join us for a FREE meet-and-greet and book signing in the Lifeline lobby! We’ll have books on sale, along with cast recordings of this wonderful new musical.

Tickets for both the 11am and 1pm performances that day are going fast! Get yours today by calling the box office at 773-761-4477 or order online.

If you haven’t already heard, the Chicago Public Library has chosen Neverwhere as its Spring 2011 One Book, One Chicago selection, the 20th book in this remarkable program. There are all sorts of wonderful discussions, appearances, and conversations happening in conjunction with OBOC, including two appearances by Neil Gaiman himself (see here for the full list), but there’s one event we’re particularly excited about…

On Monday, April 11 at 6:00pm, the entire original cast from Lifeline’s spring/summer 2010 production of Neverwhere will reunite for one night only, to perform a full reading of the script and participate in a talkback with fans of the book. This is a FREE event, and it takes place at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State Street), in the gorgeous Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. We hope to see you there!


Lifeline’s world premiere adaptation of Richard Adams’ beloved best-selling book is fast approaching. Previews begin April 29th, and the show runs through June 19th (full details here). Pre-sales for this highly-anticipated production are moving extremely fast – don’t miss out! Get your tickets today!

Lifeline is thrilled to announce an expansion to our Summer Drama Camp (now entering its 11th year!). Our dazzlingly popular camp will not only serve kids ages 7-11 as usual (July 18-29), but will now offer a week-long program for 4-6 year olds (July 11-15)! Click here for all the details, and to register your children.

Expanding its dedication to the art of storytelling in all its forms, Lifeline Theatre is thrilled to produce the fifteenth annual Fillet of Solo Festival, a three-week, multi-venue solo performance festival running July 21-August 7, 2011. Participants, scheduling and full pricing details will be announced in early April. Check our website soon for updates!

This popular festival (now entering its 10th YEAR) features arts and crafts, theater, music, food and drink for the whole family on the brick streets of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in Chicago’s historic Rogers Park neighborhood. GAAF 2011 will take place the weekend of August 19-21, and is FREE for the whole family! More details will be available soon at

Autumn update

Art in the lobby!

Lifeline is proud to feature the work of Rogers Park artist Jhenai Mootz on our lobby walls. Both the box office wall and concession stand area are now bedazzled with an exciting assortment of Jhenai’s ceramic tiles. Make sure to look for the tiles that are specially themed to Lifeline shows this season, like the current Wuthering Heights piece! Numerous pieces have already been sold through Lifeline’s box office. In addition to being a mixed-media artist, Jhenai is an actress and is understudying several roles in our upcoming production of The Moonstone.

Streetscape continues…pardon our dust. (But we’ve got ya covered!)

This is what our street looks like. Can you tell it’s going to be really pretty someday? Acorn streetlights. Wider sidewalks. Planters. It’s going to be awesome. The hard-working streetscape team has promised to keep the road open for us even during construction so you can still drop off your passengers in front of the theater. What’s tougher right now is the parking — because Glenwood is not the only street in our ‘hood that’s torn up. We recommend you come early and make use of our free parking lot at the NE corner of Ravenswood and Morse and the free shuttle that loops back and forth.

Our shuttle driver, Darren, will take good care of you. Darren’s an actor, too. (Perhaps you remember him playing the lead in Crossing California a few seasons ago!)

Our neighborhood in the news:
The YouTube video Glenwood and Morse 2010 (featuring the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, with numerous shots of Lifeline Theatre) was a winner in the Metropolitan Planning Commision’s Placemaking Chicago contest. The video aired on WGN TV on September 17th and was created by our neighbors Mary and Neil who own Duke’s Bar, right next door to us.

More murals have come to our neighborhood this past summer — and more will be arriving soon. (This one is just north of us on Glenwood between Morse and Lunt.) Rogers Park and its plan for a dozen more murals were the focus of a recent cover story in The Reader. We’ll soon be covered in art — even more than we are now!

One. Crazy. Summer.
Summer 2010 was action packed! Get a load of this schedule: Neverwhere extension ran into late July…

Which means it overlapped Lifeline’s Summer Drama Camp (which rocked)…

…which rolled right into the 14th Fillet of Solo Festival (our first year as host!) . . .

. . . which overlapped with the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest. (Best. Fest. Ever.)

But now there’s a chill in the air . . .
and the box office phones are ringing. Because it’s that time. It’s time to buy tickets to Wuthering Heights. Or Click Clack Moo. Or subscribe! (And subscriptions are going like hotcakes, we’re happy to report.) It’s Fall and we’re back! Can’t wait to see ya!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director


Welcome to new ensemble members, Hainsworth and Walsh!

We are joyful and proud to announce our newest ensemble members: Chris Hainsworth and Christopher Walsh. You’ve seen them both a number of times at Lifeline (most recently Treasure Island and Neverwhere!

Chris Hainsworth as Isreal Hands in Treasure Island

Christopher Walsh as Mr. Vandemar in Neverwhere

Fun fact: Chris Hainsworth is engaged to ensemble member Katie McLean and they will marry in August. Congrats to Katie and Chris! A Lifeline wedding!

Katie and Chris in Neverwhere

Neverwhere is dust and rubble

It always breaks our heart a little when we have to rip apart a show we loved. Ian and Barney took a day to destroy what it had taken them weeks to build. If you pass by Lifeline in the next couple days, you’ll see a dumpster in our driveway being filled with the unsalvageable scenic elements, chopped up into little bits.

The Neverwhere set, before strike.

Barney and Ian, mid-strike.

We are hurrying to clear the way for Fillet of Solo, next up at Lifeline. And, yow! Right on its heels is Season 2010-11: Wuthering Heights began rehearsal this week. Click, Clack, Moo is cast. Mr. Hatch auditions next week while we also have workshop rehearsals for a project in development across town. We have so much going on we are bursting out of our building! This is how crowded we are: below is a recent rehearsal for Fillet of Solo….in our basement laundry room!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry visit Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman and his friend, actor/TV producer Lenny Henry (co-creator and producer of the Neverwhere BBC miniseries), came to see our production of Neverwhere on Sunday, June 13th. It was a top-secret, stealth situation. Their publicists told us (and we knew from being fans ourselves) that if news of this visit leaked out, we’d be overwhelmed. There would be a few hundred people turning up at Lifeline without tickets to the show, trying to get a glimpse of our celebrity guests. So we told no one: not the artists involved, not even the board and ensemble. It was hard!

Neil and Lenny arrived at 3pm for the 4pm show. Erica and I were trying to fix the broken leg on the couch in the lobby, both of us on the floor with a hammer and flashlight, when Sean Sinitski (Mr. Croup) came sprinting in from his pre-show cigarette, yanked me away from the couch and hissed “Neil’s here!”

“Don’t tell the cast until afterwards,” I threw over my shoulder as I went outside to greet our guests.

My plan had been to take our guests next door to Duke’s so as not to cause a riot in our lobby, but Neil and Lenny already had a plan of their own, having sighted something exciting on our block.

“We’re early, we’ll just disappear for a bit,” suggested Neil.

“YES! To the comic book store!” shouted Lenny gleefully, waving in the direction of Evil Squirrel.

I was delighted by their joy and ease. They spent the next 45 minutes strolling around our ‘hood, returning with a couple coffees and a bag of goodies from Evil Squirrel (which they report to be a really good store, nicely laid out. We agree!)

Okay, now here’s the thing about Lifeline. For a big building, there is nowhere to go if you want to hide people. Everything is public or backstage space. So I kind of pile them into the box office (but carefully out of sight from the box office window). They are now squinched into the space by Erica’s desk for the 15 minutes before the show and the door hits one or the other of them every time a staff person comes in or out. I hit them myself a couple times. But both Neil and Lenny are happy and comfortable. “So tell me more about your theater,” Neil inquires cheerfully, wedged between our xerox machine and a few boxes of season brochures.

After the show, Neil and Lenny stayed to meet with the cast and crew. They were enthusiastic and generous. Each of their specific and detailed compliments about the production will be treasured for our lifetimes. At the close of these conversations, Neil asked if anyone wanted anything signed and there was a mad scramble for books and memorabilia and both he and Lenny cheerfully made time for all who wanted signatures and photographs.

The cast & crew with Neil and Lenny

Director Paul S. Holmquist with Neil

Neil has been tweeting about the show since. His generosity in trying to promote the show for us is remarkable and has been a great help for extension sales.

As Chris Hainsworth (Marquis de Carrebas) posted elsewhere, “It’s so awesome when your heroes turn out to be awesome!”

Yes. Yes it is.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Neverwhere adds four week extension!

To accommodate extraordinary ticket demand, Lifeline Theatre is thrilled to announce a four week extension of our world premiere adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere! We are adding Fri-Sun performances through our new closing date of July 18, 2010.

To date, the show has sold at 96% average occupancy; we’ve had audience members from 26 states around the US (plus several ticket buyers from overseas); and we’ve enjoyed wonderfully supportive critical acclaim.

Don’t miss out! Check out our trailer video here, and buy tickets here before they’re all gone!


Benefit 2010:  The Floating Market

It was crazy ambitious.  We had just a few hours to install a Floating Market into the Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center.  And due to the masterminds on our team, it appeared like magic — just like in the book!  Thanks to Alan for bringing his experience and brilliance to the uber-design of the whole event.  He and Ian and Brandon Wardell each designed areas of the Market (Trinkets and Treasures!  Experiences and Explorations!  Dreams and Destiny!)  They transformed that room —  and the costume team of Meredith Crilly, Kat Doebler and Elizabeth Klein transformed the people of the Market as well.  Performances by The Space/Movement Project, Read My Hips and Pyrotechniq seemed to be spontaneous combustions emerging from our colorful world.  Further color was added by members of Steam Punk Chicago, who integrated seamlessly.  Roving storyteller, Chris Walsh, entertained clusters of listeners throughout the evening.  Musicians Alan Goldberg, Ken Monroe, Paul Gilvary, Curt Silvers, Bill Rush and Kate Nawrocki (with her entire Afterlife band, on loan from our friends at The Strange Tree Group) surrounded us with sound.

Christopher Hainsworth wrote a short framing story for the evening, which included our fearless Neverwhere director, Paul, as emcee, quickly interrupted by a hotly pursed damsel in distress.  Bodyguard Auditions were called to protect her and the fun began.  Fights were designed by R&D Choreography (who are also choreographing Neverwhere) with performances (and swordplay) by Sarah Rose Graeber, Matt Barels, Matt Kahler, Shane Hill, David Gregory and Richard Gilbert.

And did I mention the plentiful and yummy food and booze, which Malnati’s and Stephani’s totally allowed us to rename to theme it up?   You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten fingers of glory washed down with some Ratspeaker Sludge. Oh yeah.  It was a great night.

All of us at LIfeline are sending get-well wishes to Jessica Wright, who is recovering from a car accident.  Jessica is a former Lifeline intern and current Lifeline employee.   She is also a playwright, with a recent production of her short play, Under Ground, at Curious Theatre’s RhinoFest earlier this year.  Jessica also provided a short story performed for Lifeline’s April 19th benefit.   (It was an audience favorite — which is pretty impressive given that other short stories read were by Edgar Allan Poe, Neil Gaiman and Richard Adams!)  Jessica wears many hats at Lifeline.  She was serving as assistant director and assistant stage manager for our upcoming production of Neverwhere at Lifeline as well as frequently working front of house for us.  We are sad to be without her but glad that she is on the road to recovery.  We look forward to seeing her back at Lifeline soon.

Interns that Rock!
Lifeline Theatre welcomes two new shop interns, Andrew Lehmkuhl and Kathleen Weiss.  They join Meredith Crilly (Chicago Semester, Dordt College, Iowa) and Christopher Scholtens (Columbia) as they all make considerable contributions to the ambitious undertaking that is Neverwhere.

Andrew hails from Dubuque, Iowa and is a freshman theater major at Loyola University.  Andrew comes to us thru the Loyola Job Fair where he was looking for opportunities to work in the the Chicago theater community.  He is a hard worker and we’re thrilled he found us.  Andrew is going home for the summer but is hoping to return to LIfeline in the fall and work with us between his school projects.  We hope so too!

Kathleen Weiss will be a junior theater design major at Columbia this fall.  She spent the past two years at SE Missouri State, where she was pursuing a BFA in Theatre and working as a Resident Assistant, while also working full time in a library!  She is obviously a terrific multi-tasker!  Kathleen is looking forward to living in a more urban setting.  Ian found her at Porchlight Theater where he was doing a scenic design for Into the Woods.  He was impressed with her work and brought her back to Lifeline.  We look forward to having her with us for a good long while!

All four of our interns have been instrumental in making magic for our upcoming show.  Meredith (who also led the charge in organizing our costumes for our recent benefit) is assisting Elizabeth on costumes.   Chris, Andrew and Kathleen have been assisting Ian and Alan in creating the tunnels below London and other Neverwhere magic.  And Chris is now subbing in as board operator and stage hand until Jessica returns to town after her accident.  And is those projects weren’t enough, Meredith and Chris are collaborating on a costume he will wear as the character Darsh Schneider  from the Anime/Manga Bastard! at the upcoming Anime Central convention in mid-May.  You better believe I’ll get a picture of that when it’s finished!  Just wait.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Process and Obsolescence

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere. This post is by Maren Robinson, our production dramaturg.

Process and Obsolescence

I wanted to expand on what Paul had said about previews, mostly because he has been a little modest about how unusual their process of working on an adaptation is. This was my first project with Lifeline, so I was not familiar with their process, which is unique to their mission to present adapted works of literature on stage. A few weeks ago, I got to sit in on an in depth discussion of the script with Paul, the artistic director, stage manager and ensemble members.

You should understand that many of these ensemble members are double or triple threats, they are actors, directors and adaptors in their own right and they have a carefully honed ear for storytelling and how it translates on stage. We sat there for a couple of hours, with a couple of bottles of wine and worked through everyone’s notes on the script after seeing it on stage. These were very detailed thoughts or notes about the script, how things translated to the stage and looking for places where the storytelling hit bumps. I was impressed both with the thoughtfulness of the comments and the kindness with which these comments were delivered. It was clear that the priority was making sure that a good story made it to stage and didn’t get muddled in the process.

Last week, I got to watch previews with the design team and more ensemble members all taking notes and comments on each run through of the play. In addition to all of these, Paul also got comment cards from the audience as part of the preview process. Again, I should explain that these were pretty enthusiastic audience members; some standing in the lobby writing notes well after most of the audience had left. The adaptor, Rob, then made more rewrites, Paul, the cast and the design team re-teched certain scenes and there will be more previews this week.

Admittedly that is a lot of cooks in the kitchen (to start mixing metaphors) but, remarkably, there seemed to be no bumps or crashes.

I am looking forward to watching the play again this week, even having seen the play in various forms many times. When you get to see theater again and again you get to see subtle changes in the performances and big changes as technical or design elements change.

At the same time, I am starting to get a little wistful and sad. This is the point at which my role (a shadowy, vague thing to begin with) in the process starts to end. A dramaturg is always a bit of an outsider, a benevolent observer, an information gatherer, a bit of an interferer, a scribbler and but always a fond well-wisher. At certain point, I stop giving feedback and just watch the creature that is a play as it lives, moves, and has its being.


Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.


We have been through three incredible previews thus far. Previews are full runs of the show with lights and sound and all tech running as a performance with paying audiences who are invited to give feedback via paper surveys in their programs. It gives me a chance as director to sit in the back of the theatre and watch the actors juggle their many roles in front of a large audience (about 300 people saw the show this weekend) and to gauge how our show might be improved.

Clearly the show is working, the audiences are enthusiastic, but with consultation with my theatre collective, the Lifeline Theatre Ensemble, and Rob as adaptor, we have made some significant cuts and re-writes and are re-staging some elements this week, tightening choreography and fights, and making some of the technical elements clearer.

Our Ensemble is fortunate enough to own our performance space – a luxury not common in Chicago Non-Equity theatre. Since we are constantly producing world premiere adaptations, we have adopted this preview process with a full week of rehearsal between previews and opening for just this purpose – honing and enhancing our work with the benefit of audience experience and thoughtful feedback.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Tonight begins the first time we rehearse on the nearly completed set, constructed in wood and metal in four hundred or so square feet of stage. We’ve been rehearsing in a bare room upstairs at Lifeline Theatre’s space since early March, imagining various platforms, ladders, doors and stairs, we’ve experimented with movement through different entrances and exits to help us tell the trajectory of the story from London Above to London Below and back again. We’ve fidgeted with the script, tweaking here and there or asking Rob to rethink whole passages. We’ve speculated on what props need to be tracked onstage and off, how we deal with them, which of the characters my nine actors are channeling in each scene, how they use their bodies and focus to create the environments we need and I’ve pondered much about how lights and sound and projections will help us get where we need to be. We’ve choreographed the fights, including the epic battle with the massive Beast of London. We’ve tried to time and foresee how all of this movement will work once we get on the set. And now we get to find out.

It’s an incredibly exciting moment. We’ve been peeking in downstairs every now and then to watch the progress as scenic pieces are being built. We all have had our oohs and ahhs over parts of it and we also have had our fears – about how a clumsy step on a high platform could spell disaster, or how a whip quick costume change could affect a timely entrance on the other side of the stage. No doubt about it, this is another part of the process calling for brave hearts and flexible thinking. I assume I understood the way the space will work for us, but that vision will be tested this week.

Last night I met with members of our technological design team on lights, sound and projections for five hours to talk through the script from start to finish and decide what we want to happen when. The meeting for this is called a Paper Tech in that we technically work out on paper the results of our conversations. (In an interesting turn of technology we had four Mac laptops plugged in, our lighting designer Skyped in to attend from where he was in Wisconsin, and yet still all of us had pencils and erasers and paper in hand – it does not appear that Paper Tech will change to “Laptop Tech” any time soon.) We talk about how long a transition should feel like, what it might sound like, how our various arts can combine to help tell the story, tell the story, tell the story. We tie the cues for these lights and sounds to specific actions the actor’s have created in rehearsal or we tie them to a specific line – even down to a word. So gestures, words and movement cue the stage manager to drive the tech. Now my designers, encouraged and empowered by our meeting, will have almost two weeks to build their contributions in preparation for our actual technical rehearsals, the next big leap in our process when we put all of that theory into practice.

First Run Through: Fragile Things, Magic and Darkness

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere. This post is by Maren Robinson, our production dramaturg.

First Run Through: Fragile Things, Magic and Darkness

I was having one of those late-night-into-early-morning bouts of insomnia. Where a single worry or two seem to invite another and another and they, in turn, are acquaintances of some of my old fears and a few old embarrassing moments and so they come along too “to relive old times” and finally the party is in full swing and it is four in the morning. So I gave up trying to sleep and decided to wait for the sleepy comfort of dawn. The cats were perplexed by the change in routine but were willing to sit next to me on the couch and wait for breakfast while I typed.

I turned to thinking about the first run through I saw on Monday. It is part of a sacred trust as a collaborator with other artists on a play not to reveal the first rough steps of a production. An audience must wait to see a polished gem not a bumpy rock. (Which is not to say that this rehearsal was that bumpy; I thought it was in rather good shape.) I can however reflect on the process though not the details of it. A first rehearsal is a delicate creature. I have heard other dramaturgs refer to their role on a production as midwife to a play and I have never been sure I agreed with the analogy. However, a play newly on its feet (which is often what we refer to the process as getting a play on its feet) is very much like a newborn creature, full of wrinkles and fits and starts as it struggles to stand up. Newborn creatures are not generally lovely right away. But like other newborn creatures it inspires a protectiveness to guard and help until it can stand on its own and defend itself as best it can.

If you are not a participant in theater, then you should appreciate the job the actors have to do at a first run through of a play. They are remembering new blocking, and lines, thinking about the development of their characters, working on dialects and fight choreography all while still working in an empty room with tape on the floor to indicate doors, or steps or ladders. Often this is after putting aside the concerns of a day job and fueled by caffeine while fighting a cold.

Designers come to a first run through and do not generally make a good audience. Not because they don’t enjoy the play but because they are thinking about their various tasks and may have heads bent over notepads or laptops writing questions about a sound cue or how a set piece might function or some costume change that might be needed, or could some story arc be made more clear.

The Marquis de Carabas tells the stranded Richard, “You’ll just have to make the best of it down here in the sewers and the magic and the dark.” The act of making theater, the contract between an audience and actors who agree to sit in a dark room and share an experience that is meant to move them is source of continual fascination to me no matter how long I work in theater.

It is no surprise then that the earliest acts of theater are associated with religious rituals. One can imagine the day a hunter at night by a fire told the story of the hunt and the moment another person took up the skin of a gazelle and pretended to be the creature hunted. It is easy to see how the recreation of a fierce hunt for those who didn’t see it but are about to enjoy the meal might become a mystical play. Early Greek theater was part of religious festivals and a shared communal experience. So even though theaters today are not generally tied to religious practice and they often struggle for their financial existence in a world of many competing entertainment voices; there are still those struggling to create fragile things and delicate creatures and there is still something that draws audiences to share the magic and the dark.