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An interview with Matt Fletcher

October 7th, 2013 Posted in Guest posts, Killer Angels | 1 Comment »

Note: This is a guest posting from Clare O’Connor, production dramaturg and assistant director for our fall MainStage production of The Killer Angels.

Matt Fletcher, Producing Artistic Director of Sideshow Theatre Company, makes his Lifeline debut as the Troubadour in The Killer Angels.

Q: You’ve got a pretty prominent role as the Troubadour. Are you actually in every scene? How’d you tackle line memorization?

A: I think I am in every scene. I never really thought about it but I think that’s true. I remember during cue-to-cue in tech rehearsals not having much downtime because I bookend practically every scene in one form or another and cue much of the action. It’s interesting, too, that you use the word “memorization.” I typically hesitate to use that word, I prefer “learning” my lines. Semantics, it’s true. But in scene work, it’s easy to learn lines because you’re in scene, it’s conversation, there’s logical progression in dialogue, and there’s no need to drill lines and “memorize,” if that makes sense. At least for me. It’s organic. With this play, though, since I’m often just spewing facts, dates, and locations, and “narrating,” (or “troubadouring”) I found myself “memorizing” lines. How did I do it? Magic. Okay, not really. Basically the same way I studied for history tests. Read something aloud about ten times, looked off the page, said it without looking at the script, and 9 times out of 10, it was memorized. That was my grandaddy’s trick.

Q: Speaking of your grandaddy–you’re from Virgina, yes? Was the history of the Civil War a big part of your childhood?

A: I am from Virginia, born and raised, where your entire fourth grade year is spent learning Virginia (Civil War) history. So Grandaddy was from my mom’s side. A United Methodist minister and a damn fine actor. But Grandpa was from my dad’s side (again, semantics, but that was how they were differentiated for my brothers and me). He lived on a big farm across from where we lived in Port Republic, Virginia. His house was actually used as a hospital by both the North and the South during the Battle of Port Republic (which was part of Stonewall Jackson’s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley). It was not uncommon that Grandpa’s farm equipment would get messed up by running over a cannonball. There was this huge drawer in a bureau in the dining room full of artillery shells and bullets.

My great great grandfather, Abner Kilpatrick Fletcher, Sr., enlisted in the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry in 1861 as a Sgt. [Note: The 10th Virginia was actively engaged in the fighting around Culp's Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.] He was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, and carried a Yankee musket ball in his side until he died in 1917. He didn’t own any slaves, but like most Virginians, he had that Virginia pride thing that can’t really be understood these days, even by me. And I’m very proud of where I came from, but we live in a different time.

Q: That’s incredible. I take it that most of the historical material from the play was already familiar to you, then? I grew up in Seattle, so I only found out that there WAS a Civil War when I read The Killer Angels novel in June.

A: Yes, I guess a bit of the historical material was familiar to me, but the nitty gritty of this particular battle was pretty fun to learn about. It’s fascinating stuff. And really fun to do on stage.

Q: There are a couple moments in the play when you’re standing in rockstar lighting playing your guitar and singing. Two part question: 1. What are you thinking to yourself in these moments? (What I’m looking for here is “I am a rockstar, I am a rockstar”), and 2. How long have you played the guitar?

A: Hahaha!! In moments like those, I think about my idol, and I ask myself: “What would The Boss do?” Actually, my thoughts in those moments are usually: “Don’t look like an idiot, don’t look like an idiot.” I’m trying very hard to not be That Guy Who Keeps Playing Guitar. I’ve never really played in front of people before, with a few drunk exceptions. I’ve always liked playing, though. Guitars are simple machines, but they can make such an amazing impact. I love simple things that can evoke complex reactions–I think we do that well in this play. Not just with guitar, but simple gestures that literally mean life or death. My brother Mike (who is a great musician) taught me some chords about a dozen years ago, and I’ve been playing ever since. I should probably be a lot better, having played that long, but I’ve never played as consistently as I have over the last 2 months or so, and now I’ve got some rockin calluses on my fingers, so hopefully I’ll keep it up.

Q: I’m glad to hear our play has given you finger calluses. Nobody ever said theatre was easy, right? Any last words you’d like to share? Do you have a favorite word?

A: This has been and continues to be an awesome experience. I get to play guitar and play war onstage with big guns, climb things and run around like a soldier–it’s like I’m 12 again. Matt Miller captained the ship very well, allowing a ton of input and really letting us take ownership of this piece. We always had a lot of smart minds in the room and we had a lot of time to flesh this thing out. We had some awesome creative sessions where Matt literally said: “Guys, I have no idea what to do here. You guys over there play with coats, you guys over there play with guns, and you guys see what you can do with these blankets. Let’s see what you come up with.” And that was great. And Karen was so generous with her willingness to make this the best possible play it could be, cutting and adding things literally up to opening night. She wasn’t precious or selfish about anything, and I admire that a lot. It’s been a luxurious and pleasurable process, and I give Lifeline a ton of credit. Great crew to work with.

Favorite word? This is going to sound precious, but I think Virginia is my favorite word. It’s just a pretty sounding word. V is a lovely letter. And it’s home, and there’s no place like home.

An interview with Jeff Shaara

September 11th, 2013 Posted in Guest posts, Killer Angels | Comments Off

Note: This is a guest posting from Clare O’Connor, production dramaturg and assistant director for our fall MainStage production of The Killer Angels.

Jeff Shaara is a historical novelist, having penned eight New York Times bestsellers. He is the son of Michael Shaara, and he wrote the prequel and sequel to his father’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels, from which Lifeline’s production has been adapted by Karen Tarjan.

Q: First off, what’s the correct pronunciation of your last name?

A: Shaara rhymes with “Clara”, or, as in “share and SHAARA like”.

Q: Was American history a big part of your family, growing up?

A: History was not a part of my background, or my family. My father was a storyteller, first and foremost- when we visited Gettysburg, he knew a good story when he saw one. My own interest in the war came about as the kid who played with the toy soldiers. I read a little about Stonewall, maybe a few other things, but that was it.

Q: Your father was inspired to write “The Killer Angels” after a family vacation to Gettysburg. Were you on this vacation, and what do you remember about it?

A: The vacation to Gettysburg was in large part because of MY interest as the “Civil War kid”. We were there strictly as tourists, and I still have photographs of those days crawling all over cannons, which is what 12-year olds do. The obsession that hit my father to write that story was a surprise to him, certainly. I recall vividly making the long walk across the “Pickett’s Charge” field, and him telling me that story. I remember being on Little Round Top and hearing Chamberlain’s story–these were things he had read about prior to the visit, just to get some sense of what we were going to see. The power of that story completely changed him. But the trip was one part of a lengthy family vacation from Florida to relatives in New Jersey (we visited the 1964 World’s Fair in NY).

Q: Before you wrote the prequel and sequel to “The Killer Angels,” you had no experience as a writer. What was the transition from non-writer to bestselling author like?

A: The suggestion for me to tackle a prequel and sequel to The Killer Angels came from film director Ron Maxwell, who, speaking for Ted Turner, said that Turner was very excited by the success of the film “Gettysburg” and simply wanted to do more Civil War films. The idea was to take my father’s book and go in both directions, before and after, with many of the same characters. I would put the story together, based on the kinds of research my father had done–the actual voices of the characters. But- there was no fear on my part, because there were no expectations. We discussed that if whatever I came up with was lousy, it would go in the trash, and no one would ever know about it. It was ALWAYS about being a film, my story to be adapted to a screenplay by Maxwell. Since I was representing my father’s estate (as something of a business manager), I was dealing with Random House in NY, who now had this #1 bestseller in The Killer Angels, so in talking to them I mentioned I was writing the prequel. They suggested I send them the manuscript, which I did. Again, no expectations. The return call I got was “We don’t care if it’s a film- we like the book. We think you’re a writer. Here’s a contract.” THAT changed my life. When “Gods and Generals” came out, I was stunned that the book made its debut on the bestseller list, and throughout a 59 city book signing tour, I never could really be comfortable with the notion that G&G was MINE. It was my father’s book to write, and only by his early death was that opportunity even mine at all. It took me probably 4 books into my own career before I felt comfortable taking credit for being a writer.

Q: “Gods and Generals” is the prequel to “The Killer Angels.” What are a few of the most significant relationships or events that took place before the key players met at the Battle of Gettysburg?

A: One aspect of G&G is the “meeting” of the four principle characters when they come together on the same battlefield- Fredericksburg, in Dec. 1862. (Chamberlain, Hancock, Lee and Jackson). That was always intended, to show how each of the four, who are VERY different kinds of people, with four very different kinds of wives, how each evolves through the first two years of the war into the kinds of leaders they become. The tragedy of Stonewall Jackson’s death was by far the most difficult piece of writing I’ve had to do, because, to my surprise, I loved the man. Killing was extremely emotional for me. (I’ve had that same experience now with a few other primary characters in my other books). But the relationship between Lee and Jackson is huge to understanding the mistakes Lee makes later in the war, and the development of Hancock as a commander mirrors much of what happened throughout the Union command. Chamberlain is in many ways, my father. That made it very interesting (and fun) to explore that character.

Q: What’s a typical day for you currently? Do you have a ritual daily writing practice? What’s in the works for you now?

A: I’m a “10am to 4pm” writer. (My father was a midnight to 5am writer). It has to be very disciplined, and often, when the manuscript is underway (as my new one is right now) it’s a 7-days a week thing. I lose complete track of what day it is (I’ve actually gone to the bank, wondering why on earth they’re closed, only to realize it’s Sunday). I wouldn’t call it a “ritual”, no totems or good luck charms. But once I get going with a story, I liken it to a faucet turning on. Let it flow, don’t try to stop it, and when it DOES stop, there isn’t much you can do about it. On those occasional days when I’m just not in the mood, I’ll do something completely different- go fishing maybe. I never suffer through the process of just staring at the blank paper, the way my father did. If the words aren’t there, accept that, and come back later. I always start each day by re-reading what I wrote yesterday. I fix things, edit, make changes. It’s good to have that 24-hour separation. My new book is the 3rd of what will e a 4-book set. This one deals with Chattanooga, September thru November 1863. The primary characters include Sherman and Grant (again), plus Union General George Thomas- the Confederates are Braxton Bragg and Patrick Cleburne. The book is set to come out next May. The 4th book will deal with Sherman and Joe Johnston, from Atlanta through the end of the war in the Carolinas, a story most people (including Civil War buffs) just don’t know. I love that. After that, I’m planning on a book dealing with the War for Texas Independence- what most people think of as “The Alamo”. But that’s only a very small part of the story. Great characters.

Jeff-Shaara-2012

An interview with Karen Tarjan

September 4th, 2013 Posted in Guest posts, Killer Angels | Comments Off

Note: This is a guest posting from Clare O’Connor, production dramaturg and assistant director for our fall MainStage production of The Killer Angels.

Continuing her 20-year involvement with Lifeline Theatre, Karen Tarjan is the adaptor of The Killer Angels. She is a founding member of the Beau Jest Moving Theatre of Boston, and Seanachai Theatre in Chicago. She’s also an Artistic Associate of Wildclaw Theatre and has served as Movement Director/Choreographer there.

Q: How did you begin adapting plays? What was your first adaptation?

A: My first adaptation was The Overcoat, the short story by Nikolai Gogol. I read and re-read the story over the course of several years and I had a bunch of ideas rattling around in my head. Finally, I decided to put them down on paper. Once I started, the whole thing came racing out and I finished in about a week. I showed it to Ann Boyd, a director/choreographer friend and she was interested in directing it. The show had a lot of puppets and opportunities for creative staging. I also showed it to Lifeline ensemble member James Sie, another director who likes to incorporate movement sequences into his plays. He brought it to the ensemble and they chose to produce it and hired Ann to direct it! I was lucky to have a smooth first at-bat.

Q: How did you come to adapt The Killer Angels?

A: I had read the book a few years before Lifeline asked director Ned Mochel what he wanted his next project to be. He selected The Killer Angels and asked me to do the adaptation. We had collaborated previously on my co-adaptation (with James Sie) of The Two Towers and my script for The Return of the King. A sprawling epic like The Killer Angels didn’t seem daunting after we had tackled Middle Earth and it was a logical next step for us. We used nine actors the same way we did for the The Lord of the Rings books and several of the Tolkien guys came along for the ride to Gettysburg.

Killer Angels 2004
The Killer Angels, Lifeline Theatre, 2004

Q: Clearly a tremendous amount of research was involved in this project. Were you a history/Civil War buff before you began?

A: No, but my father had encyclopedic knowledge of The Battle of Gettysburg so maybe it was in my genes. Dad was thrilled when I was hired to adapt Mr. Shaara’s novel even though by that time he said he was “Gettysburged out.” He gave me several books for research, along with copies of the Gettysburg movie and Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.

Q: Lifeline first staged your adaptation of The Killer Angels in 2004. What’s the process of returning to the script been like? What were the most significant changes that you made to the script?

A: In September of 2012 I went to Albuquerque to see Mother Road Theatre’s production of this adaptation. The director, Julia Thudium, had given all the narrative lines to the Troubadour character. (The previous editions had several actors taking on narration duties.) I really liked the way that worked and decided to rewrite the script even before Lifeline proposed a remount. The Troubadour (played by Matt Fletcher in this production) now has about 11 different functions, but he really ties all the elements of the show together. He can be a listener, an observer, and a guide for the audience. He sings and plays guitar, too! I also worked closely with director Matt Miller and you, Clare, on improving a scene that’s been problematic in other iterations. Now it works. Thanks, Matt! Other than that, there’s been a lot of tightening, trimming and tidying.

It’s been very rewarding to return to the script. It’s a challenging piece, to be sure, and I’m extremely grateful for all the dedication that has gone into making this whole thing sing. It’s fun to see how the new actors and the director interpret certain lines and scenes – in ways I never thought of.

TheKillerAngels_01_web
The Killer Angels, Lifeline Theatre, 2013

Q: You’ve been involved with Lifeline for 20 years! What have your other roles been?

A: I was an actor in three shows, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Overcoat, and served as Movement Director for The Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Fellowship of the Ring.

Q: What’s your next project?

A: I haven’t been inspired to adapt for a while, but who knows? Maybe this production has sparked a renewed interest in putting pen to paper…

Karen Tarjan

An interview with Hal Jespersen

August 23rd, 2013 Posted in Guest posts, Killer Angels | Comments Off

Note: This is a guest posting from Clare O’Connor, production dramaturg and assistant director for our fall MainStage production of The Killer Angels.

Hal Jespersen is a freelance cartographer specializing in maps of the American Civil War. His work has been featured in books, journals, and magazines, as well as Wikipedia, for which Jespersen has written hundreds of Civil War articles, complete with 200+ maps. You can check out Mr. Jespersen’s beautiful cartography work in the lobby display of The Killer Angels, September 6-October 27, 2013. Mr. Jespersen was also kind enough to answer some questions about his profession, as well as the Battle of Gettysburg:

Q: When and how did you first become interested in the American Civil War?

A: This answer is going to seem completely contrived, but it is absolutely true. In 2003, a friend recommended The Killer Angels (the novel) and I enjoyed it enough to pursue additional books about the battle of Gettysburg. I followed this with trips to the battlefield–15 flights from California so far–and then began expanding my study and travel itineraries to most of the other major battles. I honed my interest by creating articles for Wikipedia about most of these battles, and in doing so, had to develop the skills to create maps for the articles, which led to a modest retirement hobby/business. I first saw The Killer Angels (the play) at Lifeline Theatre in 2004 and wrote up a little (and quite positive) review on my Civil War travelogue site, www.posix.com.

Q: What’s a day in the life of a professional Civil War cartographer?

A: It is a balancing act between a large pile of books and a number of computer programs, including Global Mapper, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop. I created over 200 maps for Wikipedia, which are available for free download from my site, www.cwmaps.com, but my styles have become more sophisticated since those early days and I now emphasize the accurate depiction of terrain–either shaded relief or contour lines (hypsometry). But I still consider the essence of historical cartography to be the art of rendering the complexities of the battle with only enough detail necessary to do the job. I have produced over 300 maps for commercial publication so far, working with dozens of authors. What might surprise you is that maps are often an afterthought for these scholars, imposed upon them by their publishers (at the author’s expense), and they often give me an enormous amount of discretion to show the battle action without actually reading the text of the book it will accompany!

Q: In doing my own research for our production, one issue I faced was conflicting information—sometimes one reputable author would disagree with another. How have you dealt with this in your own writing and cartography work? Are there particular authors or works that you consistently defer to?

A: Almost all of my Civil War writing has been in the context of creating Wikipedia articles, and there are specific guidelines about what to do in this case, giving equal weight to the opinions from reliable, secondary sources. If you look at my article about the Battle of Gettysburg, for instance, you will see a number of footnotes and quotations that show how professional historians differ on many issues. When I work for authors as a cartographer, however, I defer to their decisions on how to evaluate primary and secondary sources.

Q: Do you consider the Battle of Gettysburg to have been the turning point of the Civil War?

A: It was a turning point, particularly in conjunction with the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. This is actually something we have argued about on Wikipedia quite a bit, usually in the context of whether it was a decisive battle. (George Meade won the battle decisively, but whether the battle decided the outcome of the war is another story.) The war changed course (turned) in the sense that it was the last significant offensive campaign of Robert E. Lee, but the Army of Northern Virginia was still a potent force and there were a number of opportunities for the Confederates to win the war as late as November 1864. I agree with historian James M. McPherson that the most important turning point was the Battle of Antietam, which allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and, in doing so, forestalled any option of European intervention on the southern side.

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about the Battle of Gettysburg?

A: Sure, although I am sorry to say that a number of them crop up in The Killer Angels. Two in particular come to mind. The first is that the battle started because Confederate general Henry Heth wanted to find shoes. This is an illustration of a story that emerged from postwar memoirs and has been repeated by historian after historian, regardless of other evidence (and common sense). The other is that Little Round Top was the most critical position on the battlefield, the loss of which would have doomed the Union Army and lost the war. This opinion was promoted by the master self promoter, Joshua Chamberlain, and was almost forgotten by history until the publication of The Killer Angels and the movie Gettysburg. Although the defensive actions of the 20th Maine were certainly heroic, the Confederates were in no position to hold Little Round Top if they had taken it. They were exhausted and out of ammunition and there were as many as 10,000 fresh Union troops within a mile of the position. And the terrain of the hill made it an unsuitable as a position to threaten the rest of the Union line anyway. It is interesting that Michael Shaara emphasized this action on the “extreme left of the Union line” because on the extreme right, Culp’s Hill, the 137th New York defended gallantly under even more extreme circumstances, and the loss of that hill would have been truly catastrophic. Unfortunately, their commander, Col. David Ireland, did not survive to tell his story.

Q: Who do you consider to be the heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg?

A:There were hundreds of heroes, but of the most famous, the ones I would cite on the Union side would be: Brig. Gen. John Buford, who essentially selected the battlefield; Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, the commander who played a decisive role on all three days of the battle; Brig. Gen. George S. Greene, the brigade commander who fortified and defended Culp’s Hill; Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, the artillery commander; Col. Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain’s brigade commander, who was killed on Little Round Top; Col. William Colvill, commander of the 1st Minnesota; Lieut. Alonzo Cushing, a battery commander killed during Pickett’s Charge; Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth, who was ordered to conduct a suicidal cavalry raid on July 3. It is more difficult to designate heroes on the losing side, but of the Confederates: Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead; Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood; Col. Henry K. Burgwyn of the 26th North Carolina; Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden (who was actually heroic during the retreat from Gettysburg, leading a 17-mile train of wagons with wounded men through difficult terrain and against enemy cavalry.

jespersen photo

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

 
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