Category Archives: Mariette in Ecstasy

Busman’s Extension and more!

Woohoo!  Busman’s Honeymoon is a runaway train — extended thru July 26!
This is how many fans Dorothy L. Sayers has:   Erica posted a map in the box office and her team is coloring in all the locations we’ve had tickets purchased from — which now totals 19 states, plus Ontario — and, we’ve gone international!  Arrows off the map point to audience members traveling in from Paris, Rome and Madrid!    So seriously — we’re extended, but call ahead!  We are so totally packed — even those added Thursdays are filling up fast.  This is the fourth time Frances has adapted a Dorothy L. Sayers novel for stage at Lifeline and each one is more successful than the last.  The show is delightfully staged by Paul and features numerous Lifeline ensemble members as well (Peter, Jenifer, Phil, Jim and Rob).

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle rocked – and it’s coming back for GAAF!
Recently closing, our final KidSeries show this season was also a sold-out hit.  If you missed Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (or if you want to see it again), you have another chance!   We will perform a stripped down version of the show at Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest, right in front of Lifeline!  Showtimes at 2pm on both Saturday and Sunday August 22-23.    You can check out all the entertainment for this year, along with video from past Fests at www.GlenwoodAve.org.

Non-Equity Jeff Awards
It was a fun party on Monday night and the evening concluded at 9:50 pm, which has to be a new record.  Which meant we all had to repair to a nearby bar.  Lifeline came home with 4 awards:
  • Scenic design: Alan, Mariette in Ecstasy
  • Artistic Specialization: Geoff Coates, fight choreography, The Mark of Zorro
  • Adaptation: Katie, The Mark of Zorro
  • Sound design: Toy, The Mark of Zorro

A gazillion Jeff nominations!
Lifeline Theatre received 14 non-equity Jeff nominations this season, the most of any company.  (And y’know who came in second?  Our nearest neighbor — Theo Ubique.  Oh yeah.  The Glenwood Avenue Art District continues to take the world by storm!)  In addition to the wins mentioned above, congratulations are also due for these nominations:
  • Adapter: Rob for Dorian Gray, Christina for Mariette
  • Director: Elise for Mariette
  • Lead actress: Brenda Barrie for Mariette
  • Lead actor: James Elly for Zorro
  • Supporting actor: Paul for Dorian Gray
  • Ensemble: Mariette
  • Sound: Tim for Mariette
  • Production: Zorro and Mariette
More kudos for ensemble away from home!
In addition to the nominations they received for work at Lifeline, ensemble members Elise (actress, On the Shore of the Wide World) and Paul (director, The Robber Bridegroom)  are nominated for shows they did with our friends at Griffin Theatre!   Congrats to all!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Telling stories

Both Paul & Katie touch on the nature of artistic ensembles in their recent blog posts, something I’ve been pondering myself lately. I consider the Lifeline ensemble truly fortunate, since the primary function of the group is to choose and develop the material we produce, not merely just to direct/design/act in it. We aren’t stuck having a season dictated to us by an outside person – we work together to uncover the passion projects we want to work on. We don’t take a “back seat” role in productions we aren’t directing/designing/acting in – we play a vital part in the development process, from early discussion through draft readings, rehearsal runs, and the preview process.

As an ensemble member at Lifeline, I feel a sense of pride and ownership in every show we produce, since my voice and ideas were heard by the production team at every step along the way. This is equally true for shows like The Picture of Dorian Gray (which I pitched to the group and wrote the adaptation for) as for shows like Mariette in Ecstasy or Duck for President, which I “only” experienced as an audience member. And while some seasons go by when I may not be cast in roles I would have liked to play, or when the other commitments of life preclude me from participating as much as I’d like in the development of a show or two, still those shows are as important to me as the ones I personally submitted for the ensemble’s consideration. As is sharing in the growth and development of each of my fellow ensemble artists – and the theatre as an institution.


Sean Sinitski, Nick Vidal & Paul S. Holmquist in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Photo by Lindsay Schlesser.

The Lifeline ensemble exists to tell stories. Sometimes, as a member of the ensemble, I’ll act in those stories. Sometimes I’ll write them. Once in a while, I may even direct them (as with the upcoming Treasure Island – gulp). But most of the time my job is to encourage, question, challenge, support, and nurture my fellow ensemble members as we work together to creatively share the stories that excite us, with the audience that means so much to us.

Robert Kauzlaric

Mariette thoughts

Four months ago, I wrote a blog entry following the first rehearsals for Mariette in Ecstasy, with every intention of handing over new entries on a regular basis to report on our progress, both through the rehearsal process and the run (two very different animals). Obviously that didn’t happen! There are variety of reasons, primarily increased pressure at my day job and a lot less time for anything other than sleep, work, and rehearsal, but also because both the rehearsal process and the run turned out to be unexpectedly very personal. I’ve done a lot of shows, and sometimes one experience is a lot like many others. This one was different, in such that it was more difficult to comment, share, or otherwise dissect. I love reading blogs, but I’ve learned that there’s an element to blogging and reading blogs about experiences that can diminish or pigeonhole those experiences. Mariette was special, and I wanted it to remain special and personal while we were rehearsing and running the show. We closed the run one week ago today, to excellent critical acclaim and box office success, so I’m feeling a lot better about sharing.

Katie McLean and Brenda Barrie in Mariette in Ecstasy
Katie McLean and Brenda Barrie in Mariette in Ecstasy. Photo by Paul Metreyeon

Religion is a sensitive topic, even among friends. In portraying a person of such profound faith that she has dedicated her life to God, I had a great deal of personal exploration to do and many questions to answer. Sometimes a rehearsal hall is as safe a place as a therapist’s office to do that kind of soul-searching, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. This time, however, it was. And while my personal religious beliefs have not significantly altered because of this process, my understanding and tolerance of others’ beliefs has broadened, and my understanding of faith has deepened and become more meaningful to me. I am not inclined to expand or include specific details of my faith, but I am indebted to this production, and the people I was surrounded by, for fostering the kind of peaceful and reflective atmosphere in which one can open a door long believed closed, have a look around, dust off some shelves, sift through the drawers, and then just sit awhile, mulling things over.

It doesn’t make for the most interesting blog entry but I have to emphasize that everyone involved in this production was at the top of their game, was deeply passionate about their involvement, and gave of themselves above and beyond the call, whenever the opportunity arose.

When you work on a successful production, it is usually because everyone involved contributes in the ways I stated above, but it would be remiss not to single out the contribution of our director, Elise Kauzlaric. It wasn’t her first directorial effort, but it was her first MainStage at Lifeline, which I know from experience can be an overwhelming position, especially when you are juggling responsibilities at your day job, your friends and family, and other commitments you’ve made to the community at large. Elise handled everything, from the very first read-through to our closing night party, with her usual grace, aplomb, and elegance. She managed to convey what she was looking for while still welcoming everyone’s input, empowering the actors to develop their own characters while maintaining the overall tone, pace, and style of the piece. I want to mention that Elise’s success in the position came as no surprise to anyone. Her professionalism and talent shine through whether she is coaching dialects, playing the lead in a MainStage musical, or adapting a beloved children’s novel to the stage.

Being a member of the Lifeline ensemble affords one the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and do things we wouldn’t normally get to do anywhere else. Dorothy Milne asked me to adapt The Mark of Zorro though I had never adapted anything before. The actors in the ensemble aren’t guaranteed roles, shows aren’t chosen because the designers want to create lights or costumes for them, but we are all given the chance to explore new opportunities in an environment where the freedom to fail is balanced by the great cushion of ensemble support through every step of the process. The most exciting part of being in this company is when someone steps up to a new challenge and hits one out of the park.

Katie McLean

Our new Managing Director

Allison Cain is Lifeline’s new Managing Director! Yay! We are so happy and fortunate.

You may know Allison because she’s acted in four Lifeline shows (including the current Mariette in Ecstasy — closing April 5, don’t miss it!) as well as acting all over town. She was also Executive Director of the Factory Theater for 7 years and she has 20 years of real-life day-job hard-core business experience under her belt. Not only is she a fabulous actress but she knows her way around a spreadsheet and has a wise eye to the big picture and the looking-forward picture as well. Just the kind of leader we need.

Welcome to Allison!! We are so glad you’ve come to play for our team!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

News, news, and more news

Ron Hansen was here! Again!


(Elise Kauzlaric, Brenda Barrie, Ron Hansen & Christina Calvit)

Author Ron Hansen returned to Lifeline on March 14th to see the finished Mariette in Ecstasy (he’d already come on first preview weekend!) He did a book signing between the 4pm and 8pm shows and a talkback after the latter. We’ve never had such a well-attended talkback — 80+ people stayed for close to an hour and participated in a lively discussion. We found out that Ron’s sister Ginny used to be a Dominican nun and was the source for some of his atmospheric details. We found out which historical stigmatics Ron drew on as inspiration for Mariette. And we had a big ol’ discussion about the everyday questions the story raises about faith, responsibility and community. This sure is a script and production that inspires conversation, big questions and strong opinions! A good time was had by all.

Mariette is rocking the house!

Photo by Paul Metreyeon

Not only did we enjoy rave reviews and we’re selling really well, Lifeline is seeing a lot of new audience members for this show. We are seeing clergy and fans of the book who have never been here before. At the same time, we are gratified by how many of our regular audience members who are not necessarily of a spiritual bent have found the show to be riveting. Outside the theater this past weekend, a Lifeline regular told me: “I didn’t want to come tonight. I had no interest in seeing a show about a bunch of nuns — but I am so glad I did. This is one powerful piece of theater — and relevant to anyone.”

The sign has landed!
Check out our total freakin’ snazziness!

The sign we’ve yearned for lo these many years has arrived! Oh my gosh — is that a MARQUEE? And is that NEON going around the perimeter? Oh yes, it is. It most certainly is. Many thanks to Rene Camargo at DevCorp North for hooking us up with the Business Improvement Plan which paid for half the sign. Thanks to our board, staff and ensemble and ensemble emeritus for kicking in money for the other half. And thanks to Frances for tireless efforts to make this happen. And thanks to our resident genius Alan for his eye-popping design. And thanks also to sign-maker Alex Quinonez who totally rocks.

Brand new education director – and you can see her art while having a cocktail.
Welcome to Lea Pinsky who joined Lifeline as our new education director on March 1st. Aside from her skills as an arts administrator and her background in theater, she’s also a painter and a muralist. Want to see some of Lea’s art work on display? Step on over to the Morseland, go thru the front door, take a right into that cozy nook by the east-most windows and keep an eye out for Wonder Woman. Now you’re looking at the display by Lea and her husband Dustin Harris. As long as you’re there, have a seat, order a cosmo and the best mac and cheese fritters in the world and relax while you soak in the art!

More bragging about our awesome staff
We just received a $400 check from a family in Ohio who came here once to see Zorro back in June. When their cab was late, our staff entertained them. Erica took them on a tour of the building while Bob phoned for another cab and waited outside to flag it down. When these repeated efforts didn’t produce a taxi, Bob drove them back to their hotel downtown. It is not uncommon for our staff to end up taking out-of-towners to other destinations when cabs fail. So this didn’t appear in a report. No one submitted extra hours for his/her efforts. We never would have heard about this incident except for the check and letter that came later. Just one of the ways our staff goes the extra mile(s).

The big shuttle-sharing and expansion pilot project
As you may know (and if you don’t, hear me now!), we can no longer use the Trilogy lot for Lifeline parking. It’s seriously being towed now, so don’t go there! We have a new lot at the NE corner of Morse and Ravenswood (made available to us by our friends at First Commercial Bank and our local SSA). It is further away but easier to find since it’s right on Morse Avenue. We’ve still got our shuttle doing loops back and forth to the (new) lot and a couple weeks ago, we hooked up with near-neighbors and good friends BoHo Theatre and Theo Ubique and the Lifeline van is shuttling to the lot for their shows too. (And did I mention that, like Mariette, their shows have gotten RAVE reviews? Glenwood Avenue Arts District theaters ride again!) Our showtimes between the three theaters are nicely staggered on most nights so the fact that our van only has 7 seats has so far not been a big problem! Oh yeah — and guess what? Shuttle EXPANSION to KidSeries! We are shuttling for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We’re doing a kids show for the first time and so far it’s gotten a lot of response. We’ll hope these experimental programs work out and we’re able to keep ’em going for next season!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Cheers for Mariette

Let me just give a shout out right now to the Lifeline house and box office team because ALL the bosses were out of town this past weekend and we did not get a single text. As per usual, Susan, Tonia and Deirdre had it all under control. I even got Deirdre roped into the starching and ironing of the gazillion wimples, veils and other items/words I don’t know that comprise nun habits. LOTS of starching and ironing for this show. Brani says they must look “crisp.” No such thing as a rumpled nun.

Mariette in Ecstasy opened last week to rave reviews and we are all doing happy dances over here. Chris Jones called Christina one of America’s best adapters of novels into drama. Does that rock? I am repeating that tidbit here because it embarrassed Christina so much the first time. Everyone’s talking about Elise‘s brilliant staging and the stunning technical elements (go Alan, Brani, Sarah, Tim and R&D!). And seriously, let’s face it, the acting is sublime. Hedy says Brenda is “transfixing” and “charismatic” and that everyone else is played with “exquisite individuality.” So totally true.

We are super-excited because author Ron Hansen will be coming to Lifeline March 14th and doing a book-signing between the 4pm and 8pm shows and a talkback after the latter. The evening show is already sold out because his fans are banging down the door. If you want to meet Ron, the 4pm still has tickets left and you’ll still get to intersect with him.

Speaking of meeting Ron: Elise, Christina and the cast got to meet him much earlier. Ron was in Chicago for a conference during our first preview weekend and he terrified the Lifeline team by turning up here with friends to see the show. As non-theater-folk, I don’t know that they understood the wide eyed horror that met their arrival at the box office, nor why the audience was being asked to fill out comment cards. But happily the show was already in great shape, he and his friends seemed to totally enjoy it and he’ll get to see the final product soon!

In other Lifeline news, Rob and Elise are in Charlotte, NC this weekend seeing The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. Rob’s adaptation of the book by Jon Scieszka was a mongo hit at Lifeline and is now being produced all around the country. We’re very excited for him!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Pain

As we’re working on Mariette in Ecstasy, a play which examines the lives of nuns at the turn of the century in upstate New York, I find myself struggling with one of the key ideas of the text.

Why would anyone actively seek pain?

Mariette Baptiste, a young postulant, loves Christ with a passionate, teenage devotion. She longs to understand Him completely, to enter into His world totally. For her, this means understanding His great love for mankind…and His suffering And how can she understand it completely except by taking on his pain physically?

In our world, we pretty much do anything possible to avoid pain. We want to feel good and strong and healthy. We laud the modern medical miracles that alleviate pain. We have psychoanalysis to ease our psychic pain. So the idea of seeking pain as a desirable thing is a bizarre concept.

But the idea of finding some deeper life meaning by pursuing pain is one that would be accepted quite readily by the just post-Victorian nuns in Mariette in Ecstasy. It’s a common idea in Christian mysticism. St. Theresa spoke of feeling a flaming arrow that came from God that filled her with a “delightful pain.” St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, talks of a “dark night of the soul” a place of unimaginable psychological torment…but a place through which the soul must necessarily pass before being truly united with God. The Catholic mystic Sister Maria Maddalena de Pazzi sometimes wore a tight crown of thorns; other times she firmly strapped a girdle to her body so that its sharp nails dug into her flesh. She walked barefoot in winter, burned her skin with hot candle wax and resisted the desire to eat and sleep.

These mortifications are also familiar to us…as comedy routines from Monty Python and on Saturday Night Live. They are so strange as to be ridiculous.

But the truth is that a belief in the transformative power of sacred pain isn’t confined to Catholicism. We see it in offshoots of almost every world religion, from Buddhism to Islam to Native American religions. “When pain transgresses the limits,” the Muslim mystic Mizra Asadullah Ghalib is quoted as saying, “it becomes medicine.”

So, how can a modern audience deal with all this in Mariette? Should we be expected to feel sympathy with this longing? Or just regard it as pathological?

This play doesn’t tell you to think one way or the other, I hope. The ideas should be yours. But this is what I’ve been thinking about…what happens to a society when it takes the opposite route? When it avoids pain at all cost? When the pursuit of comfort becomes all consuming? Can change happen without pain? Can growth? If we could move beyond our fear of pain, would we be able to accomplish more and experience more? Do we need to embrace it to conquer it? And find something better beyond it?

Mariette is a play that makes me think about those questions…and others. Hope it will do the same for you.

Christina Calvit

Mariette Meet & Greet/Read-Through: An Actor’s Perspective

On Monday, December 1, we had our Meet & Greet for Lifeline’s next Mainstage production, Mariette in Ecstasy, adapted from Ron Hansen’s novel by ensemble member Christina Calvit (A Room With a View, Jane Eyre, Far From the Madding Crowd) and directed by ensemble member Elise Kauzlaric, whom you’ve seen on our stage many times and who’s been behind the scenes as a KidSeries adaptor/director and as a dialect coach multiple times as well. For me, it was just four days shy of a year since the beginning of my last rehearsal process as an actor in a production, which was Talking It Over.

I was immediately excited by the design presentations. Alan Donahue is doing the set (he’s done all my favorite Lifeline sets – including The Mark of Zorro, Johnny Tremain, and Around the World in 80 Days), so of course there’s pieces that spin, flip, pivot, etc., and our sound designer Tim Hill told us about how he intends to give our small, 99-seat theatre the “auditory illusion” of a cavernous space – for those who haven’t read Ron Hansen’s novel, Mariette in Ecstasy takes place in a convent very early in the twentieth century. I don’t want to give away too much because it’s going to be so cool. Besides, I feel unqualified to comment on the design side of things at this point.

I am playing Sister Aimee, the infirmarian of the convent. I am always drawn to Christina’s scripts. They are always deceptively simple on the surface, with a lot of emotional depth underneath. She always mines so much from the novels she adapts, without ever getting bogged down in plot and exposition. I was drawn to this role in particular because of how much seems to be going on beneath the dialogue, and I have been excited about the prospect of getting into the character and digging around to see what I can unearth. I walked into the read-through last night feeling connected to the character while knowing just how much further I can explore in rehearsal, how limitless the possibilities are on Day One – like, I know I don’t get everything yet, but I can’t wait to dig in and see what comes up. And while we were reading, the potential in the room seemed to crystallize. I can’t wait to see the choices everyone makes. I can’t wait to see how everyone’s choices interact with everyone else’s choices. I can’t wait to work with the people I’ve already worked with again and I can’t wait to work with those I’ve never met before. So, I guess, to sum up: I can’t wait!

Katie McLean

Welcome!

Look at us!  We’re getting all bloggy!  Can you even believe it?   Welcome — and thank you for visiting our blog.  As I type, I’m humming along with the Duck for President curtain call reprise that’s floating up from the stage below.   I hear the school buses idling out front and hope we can get this group of kids out before the buses pull up to drop off the next load.  (I’m glad Erica‘s downstairs to traffic cop the whole circus.  She used to be a cheerleader, so she’s able to rally the armies of children and get them to do whatever she wants.)  In the office next door — okay, it’s not next door, we’re basically all piled in a room together — but in her own little corner, our education director, Frances, is huddled with one of our teaching artists strategizing about about classroom activities at a neighborhood elementary school, while Angelo is between us, in his little corner, on the phone about our upcoming benefit.  Just outside the office in the rehearsal room, the strange wrestling sounds I keep hearing have turned out to be our tech director, Ian, who is constructing a giant flying machine.  Yes, it’s true.  There will be a giant flying machine featured in our next kids’ show, The Flight of the Dodo.  That may have been top secret.  But this is the place to get the top secret poop.  Oops.  More secrets.  There’s poop in the show too.

Dang, it’s been a busy fall.  In addition to the gazillion Duck for President performances, The Picture of Dorian Gray was a boffo hit that extended.   Plus we moved last summer’s hit, The Mark of Zorro, to Theatre Building Chicago on Belmont Avenue for a fall run there.  And don’t get me started with the birthday parties and special events and off-school workshop days.   But finally we wind down for a brief spell.   Our next MainStage show, Mariette in Ecstasy, doesn’t open until February.  Dorian closed on Sunday — sold out thru the very last show.  Zorro will close this coming Sunday (after 93 performances) and then we’ll bust it up and drag all the salvageable pieces back to Lifeline. Ah, it will be good to be home under one roof rather than scattered all across town.

So welcome to our blog!  I hope you will visit us often and we will keep you up to date on our backstage antics, dilemmas and general hilarity.  Right now, I have to go to my Snowflake Tim rehearsal.  Oh criminy.  That reminds me.  Flight of the Dodo is NOT our next kids’ show.  It’s Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure.  That’s a title we came up with a few years ago when we decided we needed a non-denominational holiday kids show.  And who would think that plan would have worked out?  But Christina took that title written on a cocktail napkin and wrote the play and it is GREAT, cuz she’s a genius.  It’s funny, heartwarming, lots of audience participation.  So we bring it back every couple years over the holidays.   So — Snowflake Tim will open first and then Dodo a week later and then they’ll be in rep.  Yes, in rep.  Back-to-back shows right after each other on our little stage with different sets and different casts and not much time in between…  What the heck.  Who made this schedule?  Does no one proofread the calendar?  What were we thinking? I mean — What a bold new experiment!  And with the team we’ve got over here and the production teams on these shows, I have high hopes we’ll be able to work miracles, as usual.

Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it works out for us . . .

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director