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Meet the contestants #1: Edward Thomas-Herrera

June 3rd, 2014 Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Comments Off

The 2nd Annual Smartypants Adult Spelling Bee is coming up on Monday, June 23rd at Mayne Stage. Between now and then, we’ll be highlighting some of the competitors hoping to destroy the competition. Today, we meet Edward Thomas-Herrera.

 Edward Thomas-Herrera

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: Originally from Houston, Texas, I have been a writer, performer, director, producer working in Chicago for the past 25 years. I am one of the founders of BoyGirlBoyGirl, a solo performance ensemble. By day (i.e., for money), I sit at a computer, read e-mails, and move papers from one side of my desk to the other.

Q: How many Spelling competitions have you taken part in? Any specific experience(s) you’d like to share?

A: Since reaching adulthood a very long time ago, I have not spelled competitively. Back in grade school, I used to kick spelling ass on a regular basis. Between Comanche raids.

Q: What motivated you to sign up?

A: My legal spouse thinks I’m a good speller. I hope to prove him right. Maybe then he’ll start listening to me when I suggest what color we should paint the living room.

Q: What gives you an edge over the other contestants in this year’s Smartypants Spelling Bee?

A: When I hear a word, I can “see” it in my mind’s eye. Spelled correctly, of course. I also wear colorful pants.

Q: Anything else about yourself that you’d like to share with the world?

A: Blue. A robin’s egg blue. It’ll make the room look bigger while contrasting nicely with the rust-orange curtains and the brown couch.

An interview with Elise Kauzlaric

December 16th, 2013 Posted in Ensemble Activities, Guest posts | Comments Off

At the heart of every show you see at Lifeline Theatre is the work of our dedicated artistic ensemble. These 27 Chicago artists are continuously proposing new titles for production, hosting script readings, providing feedback on projects in development, commissioning music, meeting with designers, attending rehearsals, and slating projects for future seasons of award-winning shows. 

To continue our work throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Page To Stage Campaign to raise $25,000 by February 28th. As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger, Lifeline’s Development Director, interviewed two of our ensemble members. Today, Alex presents an interview with Elise Kauzlaric.


Q: How did you first get involved with Lifeline?

A: I first auditioned for Bunnicula in 1999, and I ended up understudying two roles and I had a ton of opportunities to perform. And then two ensemble members that had been involved in Bunnicula, Shole and Sandy, cast me in another KidSeries show the next year, My Father’s Dragon.

Q: How did you end up becoming an ensemble member?

A: I acted in several more shows after My Father’s Dragon, with Queen Lucia, Strong Poison, and The Silver Chair. And I was also asked to direct a KidSeries show, Frances’ first Emperor’s Groovy New Clothes. And then I started coaching dialects for shows as well. So I had worn a few different hats after a few years and I had the chance to work with nearly everyone in the ensemble at that point. And I was asked to join the ensemble 2005.

Before being asked, I had already considered it an artistic home for many years. I had worked here more than any other theatre and felt really connected to it. And since joining, I’ve had a chance to wear even more hats. I started to direct more and I wrote my first adaptation after joining the ensemble.

Q: What has surprised you most about working with Lifeline?

A: I don’t think it’s surprising, but something that’s really notable is the fact that there’s such support from everyone in the organization for you to try and do new things. I had directed one KidSeries show and didn’t have a ton of experience when I began directing Mariette in Ecstasy. Christina, who adapted it, had such faith in me and she supported me throughout the process. And I think that’s something very special about Lifeline is that everybody is here to support you and really encourage you to try different things.

Q: What was the first show you adapted?

A: At the first ensemble meeting I attended as a member of the company, I brought up The Velveteen Rabbit. We were looking for KidSeries titles, and I thought “surely this book has come up,” because to me it was a well-known title and I had read it a lot growing up. And it turned out that the title was in the public domain so it was easy to get started on it. It was a natural project for me to do and a really comfortable one for me to do as my first adaptation.

Q: How does the ensemble support you when you’re taking on a production capacity for the first time?

A: Well, I think the biggest form of support comes from the group saying “Yes, you should do this adaptation” or “yes, you should direct.” Honestly, that’s the biggest step. And because our rehearsal process is set up to allow for support along the way, you consistently hear feedback from your peers from the first rehearsal to the opening performance. And ensemble members do that for you because they care about the show and they care about your own personal development as well.

Q: How do you think other ensemble members would describe you?

A: Artistically, I would hope that they would say that I have a lot of passion for the projects that I’m involved with. That the stakes are always high for me because my heart is always in it what I’m doing. I want the final product to be excellent, so I work hard.

Q: What do you wish other people knew about Lifeline?

A: I hope our audience members know how much care and attention we put into the choices we make. When adapting a show we have to decide what will be moving, exciting, and entertaining for our audience. And in that process, the small things are very important. I think people would be amazed at some of the things that we debate, it could be something that just goes by them and they don’t even notice. But that’s because we are really passionate about properly telling the story.

Q: How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since joining the Lifeline ensemble?

A: As an ensemble member, working with Lifeline has allowed me to continually grow as an artist in an intentional way. I have the chance to say for example, “I think this project will allow me to direct, which I’ve never done before.” It’s allowed me to be mindful about my growth.

And then, because I’m part of an ensemble, my ideas are often challenged and it forces me to articulate why I’m making specific choices. I can’t make arbitrary decisions. Because even if I don’t take a person’s suggestion, I will have to articulate and justify my choice.

Q: Do you have a favorite Lifeline memory that you would be willing to share?

A: I think that we all remember watching one of the early rehearsals for The Island of Dr. Moreau as a really special moment. It was before the set had been built and it was in a bare room with no technical elements and no costumes. The show was tight, the actors were committed, and it was stunning. And I remember thinking that THIS is what we want to share with our audiences: simply great storytelling.

And I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with other ensemble members. Even though we have a lot of debates, we also laugh hysterically together – it’s definitely a family. And these are people that I never would have met without this theatre. The relationships I’ve made here are really important to me. I’ve developed a lot of wonderful friendships.

An interview with Peter Greenberg

December 13th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

At the heart of every show you see at Lifeline Theatre is the work of our dedicated artistic ensemble. These 27 Chicago artists are continuously proposing new titles for production, hosting script readings, providing feedback on projects in development, commissioning music, meeting with designers, attending rehearsals, and slating projects for future seasons of award-winning shows. 

To continue our work throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Page To Stage Campaign to raise $25,000 by February 28th. As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger, Lifeline’s Development Director, interviewed two of our ensemble members. Today, Alex presents an interview with Peter Greenberg.


Q: How did you first get involved with Lifeline?

A: My very first experience with Lifeline was coming to see a show, actually. I was new to Chicago and a friend of mine invited me to see Pinocchio at Lifeline. And not long before I saw that show, I had seen another show with a group of women doing monologues called “Sweating Under my Breasts.” Well, when I came to see the show at Lifeline, a couple of the people from that show were in the front row. One of them was Dorothy, who was an ensemble member not artistic director, at that time. And I thought the show was great, the theatre space was cool, and the neighborhood was really funky. So Dorothy and I became friends and a few years after I had seen Pinocchio, Dorothy called me and said that she was directing a show, The Talisman Ring, and she asked me to play a role. She had never seen me perform before, but she thought I would be a great fit for that part. And that’s how I got cast in my first Lifeline show.

Q: How did you become an ensemble member at Lifeline?

A: I acted in a few more shows and I started to know more of the people involved with the theatre. And I believe it was Dorothy who talked me about the possibility of joining the ensemble. I was excited by the opportunity. I had helped run a theatre company before and I was missing the feeling of being part of a company instead of simply working from show to show.

Q: What do you wish other people knew about Lifeline?

A: Our KidSeries is unlike any other children’s theatre that I know of in the city. The artists that we have working on those shows always impress me with their commitment to the work. And I think the shows are phenomenal.

Also, I think people would be surprised by the variety of stories we tell. We receive a lot of attention when we do our long-dress shows with lots of British accents; but we have always been committed to contemporary and sci-fi works as well. From Sirens of Titan to Neverwhere to The City & The City last year.

Q: Do you have a favorite Lifeline memory that you would like to share?

A: There is one story that I’ll never forget. It was 7 or 8 years ago when we did Gaudy Night. And we did a special semi-staged performance of the play out at Wheaton College because they were hosting an annual Dorothy L. Sayers conference – which only happens every 5 years or so. And everyone in that audience loved that book. These were people, much like our audience, who have a long history of reading the author

After the performance, I was getting undressed in a classroom because were performing at this school. And the president of the Sayers society was this sweet British guy. And I’m standing in this room in my boxer shorts because I’m getting out of my costumes and he just started rushing toward me with his arms wide open. And loosening his tie. And I remember thinking “well, this is a strange situation.”

And he came up to me and I don’t remember the exact words he said, but he told me how much he loved the show and how much he appreciated the work we had done. And on his tie was the Wimsey crest for the Wimsey family in Gaudy Night. And he gave me his tie.

And that kind of appreciation for the book happens over and over again with our audiences. When we did Jane Eyre, there were people who came up to us afterwards who were seriously affected by the show. The great thing about doing adaptations is that so many people already know and have loved these characters, often, for decades. And at the same time, we introduce people to these stories for the first time. We have the most amazing audience you can imagine. And being able to interact with our audience – it’s why we love to make theatre.

Meet Lifeline’s Fall intern, Logan Toftness

December 12th, 2013 Posted in Posts by Dorothy, Staff | Comments Off

Lifeline welcomes Logan Toftness, who is interning here through February and comes to Lifeline by recommendation of ensemble member Kevin Gawley. Logan is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Theatre Department, where Kevin heads the Scenic & Light Design Department. Logan’s areas of interest are writing, directing and all things theater.

Logan Toftness Headshot

Logan hails from River Falls, WI (which is very near the Twin Cities). Her interest in theater began in elementary school and her writing career began in high school through her 4H Club. The Club did not offer a writing focus, so Logan and a friend created one and for three years they wrote and directed plays within that program. Logan finished college as a theater major and had several projects produced as a playwright. One of her favorites was a farce titled Thieves and Bad Bad Lies, which featured a deserted cabin in the woods and many mistaken identities.

Post-Lifeline, Logan has a job leading geology tours at Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Wisconsin and will also be directing Beauty and the Beast for the Chippewa Falls Middle School. Her proximity to the Twin Cities will allow her to pursue theater activities there as well.

At Lifeline, Logan assisted at the Pistols for Two concert reading, has begun working with Alex in the Development area, works in the box office with Erica, is learning financial management with Allison and will be attending community meetings, supporting Fillet of Solo and working with Lifeline Storytelling Project with Dorothy. She has been an immense help already and we are thrilled she will be spending her winter here at Lifeline. Thanks to Kevin for sending her to us!

An interview with Gabriela Coronel

October 30th, 2013 Posted in Education, Guest posts | Comments Off

Did you know that Lifeline Theatre provides free theatre education to over 500 students in 6 Rogers Park elementary schools every year? To continue offering this program  throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Back To School Campaign to raise $7,000 by December 1st.  As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger (Lifeline’s Development Director) interviewed some of the folks involved in this behind-the-scenes work that Lifeline does. Today, Alex presents an interview with a local teacher, Gabriela Coronel.


About Gabriela Coronel
Gabriela is a 2nd grade teacher at New Field Elementary School. She has been teaching for three years now and Lifeline residencies have been in her classroom every year she has taught in Chicago’s Public Schools. She says there are a lot of arts partners that work with the school system, but if she had to pick one that makes the biggest difference in her classroom, it would be Lifeline.

Q: How did you get introduced to Lifeline’s residencies?

A: I’ve been involved with Lifeline for 3 years now at New Field School. Everything they do helps the children. It improves their presence in the classroom and it helps them academically. A lot of the kids right now are very shy and quiet at the very beginning of the school year. And then through Lifeline and learning to project their voices with the games they do, they become more confident. It’s helped them with a lot of the presentations they do for Hispanic Heritage and Christmas; and we do a country study each year with presentations. And even just vocally, they become much more confident in themselves.

Q: What has surprised you most about having Lifeline in your classroom?

A: I’ve been surprised that it’s become a way to tie into all the different kind of modalities that the kids have. What I’ve noticed is that the child that is quietest or is performing the lowest academically, when Lifeline comes in they really get a moment to shine. They really express their talent. The kids that have low self esteem, the kids that have academic problems, they actually shine the most with Lifeline.

Q: What is most rewarding about having the residencies?

A: We have a lot of things that we need to be teaching the students. With Lifeline, it’s a fun way for the kids to be learning academic things. I know I give the teaching artists a lot of words because I have a bilingual class this year and the acting out of words, being able to visually see the words, really helps the students with their vocabulary and presentations. And even their comprehension skills, because a lot of the things we do with Lifeline are tied to stories and breaking them up and creating scenes. It’s related to fluency. The students are practicing their reading, they’re practicing writing. It’s like everything we do in the classroom, but in a fun way with Lifeline.

Q: How do you think the teaching artists or other teachers would describe you?

A: I actually think they would say I’m a lot like them. I’m very cooperative in the sense that every time Lifeline comes in (and this is another aspect about Lifeline I like) I also get to be part of it. Because kids watch me, and if they see that I don’t participate, they won’t participate. If it’s okay to for me to act silly, then they feel more confident. And very open, I’ve always liked acting so I’ve just been open to how it can help my students.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Lifeline?

A: I think when people hear Lifeline they just think of acting. And it’s much more than acting. For teachers especially, we like that Lifeline’s residencies have vocabulary involved, comprehension involved, and cooperative learning involved. Even self reflection, where the kids are getting that time to think about what they were good at and think about what they’re going to do better. All those aspects. A lot of people hear “theatre” and they think the kids are just playing and it’s much more than that with Lifeline.

Q: What would you say Lifeline does best in the classroom?

A: Tying their curriculum into what we’re doing in the classroom. At New Field School, each class does a country study. Last year, we had South Korea – so we adapted a folk tale from South Korea as part of our country study. The fact that we were able to tie the program into what the kids are learning is really wonderful.

An interview with Julie Ganey

October 29th, 2013 Posted in Education, Guest posts, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Did you know that Lifeline Theatre provides free theatre education to over 500 students in 6 Rogers Park elementary schools every year? To continue offering this program  throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Back To School Campaign to raise $7,000 by December 1st.  As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger (Lifeline’s Development Director) interviewed some of the folks involved in this behind-the-scenes work that Lifeline does. Today, Alex presents an interview with one of our teaching artists, Julie Ganey.



About Julie Ganey
Julie has worked as an actress, teacher, and writer in Chicago for over 20 years, and has been an educator with Lifeline since 2008. Through Wavelength, an award-winning comedy ensemble that performs for educators nationwide, she has created and led workshops for teachers all over the country on communication skills, bridging conflict, and improvisation. Her bullying prevention program, Stand Up On the Schoolyard, has been presented to students and educators within the Chicago Public School system and across the country. Julie has served as Outreach Director at Next Theatre, where she has led community members in the creation of civic-based theatre projects that explore social issues, and she is currently a program creator and instructor for American Girl Place.

Q: How long have you been a teaching artist?

A: I’ve been a teaching artist for about 18 years at a lot of different places. I’ve been teaching with Lifeline since five years ago and it quickly became what I think of as my home base for teaching. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I live in Rogers Park and I have done a lot of community work in Rogers Park. I was so thrilled to get into the neighborhood schools.

I went to the Theatre School of DePaul and studied acting and performance; I still perform quite often. But to tell you the truth, when I graduated from college, the commercial world was not a great fit for me. I also knew that as an actress, I didn’t want to look back at the end of my career and realize I had only performed. I’m so grateful that I’ve stumbled into teaching and being a teaching artist because I feel like it really is a meaningful connection that I’ve made with the kids I’ve worked with. It makes a difference for them.

I come from a family of teachers, so I’m not surprised that I found being a teaching artist fulfilling. And for me there’s a big difference between being an acting teacher and being a teaching artist. I’ve never had an enormous interest in teaching actors how to act. But I do love the idea of interfacing with the community and introducing the idea to people that theatre skills are something that you can improve on and that can improve your life. They’re skills that can improve your learning and improve how well you read.

Q: Can you tell me about a specific class or memory that has stuck with you?

A: Last fall, another teaching artist and I were teaching two second grade classes at the same school. From the beginning, one was ready to do a full-fledged show. They were all in. You only had to show them how to do something once and they were on it. But the other group had a lot of struggles in and out of the classroom. It was the sort of classroom you go into where you worry about a couple of the kids. However, the improvement we saw over our time together in the most basic things – from being able to speak up to being able to stop and listen to someone else – was enormous. When we left that class, they had all sorts of new skills and different ways of working with each other. Collaboration is a higher-order thinking skill. It takes practice and support; and that’s why we introduce the concept of ensemble the first day of the residency. You never know the kind of impact what you’re doing is going to have.

Q: What has surprised you most about working in Lifeline’s residencies?

A: That so much of what we do is new information to teachers. I’m surprised that they say, “I never thought of using that exercise with vocabulary.” So I’ve been surprised at the impact that our program has on what teachers think they can do in the classroom. And I have been surprised and pleased at the cumulative affect it has on the students. I have worked with several second graders that had worked with me in Kindergarten as well. And what I’m seeing is the effect of working with these students and then coming back the next year and the year after that. It stays with them.

I was also surprised by the impact of the adaptation project, which is relatively new. I think it’s a great skill for students to understand what adaptation is. What we create is not a polished production, but we are taking a book and turning it into something that’s on its feet. And that requires a lot of decisions to be made. For example, “how should we convey that he’s a giant?” And I’ll say, “Yes, you could put him on a chair, but what else could you do?” Or they’ll say, “I really like this part of the story.” And I have to say, “I like that part, too, but is it necessary in telling this story?”

The project forces them to really mine information from a piece of literature. For example, I’ll say, “Let’s look at the character of Joe. Go back and look at everything Joe says and everything people say about Joe. Let’s come up with five adjectives to describe Joe.” And it can be hard for them. But once they got into it they started to see how everything that’s said in the text is a clue. And I felt they had never looked at literature that way before: taking fictional text and going through and pulling out the clues.

Q: When your friends or family find out you are a teaching artist, what do they say?

A: They say, “that sounds like so much fun.” And I say, “it is!” They often say, “well, I know it’s really hard being a teacher.” And I explain that it’s a lovely brand of teaching to be a teaching artist because you come in and you’re a guest artist for a period of time. People do ask, “don’t you have students that are too shy or don’t want to do it?” Yes, we have students who are shy and, yes, we have students who don’t want to do it at first. But it is the rare student who is not on board and engaged after a couple of classes.


Q: What do you wish other people knew about Lifeline?

A: The number one thing that I’m always talking to people about is the very high quality of the youth programming here. Yes, the in-school residencies, but also the extremely high quality of the KidSeries productions that we do. I think they are the best productions that are done in the city; and at a price where you can afford to bring your family. The attention to detail in terms of the theatrical experience for a kid and the emotional experience and understanding what a kid is going to take away. There is attention to detail in areas that I don’t see from other theatres. I think Lifeline is a very special theatre for young people.

Q: Are there any specific adaptation projects that you would like to share?

A: This fifth grade class we had was struggling to pick the book they wanted to adapt. So, Jenifer and I came up with the idea of doing Rikki Tikki Tavi,  a Rudyard Kipling short story from The Jungle Book. The class did not want to do Rikki Tikki Tavi. So, I had to say, “Well, let’s read it. Can I read it to you?” And as I’m reading it I’m thinking to myself, “They’re not going to want to do this. They are going to think this is too childish for them.” But before I could finish reading it they were jumping up and down, yelling, “I want to be the Mongoose! I want to be the cobra!” And so we did an adaptation of it. The commitment that fifth grade class had to being snakes. I was amazed at how they took ownership of it and it really took a life of its own. I just couldn’t picture these kids being committed snakes, but they were. That experience surprised me. But I have things surprise me all the time in these residencies.

RPAA’s Art Round Trip: A Walking & Riding Art Tour in Rogers Park!

October 10th, 2013 Posted in Events | Comments Off

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2013 – 12:00PM TO 5:00PM

Rogers Park Arts Alliance presents Art Round Trip, an inaugural tour of exhibitions, open studios, galleries and performance. Bike, walk or ride the Red Line to experience the arts in Rogers Park.

Start at Loyola Avenue and travel north to Morse, Jarvis and Howard Street. Bring the family and explore the arts on a sunny October afternoon in Chicago’s northernmost neighborhood. Maps available at each stop and venue.

Rogers Park Arts Alliance is an evolving, project driven consortium of individual artists, arts organizations and businesses with the mission to advance artistic engagement within our diverse community and to promote Rogers Park as a leading destination for art in Chicago.

More info here and here.


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.


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.

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

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