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Building a Theatre of Inclusion

February 12th, 2013 Posted in Events | Comments Off

Building a Theatre of Inclusion: Perspectives on Asian American Casting and Producing

On February 18, 2013, Silk Road Rising, the League of Chicago Theatres and Lifeline Theatre will host a panel discussion and community conversation that will address challenges faced by Asian American actors, particularly as regards casting, questions that theatres face in producing plays with Asian American content, as well as broader community concerns with productions that are not perceived as culturally authentic.

Panelists will include: David Henry Hwang, Playwright; Jamil Khoury, Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising; Eliza Shin, Actor; and Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theatre.

The panel will be moderated by Danny Bernardo, actor and resident playwright at Bailiwick Chicago.

We hope you’ll join us for what is sure to be an engaging conversation!

When: Monday, February 18, 2013
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Where: Pierce Hall at The Historic Chicago Temple Building
77 West Washington St, Chicago, IL

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Chicago Theatre Week

January 22nd, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Lifeline Theatre is thrilled to participate in the first-ever Chicago Theatre Week, taking place February 12-17, 2013! Specially-priced Theatre Week tickets are now available to over 75 productions throughout Chicago, including our very own The City & The City and The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost.

For information on all the great offerings happening city-wide, click here or on the image below.

Chicago Theatre Week

Directing Theatre for Children

January 17th, 2013 Posted in Flight of the Dodo, Mystery of the Pirate Ghost, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, Posts by Paul, Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost | Comments Off

The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost received a rousing audience response on opening this past weekend and I am so proud of the thrilling work of my cast and crew. Hearing the squeals of delight and excitement from the young patrons in the house gives an incomparable sense of accomplishment. I have found, in my short career at Lifeline, that creating theatre for children is a very unique joy and challenge, with deep rewards for a story well told. For me most recently, the addition of a child of my own in my life has made a deep connection to the work.

My first directing gig ever was in the spring of 2006, directing Christina Calvit’s adaptation of Kipling shorts titled Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and other “Just So” Stories. I remember how thrilled I was at the honor and opportunity to helm the ship for one of Lifeline’s prized production slots. I also remember a terrifying sense of dread that I wouldn’t really know what I was doing, that I wouldn’t be able to form a rehearsal process to inspire the actors or guide a creative process for the designers. The feedback process and gentle counsel from the ensemble supported me greatly and taught me that the most important thing to focus on in any theatrical process is ensuring that the story is being told. Working side by side with Christina, I learned the value of imaginative theatricality as a way to encourage investment from the children. Christina showed me that children are quick-witted and attentive when given the chance to engage. Presenting Rikki-Tikki to its first audiences taught me something else about children: they are honest. With laughter and giggles, shouting out at the actors, bouncing or squirming in their seats, singing along of their own accord, what have you, in the very moment of presenting a play to children, you know whether you’ve got them interested.

Photo by Kevin D. Gawley

The next show I would direct for children would be 2009’s Flight of the Dodo, adapted by Rob Kauzlaric, with whom I experienced great success in our director/adaptor relationship with The Island of Dr. Moreau. I was eager to get to work on Dodo for the sheer pleasure of his hilarious script treatment and the exciting demand of placing four singing, flightless birds in a hot air balloon floating through the sky and going on various adventures. My directing experience had been through some interesting challenges at this point and I had the bold impulse to conceptualize a meta-theatrical construct on the way the play would be presented. I created a “Stage Manager” character who, with a wink and a nod to the audience, would manipulate the scenery and puppets around the central characters who took no notice of her themselves. The kids LOVED her and appreciated how much hard work she had to do, running at a full sprint through the majority of the show. It taught me another truism about children: that they are inherently empathetic and kind-hearted. They saw and they cared what the actress was going through, and enjoyed her storytelling all the more. They are able to quickly grasp layered concepts and invest in them so wholly that their belief takes on wings of its own, buoyed by their open hearts. It was inspiring to witness their reaction to the show every time I came back to enjoy it.

Photo by Victoria DeIorio

I wasn’t to direct another show for children until last year’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, also adapted by Rob. The whole concept of the show was silly fun, all in all, about a naked mole rat named Wilbur who likes to wear clothes and is ousted in a society where clothing is NOT an option. Before that process started however, my own son arrived. Gus Carlson Holmquist was born at 8:33pm on September 12, 2011, weighing in at 10 pounds even and 20 inches long. As he took his first squeaky breaths, I just marveled at him. Those of you with children of your own will smile at this, but as I looked at Gus I felt that nothing would ever be the same as it was; l now knew a deeper kind of love, I felt a stronger connection to my wife than I ever had before, I had a renewed purpose in my life.

Suddenly, my perspective on what Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed was really about began to shift. It became important to me to focus attention on the theme of acceptance and tolerance inherent in the story, and how we can be transformed by our own efforts to understand and embrace differences. Gus was five months old when we were ready to open Naked Mole Rat, and I remember bringing him to the theatre one early morning before rehearsal. I held him in my arms as he looked out at the actors with his soft jaw and curious eyes and I told my cast that I wanted to direct this play for the opportunity to maybe, just maybe, contribute to a better world for my son. I didn’t plan on saying that, but it was true. It’s not that I lost any enjoyment of the novelty of entertaining children, but there was a new awareness in me of the incredible influence we can have on our children by telling them stories. And several parents who brought their kids to see Naked Mole Rat reported back greater expressions of empathy, which was the greatest praise of our work that I could hope for.

What I experience parenting my toddler is how much he learns by reflecting or repeating back what he’s seen and heard. That’s an essential part of growing up and being in relationship with others. And I know now more than ever what a precious and vital responsibility we have as theatre artists to encourage, enlighten, educate, ennoble, and yes, entertain. The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost has been crafted by adaptor Scott Barsotti with great care and attention on themes of feeling fear, feeling brave and being loved and cared for unconditionally. It brings me such gladness to see the kids in the audience snuggle up to their caregiver in a slightly spooky moment, or ask their buddy next to them, “Are you scared?” Simply by engaging them in our story, we have given them permission, in the moment, to acknowledge their feelings and communicate them, and that’s incredibly gratifying. It is times like that where I count my blessings and good fortune that brought me to Lifeline Theatre.

Photo by Kelsey Jorissen

Paul Holmquist
Ensemble Member

Ensemble member Elise Kauzlaric accepted into London Master’s Degree program!

December 21st, 2012 Posted in Ensemble Activities, Posts by Dorothy | Comments Off

All of us at Lifeline are busting our buttons over Elise Kauzlaric‘s recent acceptance into an intensive Master of Arts program in Actor Training and Coaching at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.  Elise packed her bags shortly after The Woman in White opening and will not return to us until late summer 2013.

First, I have to totally crow about this honor because Elise is too modest to do so.  When I shrieked, “This is a hugely competitive program you got into, isn’t it????”   She said, “Oh I don’t think….I really don’t have any idea….”   Pressed, she admitted that her class is quite small and that no one she auditioned with seems to be in it.   Doing my investigative journalistic research, I see that the school holds auditions in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco — and only a handful of applicants are accepted.  So…. am I right?  She totally rocks.

Elise has been acting in Chicago since 1997 and dialect coaching since 2002.   In recent years she has been directing more and loving it.  She has also had the opportunity to teach as adjunct faculty at both DePaul and Roosevelt and loves that too.   Her interest in graduate programs came from feeling she could benefit from focused work in her new areas of passion.  The Master’s program at the Central School was perfect — it is geared specifically to directors and teachers so it will be useful to her in both areas.  She’ll have the opportunity to explore different acting techniques and theories while also overlapping with the voice and movement departments.   (And there’s an acting program there, so she’ll be trying out all her new methods on real actors!)

Elise was born in Louisiana, spent five years in California and then went to elementary school in Anchorage, Alaska.  There was little theatrical opportunity there but her Dad likes to sing, her Mom plays piano and when shows came to Alaska Rep, her family attended.  She remembers seeing the first Broadway tour of Annie in California when she was seven and finding it very exciting.  At the age of ten, she saw Tartuffe at Alaska Rep., which also made a big impression.

The family returned to Slidell, Louisiana, where Elise attended junior high and high school.  Here, too, there was little theatrical opportunity, but there was a high school speech club and it would go to a statewide forensics competition.  The competition included dramatic interpretations:  Elise did some monologues for these and, as a senior, she directed a one-act.  (Her one-act won.)

Once Elise was old enough to drive, she was able to participate in Slidell’s community theater, where she was in the chorus of Cinderella, played Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest, and was a Ronette in Little Shop of Horrors in a production by a local youth organization.

When Elise headed off to college, her parents headed off to Malaysia for her Dad’s job.  Elise planned to study theater and her father encouraged her to consider a conservatory:  if she was going be a theater major, he thought she should go to a place that specifically focuses on her area of passion.  This turned out to be great advice.  Elise chose Webster Conservatory in St. Louis, and she not only loved the school but she also met her husband Rob there.  She noticed him in her early days on campus, but they got to know each other when they were cast together in John Patrick Shanley’s The Red Coat.

Elise’s first Lifeline show was when Shole cast her as  an understudy for the 1999 version of Bunnicula.  Then Sandy cast her in My Father’s Dragon.  The Silver Chair and the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle followed and in 2005 Elise became an ensemble member at Lifeline, where she acts, directs and adapts.  And she’s a dialect coach.  Did I mention she’s a singer too?  And also a dancer!

Elise is probably our most-traveled ensemble member.  Family visits alone have taken Elise around the globe as her parent’s stint in Malaysia was followed by 6 years in Scotland.  In addition,  Elise’s older sister works for the Foreign Service and her duties have taken her to Mali (West Africa), Italy, and Mongolia.   Elise hasn’t made it to her sister’s current post in Mongolia (yet!) but she has also traveled to Hong Kong, Thailand, France, and Czechoslovakia.

With all that travel, Elise has never had the opportunity to spend time in London before.  She’s been through London a couple times:  once in college staying overnight at a hostel and one time with Rob when they were also just passing thru.  This school year will be a real opportunity to get to know the city — and she is armed with a gift from ensemble member Paul Holmquist.  Paul gave her  a collection of “London Walks” that he used on his visit to London when he was doing research prior to directing the play Neverwhere at Lifeline. Elise, who was in that cast, will be able to visit these locations and immerse herself in London history — and relive Neverwhere as a bonus!

All of us at Lifeline are cheering Elise on in her adventure.  Our buttons have totally burst off.  We look forward to many stories — and we also look forward to benefiting from her new skills and expertise when she returns to Chicago.

Meet Fall Intern Rebecca Munley!

December 19th, 2012 Posted in Posts by Dorothy, Staff | Comments Off

Rebecca is a recent graduate of Northwestern University and was drawn to Lifeline because of her keen interest in adaptation. Though she entered NU as an actor, Rebecca soon discovered that her real passion lay behind the scenes — and noted that a director gets to be involved with every part and person in the process. Rebecca adapted and directed a “heavily” staged reading of The Picture of Dorian Gray at NU and, shortly after graduation, came to Lifeline to assistant direct Elise Kauzlaric‘s fall production of The Woman in White.

Rebecca was first bitten by the theatre bug when she saw a production of Hansel and Gretel as a child.  She couldn’t stop thinking about it for days and still remembers it vividly. She began performing in high school, and was inspired by her drama teacher, Mr. Graham, who encouraged students to do adaptation projects and direct their own scenes for class.  He also highly recommended the Chicago theater scene.

Rebecca grew up on the east coast and was in love with New York her whole life. Her father went to Cornell for grad school when she was a baby, and brought her back a teddy bear wearing a Cornell sweatshirt, and thus grew up with the intention of attending Cornell. She visited the campus, it was lovely, she got in. But….

Rebecca had visited Northwestern University a couple years before and had been so drawn to it. And of course there was that recommendation from her high school drama teacher to consider as well. So Rebecca had a feeling and went with it — and she’s sure glad she did. She loved the NU program and in her time there her focus evolved from acting to directing and adapting. She also fell in love with the Chicago theater scene, particularly the ensemble-based work, the challenges of small theater (both in space and budget) and the knowledge that there is already a large female director population here. Rebecca has graduated from NU and just completed her internship at Lifeline. We are glad that she will be remaining in Chicago and will look forward to keeping up with her further adventures here as a theater artist.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Sneak Peek Duet! (The City & The City and The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost

December 17th, 2012 Posted in Events, Posts by Dorothy, The City & The City, The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost | Comments Off
Because December is crowded (have you noticed how crowded it is?) we scheduled two sneak peek events at exactly the same time.   Sneak peeks are our special events for donors and subscribers where we do a little behind-the-scenes preview of upcoming shows and enjoy some wine and cheese and mingling.

On the December 8th Sneak Peek duet, the KidSeries families went upstairs and saw an excerpt from The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost and then the kids participated in a drama workshop and then came downstairs for snacks.

Simultaneously, The City & The City crowd had snacks and beverages in our lobby and then went into the theater to see some City scenes and movement work.

Thanks to our subscribers Char Uney and Nona Flores for providing delectable edibles for this event.  And thanks to the cast and crew of both shows for their inside-the-process presentations and Q&A sessions.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Lifeline Welcomes Aly Amidei to the Lifeline Artistic Ensemble!

December 14th, 2012 Posted in Ensemble Activities, Posts by Dorothy | Comments Off

Aly Amidei is one of the busiest, most sought-after women in show business and we are honored that she accepted our invitation to join the Lifeline artistic ensemble. Aly is both a writer and a designer and has designed costumes for Lifeline productions of Watership Down, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Woman in White and (upcoming this spring) The Three Musketeers. She is also a company member at Strawdog Theatre, the artistic director of WildClaw Theater and is the Costume and Makeup Coordinator for student theater and dance productions at the College of DuPage, where she also teaches part-time (classes in makeup and in theater appreciation).

Aly’s first show at Lifeline was in 2011, but we have been following her career for years prior — and she’s been aware of Lifeline for too. The first show she saw here was The Mark of Zorro, but she has heard many Lifeline tales from her husband Brian who appeared in The Killer Angels, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King at Lifeline before she had met him.

Aly’s path to theater could be viewed as random coincidence…or perhaps as destiny. Aly grew up in the northwest suburbs. Her family spent every weekend at the go-cart track, where her dad and sister raced go-carts and she and her mom worked at the track. Aly was interested in science, played sports and began sewing at the age of four. Aly is tall, her sister is taller and they required clothes for tall, athletic girls. “Forget about buying a prom dress,” Aly explains, “we would just ‘Hulk, smash!’ store-bought clothes. So we just made our own.”

Aly was exposed to Chicago theater in high school. In her sophomore year, Aly worked at the Dairy Queen with a comic book store next door. Trading ice cream for comic books, she became an avid fan of the horror genre and particularly of Clive Barker. Imagine her ecstasy when she learned that the Organic Theater in Chicago would produce In the Flesh, a Clive Barker adaptation. She couldn’t drive yet, but wrangled a friend’s dad into driving them to see the preview benefit hosted by Clive Barker himself. This was the first show Aly had ever paid to see — and she still has the signed poster.

It turns out that In the Flesh was an important production in many ways. It was the genesis for the eventual founding of WildClaw Theatre. It featured Ray Wild in the cast (the actor for whom WildClaw is named) and fellow WildClaw ensemble members Charley Sherman, Steve Herson, Paul Foster and Aly’s now-husband Brian Amidei were all involved in that production. Aly’s Chicago family was already waiting for her and she didn’t know it yet.

Aly intended to be a scientist when she grew up and in her junior year was in a small AP Bio class which got to take a lot of field trips with their science teacher — who was also a theater geek. So when AP Bio took a trip to Chicago to tour a Water Reclamation Plant, they also stayed to see The Man of La Mancha, or paired a morning at Fermi-lab with an afternoon matinee of Annie Warbucks (the sequel to Annie… you heard me). Her interest in theater (as an audience member) continued to grow. But the idea of participating creatively had still not occurred to her.

Aly went to Knox College, three hours from Chicago with an eye to their science programs. Since she’d AP-ed out of all the freshman classes, Aly was left with little to do in her freshman year so she took some electives, one of which was painting. She liked art and thought perhaps she could combine her science and art interests and become a medical illustrator. But fate once again raised its hand. The resident assistant in Aly’s dorm was a costume designer in the theater department. When she discovered that Aly could sew, she got her a job in the costume shop. This was the first time it occurred to Aly that there were jobs in theater. And since she wasn’t taking any major classes her freshman year, she was absorbed into the theater department and then never left it. She tried acting and did not find it exciting. But the costume stuff? The tech stuff? All her interests converged here — her science geek passion for problem-solving, for using materials in new ways — these were muscles she could flex in theater.

Aly almost went to Champaign-Urbana instead of Knox and marvels at how her life might have been different. It feels unlikely that she’d have stumbled into theater at such a large school. “Would I have been happy as a biologist?” she asks herself. “I do still love science, but . . . now I can write about it!”

Aly writes a lot. About ten years ago she started writing some Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction. Then Hank Boland at Strawdog began a program called Wireless and Aly helped generate content for that, creating radio plays with Chris Hainsworth, Anita Deely, Sean Mallary, Andy Lawfer, John Henry Roberts and Mike Dailey in what became known as The Hit Factory. Aly created a comic book character, Stella Stargirl (whom she also featured in some radio plays as well as her comic books). Her first full-length adaptation was Carmilla with WildClaw, which was chosen for production in early 2011 at the Department of Cultural Affairs Storefront Theater where it received glowing reviews.

Aly looks forward to writing for Lifeline. She is eyeballing our KidSeries as a first foray and is excited about participating in Lifeline’s script development process, which she has closely observed as a designer here. She also looks forward to continuing to design. She finds designing for an adaptation particularly fun because you have access to all this extra information from the book, rather than having just the script alone to mine. As the designer she can pick and choose where she wants to put her own stamp on things and fight against people’s expectations — and where she has the opportunity to make fans happy with little insider touches that no one who hasn’t read the books would know. For The Count of Monte Cristo it was fun to exactly replicate the description of Edmond Dantes’ costume from the book. But it was also thrilling to struggle through the interpretive challenges of Watership Down, which she names as the hardest and most exciting thing she did all last year.

On a personal note, Aly met her future husband, Brian, at Strawdog Theatre in 2005. She was hired as an emergency last minute replacement costume designer for Impossible Marriage and Brian was an emergency last minute replacement to play the part of the randy Reverend. They bonded over the Chicago Bears, author James Lee Burke (the Dave Robicheaux series) and New Orleans. Brian made a pass on opening night and the rest, as they say, is history.

Aly’s next project at Lifeline will be the costume design for this spring’s The Three Musketeers. We are proud and happy to welcome her as a new ensemble member of Lifeline Theatre.

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Sneak Peak of “Fillet of Solo” Results in Laughter!

December 12th, 2012 Posted in Fillet of Solo, Posts by Dorothy, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Lifeline offers “Sneak Peek” events to our subscribers and donors a few weeks early in the rehearsal process of every Lifeline show.  These events are among my most favorite things we do because they give Lifeline staff and artists the opportunity to get to know our biggest fans and supporters. The Sneak Peek event for our Storytelling festival, Fillet of Solo, was another riotous good time.

As usual, the evening began with wine, cheese and mingling, then we did a teaser presentation of sample stories and ended with conversation, building tours, and more snacks and wine!  Guest performers included Amanda Rountree (who is developing a one-woman show for the Fest and, by the way, also works in Lifeline’s education department, both on-site and as an artist in residence at our neighboring Chicago public schools), Kris Simmons (from the kates), and Dana Norris, artistic director of Story Club.  Festival founder and current co-curator Sharon Evans (Artistic Director of Live Bait) was also in attendance along with storytellers from 2nd Story, The Lifeline Storytelling Project, Sweat Girls, and solo star Tekki Lomnicki — all of whom will be participating in Fillet of Solo.  We are so proud to be hosting so many powerhouse Chicago storytelling collectives at this Festival.

Remember that a Fest pass to see the whole kaboodle of shows between Jan 3-20 is only $30!

Storytelling/Live Lit groups that will be part of this Festival will include:

PLUS…solo shows by Tekki Lomnicki, Kim Morris, Amanda Rountree, and Eric D. Warner!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Behind the Scenes of The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost

December 10th, 2012 Posted in Mystery of the Pirate Ghost, Posts by Dorothy | Comments Off

Scott T. Barsotti is vividly remembered by Lifeline audiences as Fiver (the young rabbit whose future visions save the wandering tribe) in Watership Down. But did you know that Scott is even more well-known as a playwright than he is as an actor?  He has had plays produced in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New Orleans and coming soon — at Lifeline Theatre!  Scott’s favorite childhood book is Geoffrey Hayes’ The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost and he’s adapting it for Lifeline’s KidSeries, opening In January.  The play will contain music by Troy Martin and Matthew Test and will be directed by Paul Holmquist (who played Hazel, Fiver’s big brother and leader of the pack in Watership Down).  Scenery will be designed by Joe Schermoly.  We shot a little backstage video to give you a peek at what this team is up to, getting ready for the show!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Lifeline Celebrates the Holidays!

December 10th, 2012 Posted in General Thoughts, Posts by Dorothy | Comments Off

Lifeline’s annual holiday party was so romantically lit that my photos all look like they were taken underwater and lit by jelly fish. Every year we invite all cast and crew, board, staff, ensemble and interns for the season, and this year about 75 Lifeline peeps gathered on December 8th for the party. We had pizza from JB Alberto’s and other snacks and desserts delivered by Lifeline subscriber and baker extraordinaire Char Uney, who provides sweet treats for many a Lifeline event. And we drank a toast to our good friend and neighbor Neil Lifton, the owner of Duke’s bar who left this world about this time last year. (When the bar closed, Neil’s wife Mary donated some of the bar stock to Lifeline so we were able to toast our departed friend in style.)

Because Santa’s elves were exceptionally slammed this year and fell behind on the prep work, there was no cookie decorating contest this year. But Lea Pinsky found kits for gingerbread villages at the store so we were not without activity for the ever-crafty Lifeline visiting artists!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

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