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Season auditions
We just had our general auditions for the year and – dang!  There is so much sparkly talent in this city. And it just kills me how many people totally rock and we don’t have a darn thing in this particular season that fits them.  Makes me want to do more plays. Except that would probably kill us. But we had our directors and writers and composers from our various shows in 09-10 there to see (the three days of) auditions and we were wowed by the people who auditioned.

More states and fresh blood in Busman!
Okay, Erica says it’s too early to post another map but I must report that we’re up to 22 states! We’ve added South Dakota and Connecticut and Rhode Island!   We’ve got 5 weeks to go so I’m hoping we add to the tally!  We’re welcoming some new folks into the cast for the extension.   Jon Stutzman, Chris Hainsworth and Jean Vanier will be joining us and we’re excited to have ’em.  Jean is a newcomer to Lifeline.  Jon was in Rikki Tikki Tavi and The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Chris was in Talking It Over and will be in Treasure Island this fall.

Our very first Property Condition Assessment
Constructed as a ComEd substation in 1933, Lifeline is built like a bomb shelter. (Our city building inspector recommends we all meet here in case of disaster.) But it’s also freakin’ old. We’re getting an expert guy over here next week to go over our building with a fine tooth comb. His report will tell us of “existing deficiencies, deferred maintenance, repair cost estimates and a reserve table of the expected useful life of building components.” I expect it to be sobering. But at least we’ll know. And it’s better to know….isn’t it?

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

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

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

Best. Benefit. EVER!

Lifeline’s annual benefit was held on Thursday, April 16, in the newly refurbished, totally sparkly, mosaic-filled dome room of Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center.  Elegant and totally grown up.

To go with our mystery theme (we’re gearing up for Busman’s Honeymoon at Lifeline), Christina adapted a Dorothy L. Sayers short story, The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face into a short play and hotshot, super-best-selling Chicago-based mystery writers Sean Chercover, Julie Hyzy and Sara Paretsky each provided totally different and HILARIOUS endings to the piece and took questions from the crowd after.

Many thanks to those that made this happen — despite most of them being up to their eyebrows in Busman’s rehearsal:  Frances directed the play-let and Peter, Paul, Jenifer, Jim, Shole, Phil, Katie, Rob and Elise played the multiple villains, victims and investigators. Also thanks to our rockin’ board and benefit committee!  Woohoo!

Behind the scenes of the Best Benefit Ever:
Outtakes (if only we’d had video documentation) include:  1) not being able to find the prop gun that was packed for the show, realizing it had been left in the trunk of an already valet-parked car and trying to get it back in time for the performance without being arrested for illegal possession of a wicked looking firearm (in reality just a starter pistol).  2) me and Allison going out for Subway to feed the set-up crew at lunchtime and me falling down an entire marble staircase at the Cultural Center but not hurting myself at all.  3) not being able to fit all our stuff back in the van at the end of the evening and trying to give the stuff that wouldn’t fit to the dock workers at the Cultural Center:  “Okay, please take the beer — no, I’m sorry, the vodka we can return for store credit, we have to fit that in somehow.   You can have the wine though.   What? You don’t like wine?  Okay, it’s just the beer then — and could you please take this cheesecake?”  4) Erica, Allison and me sitting on the floor at Lifeline with a bottle of champagne amidst the stack of boxes toasting the event’s success.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Au revior, Lord Peter

I’m sitting in the darkened theatre. Voices of designers murmur around me. In the black I can see a few blue-tinted faces as they stare intently into their laptops, almost unblinking, their eyes flicking from screen to stage, screen to stage. In front of me I can make out the skeleton outline of our set, waiting to be brought to life with light, sound and actors. We are about to start technical rehearsals for Busman’s Honeymoon.

As I sit here in the dark, I’m grateful for the efforts of so many people who are working to make my play a reality, and I can’t wait to see the result! On the other hand, this part of the process always marks the end of my participation. Although the actors will be playing these roles for weeks, perhaps months, my job is almost done, and I can’t help but indulge in a little bit of the sadness of letting go. The feeling is especially poignant for me this time, because I’m also saying goodbye to Lord Peter Wimsey, my hard-to-tame hero and muse over 9 years and 4 adaptations; borrowed, of course, from Dorothy L. Sayers.

I may adapt other Sayers books someday, and Lifeline might remount the 4 we’ve already done from time to time, so Sayers fans, don’t despair! However, I’ve spent almost a decade on Sayers, and I feel an inner pull to try something new. I’m excited to begin work on my next adaptation, Mrs. Caliban; a post-modern American fantasy which should completely cure me of my desire for change (and, who knows, may send me running back to Sayers for comfort sooner than I expect).

So, since it’s very possible that I’m saying goodbye for good to Lord Peter, I am feeling nostalgic about him and his lady love, Harriet. How blessed I’ve been to have ensemble members Peter Greenberg and Jenifer Tyler play them over the entire series! I wonder if Jen and Peter will experience their own nostalgia when Busman’s closes. (Perhaps they’ll blog about it…) I know they share my gratitude for the passionate Sayers fans who have supported us over the years. Their devotion and appreciation have made this experience immensely gratifying, and have helped make the series a financial success for Lifeline. Hurray! There’s been so much to celebrate!

I have hope that the plays will be produced elsewhere (check back here for news about a Canadian Strong Poison coming this fall), but at least for now, my love affair with Lord Peter is at an end. I’ll soon be reaching for my thumbed and dog-eared Sayers paperbacks to read with the affection one has for old love letters, to remind myself that I once had a dashing leading man who did my bidding (on the page) and who gave me much joy.

Au revoir, Lord Peter, and thank you.

Frances Limoncelli

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

An Ensemble Prepares

There has been some discussion in the blogosphere of late on the role of an acting ensemble, lots of debate on that mysterious question of what ensemble members are entitled to expect. From Our perspective, I think we naturally look at each other first as a group of artists we respect, that we want to support, collaborate with, and help to develop each other’s skills.

In early discussions with Frances Limoncelli on Busman’s Honeymoon, she made it clear to me that she wished for the Lifeline ensemble to be as integrated as possible into the production. This presented an exciting opportunity: Peter Greenberg and Jenifer Tyler would naturally resume their roles as Lord Peter and Harriet Vane (now Lady Peter Wimsey!), to the joy of our fans of the Sayer’s series of plays adapted by Frances and presented at Lifeline over the years (Whose Body? in 2002, Strong Poison in 2004, and Gaudy Night in 2006). The remaining cast of characters offered some choice roles to our ensemble of actors and I was determined to find ways to invite them in where I could. I was not able to find a place for everyone interested in the show, but I was able to tap Jim Grote, Rob Kauzlaric and Phil Timberlake for the production.

We’ve been rehearsing for several weeks now and having a team of easy collaborators like us around has been a challenging and productive process. Challenging due to the fact that I am one of the newer kids on the block (I feel like I only just joined the collective, though I’ve been official for two and a half years now), and having a constantly open and collaborative process means continual honest evaluation and discussion of the work – the piece as a whole and the individual experiences/processes of each and every one of the actors. Productive for the same reasons, however. The non-ensemble cast (all people I’ve had the good fortune to work with before) has taken on the collaborative spirit of the rest of us and there is a game and open atmosphere for discussion and problem-solving really being developed. As we prepare to move downstairs from the rehearsal room to the set, we’re in a great place to find our maneuvers in the new geography together. And that collaboration, part of the core spirit of our company, will usher us into getting ready for tech.

Paul S. Holmquist

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