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Revolution, reconciliation and hope

January 21, 2016
PJ Powers

Tonight’s the night!

We are thrilled to open the Chicago premiere of Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau tonight. Dominique is one of the most compelling and provocative writers to break out in the American theatre in recent years. A winner of the prestigious Steinberg Playwright Award and the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, Dominique’s plays speak to the heart of TimeLine’s mission by exploring the past and shining a light on critical contemporary issues.

I first encountered Dominique’s writing when I saw Ron OJ Parson’s production of Detroit ’67 at Northlight Theatre, and I quickly got my hands on four more of her scripts, including Sunset Baby. My TimeLine colleagues and I were immediately enthralled by the depth of her historical scope, her dialogue that combines beautiful poetry with biting prose, and the stirring blend of disenfranchisement and hopefulness in her plays.

Dominique is a writer for our times, boldly looking at the past events that led us here and asking how we move forward.

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AnJi White and Kelvin Roston Jr. in TimeLine Theatre’s “Sunset Baby”

Sunset Baby explores a trail that stretches from the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. It’s a play about activism, about reconciliation between father and daughter and about the ache to break out of one’s given circumstances.

As we continue to see our city and country wracked by systemic injustice, the issues of Sunset Baby feel all the more resonant, pushing us to ponder how generations of inequality have or have not evolved, as we consider what our role is to change the course of history.

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AnJi White and Phillip Edward Van Lear in TimeLine’s “Sunset Baby.”

With social media, we’re in an age of new forms of activism, new types of reach and perhaps a different definition of “connectedness,” prompting the question: What is today’s movement? Who are its leaders? And how is it different from previous generations?

That generational progression is at the core of Sunset Baby, and while it poses large, messy, sociological questions, this is a play that is less about the actions of the masses and more about the personal decisions and disconnect between a handful of people—daughter, boyfriend, absent father and deceased mother. It’s a deeply personal and intimate look at a family torn apart and examining what was lost in the struggle. Each must confront the mistakes of the past, recognize the choices that led to their division, and determine how or if healing might be possible.

Despite a background of strife, the play’s title reveals that this story is a young woman’s yearning for peace and beauty. She longs to escape her harsh urban confines and finally experience the tranquility and serenity of something that has always been out of reach—a sunset. To see its splendor with her own eyes, filled with color and warmth and hope for what the new day might bring.

What a beautiful thing for us all to look forward to—what tomorrow might bring.

Keeping our land and water healthy

December 13, 2015
Restored prairie and wetlands at Deer Grove East Forest Preserve.

written by Brandon Hayes, Openlands

Openlands is proud to be a sponsor of TimeLine’s Spill by Leigh Fondakowski. The play reminds us of the reality of greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history (save the encroaching catastrophe of climate change). Movingly, it tells the human stories of those most closely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the BP oil spill—those who lost their lives, those left behind, and those whose coastal world was destroyed.

People are at the center of the play. And people are at the center of stewarding our planet and the landscapes we call home. In the face of cataclysmic disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill, the ongoing drought in the American West, and the dangers of climate change, it sometimes feels that there is little we can do.

World leaders yesterday concluded the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The world’s eyes are on the developments there and their far-reaching implications.

But there is a growing body of research—in addition to news stories and anecdotes from around the world—that resiliency in the face of environmental disasters and climate change is being addressed most effectively at the local level.

For years, the focus on the world’s response to climate change has been on nation states, which have been mostly unsuccessful in brokering comprehensive agreements or taking action … Urban areas, home to more than half of the world’s people, are emerging as the ‘first responders’ in adapting to and mitigating climate change.*

Founded in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands is one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation and the only such group with a regional scope in the greater Chicago region. Openlands has helped protect more than 55,000 acres of land for public parks and forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, urban farms, and community gardens.

Tree planting at London Towne Homes in Pullman.

Tree planting at London Towne Homes in Pullman.

Openlands’ vision for the region is a landscape that includes a vast network of land and water trails, tree-lined streets, and intimate public gardens within easy reach of every city dweller. It also includes parks and preserves big enough to provide natural habitat and to give visitors a sense of the vast prairies, woodlands, and wetlands that were here before the cities.

In other words, Openlands is about connecting people to nature where they live.

Each of us in the Chicago region can help our parks, lakefront, forests, prairies, and rivers remain healthy and vibrant.

Something as simple as planting milkweed is an immense benefit to Monarch butterflies, which have undergone a huge population loss in the past 20 years because there is less milkweed to feed caterpillars.

Planting trees in the wake of infestations of pests like the Emerald Ash Borer, helps to store carbon, cool neighborhoods, reduce crime, and foster a sense of health and well-being.

Volunteers at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Volunteers at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Supporting local farmers who grow lots of different types of food can improve land and water health by protecting soils and cleaning rivers and streams. Farming using conservation practices can serve as a buffer to natural areas and provide habitat for wildlife. On a smaller scale, community gardens in urban settings also provide valuable habitat for birds and insects and green space for neighborhoods.

Openlands and our partners—including volunteers, partner corporations and organizations like TimeLine Theatre, and governmental agencies—are working to keep our region healthy. To learn more and get involved, please visit openlands.org.

* Cynthia Rosenzweig, William Solecki, Stephen A. Hammer and Shagun Mehrotra, “Cities lead the way in climate-change action,” Nature, October 21, 2010, Vol. 467.

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Brandon Hayes is Director of Communications for Openlands. He has spent his entire career at non-profit organizations and also has directed operas and plays in Chicago and his native metropolitan Detroit. Brandon is a long-time volunteer for the International Crane Foundation and a photographer and essayist, chronicling all 58 U.S. National Parks.

And “the price” is …

December 8, 2015

The time has arrived! Many of you have been asking about the answers to the appraisal game we invited audiences to play during The Price. Throughout the run, we asked you to guess the prices that a professional auctioneer would pay for the items in our lobby, as well as what the most expensive item was.

Before I give out the answers (I have kept these completely hidden even from my fellow Company and Staff members so there could be no cheating!), I want to give some more background on the specifics of the appraisal and the items in the lobby.

The Furniture

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Mike Nussbaum and the amazing set of “The Price.”

The scenic designer (Brian Sidney Bembridge) and props designers (Amy Peter and Mary O’Dowd) worked very closely on this show to transform the lobby of the theatre into the 19th century New York Victorian brownstone of Arthur Miller’s The Price. What’s important to remember about the furniture that we collected versus the furniture that the characters in the play would have collected: Ours was mostly early 20th century, while theirs would have been mostly mid- to late-19th century. Almost all of our furniture came from the prop departments at DePaul and Northwestern universities, and while much of it is “true” furniture—meaning it is not a reproduction or made for the stage—it is primarily mass-produced pieces. The furniture that the characters in the play are selling would have been true antiques (more than 100 years old), would have been purchased for a hefty price considering the wealth of the family, and would have definitely included many one-of-a-kind items.

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Corbin looking over “The Price” furniture.

The Appraisal

On August 15, 2015, we invited Corbin Horn, a specialist in the furniture department at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, to come and do an appraisal of all the furniture we had collected for the production. It was great fun watching Corbin poke through everything and put numbers to paper. He was finished in less than an hour, noting that the items we have are so familiar to him that he is able to make determinations very quickly.

He spent a bit of time with the andirons (valued at $500 to $1,000), the chandeliers (again about $500 to $1,000 each), and the library table (valued at $500). Surprisingly, most of the furniture did not have a great deal of value—including the armoire (which was a favorite guess among many in our audience for the most valuable piece)!

In fact, Corbin told me that armoires have lost a great deal of value recently. They were much more expensive 10-15 years ago when people were snatching them up to hide big TVs, but since the arrival of flat screens—which people are proud to display and that mount on the wall—the armoire has become unfashionable and less valuable. He valued the beauty at a measly $300!

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Corbin examining the harp.

The one thing that really stopped him was the harp. He took a long time examining it.

I asked him what he was looking for.

He said wanted to inspect its condition and to find the maker’s mark, which he found on the neck on an engraved brass plate.

It said “I and I Erat” and Berners Street London with a No. 1854. With that info, he was able to determine its provenance and value, using the internet. He didn’t think the 1854 was a date (items like harps rarely have date stamps, he said), but we did discover that the Erat Harp Company was in existence from 1797- 1858 in London, so we know it was in that time period. I later let The Price director Lou Contey know about how much time Corbin took with the harp and how important that brass plate was. He passed this along to actor Mike Nussbaum, who played Solomon the appraiser, and each night Mike looked for that plate!

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The harp name plate, reading “I & I Erat, Berners Str. London No.1854”

When all was said and done, Corbin gave me the piece of paper with all his calculations on it.

What he wrote down was the retail value of the furniture, and it looked pretty good actually—almost every item coming in at $100 or more. But then came the bad news. An auctioneer needs to make money, and they will have to store and deliver this furniture. That means they will offer about a third to half of the actual retail cost. The most shocking thing to me was that the numbers were surprisingly close to the numbers in the play (which is set almost 50 years ago). Again, it is important to remember that this furniture is very different from the furniture Arthur Miller describes. I suspect our numbers would have been much higher had we been able to find 19th century pieces!

Corbin's calculations.

Corbin’s calculations.

The Answers

Now here they are, the answers to the questions posed in The Price appraisal game:

  • What is the price that Leslie Hindman Auctioneers would pay to obtain the entire collection? $5,000
  • What is the price that Leslie Hindman Auctioneers believes the collection could sell for at Auction? $13,500
  • What single item was appraised at the highest value? The harp
  • What is the price that Leslie Hindman Auctioneers would pay to obtain that item (and what would they estimate that item selling for)? $2,500 (buy) / $5,000+ (sell)

Congratulations to those of you who guessed right on the harp! For those who got the actual numbers right—that verges on wizardry! And for everyone, I hope this proved as interesting and fun for you as it was for us. Thank you for participating.

A conversation with Leigh Fondakowski

December 2, 2015
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Writer/director Leigh Fondakowski (LF) shares reflections on the play and the process of creating it with Artistic Director PJ Powers (PJP).

(PJP) What first drew you to the story of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the BP oil spill?

(LF) I was asked by Wesleyan University to co-teach a class with a distinguished environmental scientist by the name of Barry Chernoff. Dr. Chernoff and I took a group of Wesleyan students to Louisiana to teach them about the oil spill and to study the environmental impacts. My role was to teach the students interview techniques, guide them through an interview process in the Gulf, and then assist them in creating artwork from their experiences.

Pam Tatge, the director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts proposed to me a commission to create a play from these events, but I was hesitant. Having done three major works about tragic events, I was hoping to turn my artistic attention toward other subjects and new processes. Once I visited the Gulf though, I was incredibly moved by the plight of the people living there. They are living in an already fragile ecosystem, threatened by coastal erosion and hurricane storm surges, and then BP hit. It was almost exactly five years after Katrina. One interviewee remarked that it was like getting stabbed in the same wound twice. I was almost immediately drawn in to the story.

I knew that there was an important American play here and I had to follow that hunch.


Hear Leigh talk about her work on Spill in this brief behind-the-scenes video.


(PJP) How soon after the explosion did you make your first trip to the Gulf region, and how long were you there initially?

(LF) Dr. Chernoff and I took our first trip to the Gulf in the fall of 2010. We took the students down in early 2011. It was after the oil had stopped spilling. It wasn’t during the high crisis time of the events.

What was interesting about it is that the rest of the country had moved on, but it was as if time had stood still in southern Louisiana. There were still homemade billboards and anti-BP signs all along the coast, and at Grand Isle, what came to be known as “Ground Zero” for the oil spill, there were still tar balls prevalent on the beach.

People were beginning to show signs of illness from having had close contact with the oil, and the fishing communities were frustrated because the claim process with BP was dragging on. The story was still very much alive. In fact, even five years later, you can still feel the effects. People’s lives were changed irreparably from this event.

(PJP) Being there, how did things differ from what you had been seeing on television or reading about in the news?

(LF) The thing that is most striking about southern Louisiana is the juxtaposition between oil and nature. Southern Louisiana is one of the most beautiful natural environments on earth. On one of my first trips there I was taken out by boat to a heavily oiled marsh. There were brown pelicans flying low along the water right next to the boat. There were dolphins swimming alongside it. It was breathtaking.

Oil and nature side by side on the Louisiana coast.

Oil and nature side by side on the Louisiana coast.

Then, you turn a corner and all you can see is oil rigs and production platforms and refineries, literally as far as the eye can see. One interviewee called them, “Mosquitoes on the skin.” For the people there the co-insistence of industry with this natural beauty is just part of their way of life. It is perfectly normal to them.

On one of these boat trips, I also happened to see dolphins being autopsied at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries building. A team of scientists were gathered around a large lab table and there were several dead dolphins in body bags on the ground next to the table. I was very struck by this image as well. No one knew for certain at that time if the dolphins were dead because of the oil spill, but it was certainly a haunting image, one that I will never forget. So this idea that oil and nature can live side by side began to have cracks in it.

(PJP) What’s your process for conducting interviews? Where do you begin with identifying people and what’s your strategy for those meetings?

(LF) My process for conducting interviews is strongly based on hunches. I begin reading about a place or an event, and I literally go with my gut instinct—what stories do I feel drawn to, whose stories do I feel drawn to—and I proceed from there. Typically, you can start with a handful of interviews and then the tributaries from those initial interviews are quite far reaching.

I reached out to Professor Bob Bea who is at the University of California-Berkeley, for example. I happened to be visiting the Berkeley area and he was easy enough to find online. I had read about Bob in an article in which he was referred to as “the master of disaster.” Bob led me to Lillian Espinosa–Gala, a former rig worker and journalist, and Lillian knew A LOT of people whom she began to recommend that I meet.

Four degrees of separation later, we found ourselves meeting with Jorey Danos, a clean-up worker. One interview led to the next, to the next, to the next in a natural progression. Bob and Jorey are strangers, but Bob led us to Jorey.

(PJP) Were there things you discovered during interviews that surprised you or that took your research in new directions?

Craig Spidle (left) portrays Bob Bea in "Spill."

Craig Spidle (left) portrays Bob Bea in “Spill.”

(LF) I traveled to the Gulf with my close collaborator, visual artist Reeva Wortel. Reeva was interested in painting portraits of the people impacted by the spill and so we traveled together conducting interviews. We thought that we were going to be interviewing people impacted by the oil spill: clean-up workers, fishermen, politicians, religious leaders, and every day citizens. We quickly discovered that a HUGE part of this story centered around the rig workers and their families.

We also discovered how technically advanced deepwater drilling is. Deepwater drilling is often compared to space travel. I had no idea how dangerous it was. I didn’t understand the difference between a well in deep water versus a well on land. My dramaturgical team and I—Sarah Lambert, Kelli Simpkins and Reeva Wortel—have all become modest experts in deepwater drilling.

As a playwright, I knew I needed to understand why that rig blew. The answer is not simple. You can’t point to the one “smoking gun,” like the faulty o-ring that blew up the Challenger space shuttle. There were more than 20 different decisions taken over a long period of time that caused the Deepwater Horizon to blow out. So, now I know what a centralizer is, and what a toolpusher does, and a lot of things I never dreamed I’d know.

There is also something terrifying in this knowledge. When people now debate whether or not we should go to the Arctic, I am literally terrified. I’m sure that we have the technology to do it, but I am almost as certain that we do not have the technology to clean it up if something goes wrong.

How do we as a society measure these risks and do we really have a voice?

(PJP) Once you’ve conducted your interviews, how do you start to shape those hundreds of hours into a play?

(JF) Typically within a two-hour interview I know almost instantly if there is what I call “usable text,” or text that feels theatrical or interesting or compelling. Certain moments stand out and they become “pillars” or “tent poles” for the construction of the play.

I also transcribe all of my own material, and as I do I continue to listen to the material. I try to allow the material to speak to me about what the story is, what story lives inside of the raw material, rather than taking the material and imposing a narrative on it. I think of myself as a listener first and then my task as an artist is to convey what I have found and discovered. I try to let the people or the event teach me what the story wants to be.

Spill is the story of a community. The community is the protagonist. The playwriting process is also about letting many voices speak and become part of the greater story being told. The ensemble is also a community, and so their task together is to embody this single protagonist, to become a single protagonist, even though they all have their individual contributions to make.

(PJP) How did the process for Spill compare to your work as head writer on The Laramie Project or your work as writer and director of The People’s Temple?

(LF) Both Laramie and Temple were created by a team of people working together. My collaborators were doing independent research and interviews that were then combined with mine to create a collective whole. While I had a team of people collaborating with me on Spill, I was present for all of the interviews and shaped the body of the play based on that material. I was able to hold the body of material in my mind at every step of the way. So, the listening process was easier in some ways as it was contained to the stories that I myself had heard and found.

Each interview process was distinct for all three projects. Laramie is a small Western town, so you could just walk across the street or take a short drive to accomplish your interviews. In the case of Temple, the survivors of Jonestown were all over the country, so we had to travel to multiple states to find them. With Spill, we confined most of our work to the coast of Southern Louisiana. We tried to find communities that had not been represented in the media, communities that were “off the map,” so to speak. As our connections to the people who had lost their loved ones in the explosion grew, we also traveled to Texas to interview them.

(PJP) Spill premiered in Louisiana in 2014 with many of those most affected by the tragedy in the audience. What was it like to tell their story in their own community?

Chris Rickett and Justine C. Turner portray real-life couple Jason and Shelley Anderson in "Spill."

Chris Rickett and Justine C. Turner portray real-life couple Jason and Shelley Anderson in “Spill.”

(LF) It is always a profound experience to do this, and it is a privilege. It is a privilege to tell other people’s stories, it really is.

My goal as an artist is to create something beautiful—art—from a tragic event. I hope to create a space for contemplation about the event beyond the tragedy. I have found that art does actually have this capacity—this healing power, if you will—and that in each instance, when the people came to the play it was a cathartic experience for most of them.

We premiered the play in Baton Rouge because it had the largest regional theater in the state. I would say Baton Rouge isn’t a huge “theater” town. Tailgating for LSU football games is where it’s at in Baton Rouge. So, we had a lot of people come to see the play who had heard about the subject matter but who had never seen a play. It was a very satisfying experience to have people say, “This is the first play I’ve ever seen and I’m blown away.” To be able to make that kind of artistic impact or imprint, it’s a nice feeling to have.

(PJP) TimeLine first got involved in the play’s development after the original production, and we’ve been collaborating with you for a little over a year. Can you talk about how the play has evolved since its premiere?

(LF) The play has evolved significantly since the premiere. First of all, I did more interviewing, and those interviews have shaped the play profoundly.

The second act has been under construction for a long time now. I have been trying to create a second act that captures the drama of the 87-day oil spill while also creating a space for contemplation about what this event means to the people who lived through it. It has been challenging to find that balance between mourning what was lost and still following the rules of great drama, which are about tension, plot, and transformation.

The people suffered, and many suffered greatly and are still suffering, but I want the play to be about what happened as a result of that suffering, who they became having gone through it, what insights that they had while living through it—those are the touch points that make this story universal beyond the details of the spill.

(PJP) How do you think the issues of the play will resonate with our Midwestern audience, as compared to an audience in Louisiana?

(LF) Well, for one thing, our Cajun accents don’t have to be PITCH PERFECT as they were down there! Seriously, though, I think that this play will resonate with this audience because it is a story that could happen to any of us.

No, most of us don’t go to work on an offshore drill rig or fish for oysters, but there is not a person living who hasn’t gone through a trauma or an abrupt or unexpected change in their lives that has changed them forever. We have all loved, we have all lost, we are all identified with the places that we love and call home, and many of us may know how jarring it is when you’re forced to look at your identity because of an event that happens that is out of your control.

Earlier on in its development, I was giving a talk back after a production of The Laramie Project. I was asked what I was working on and I said a play about the oil spill. The woman literally put her hand up in front of her chest as if to shield herself from something toxic and said, “Oh, that’s a different kind of sadness.”

I thought, “Okay, Matthew Shepard was the victim of a hate crime, but isn’t it still tragic that these 11 men lost their lives?” Different circumstance, of course, but is it really a “different kind of sadness?” Do we measure sadness based on whether or not we perceive the person as a worthy victim? Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s parents, are deeply connected to Arleen Weise, Keith Jones or Bill Anderson. They all lost children in an unjust, unfair, and brutal manner: their grief is absolutely universal and yet so deeply personal to each one of them. If Judy Shepard and Arleen Weise were to meet in a room, they would know and understand one another deeply before even speaking a single word.

I made it a point after that talk back to reach out to the family of Jason Anderson and to make Jason a more substantial character in the play. I wanted the audience to go on a journey with a man who they wouldn’t naturally sympathize or empathize with—someone very different from them. When we lose Jason in the play, I want the audience to feel that loss. I think that they will.

The ensemble of "Spill," featuring (from left) Justin James Farley, Tim Decker, Chris Rickett, Justine C. Turner, David Prete, Christopher Sheard, Caren Blackmore and Kelli Simpkins.

The ensemble of “Spill,” featuring (from left) Justin James Farley, Tim Decker, Chris Rickett, Justine C. Turner, David Prete, Christopher Sheard, Caren Blackmore and Kelli Simpkins.

(PJP) Each actor in the show takes on numerous roles to form a sort of chorus of players. How do you go about making that ensemble work in the rehearsal room?

(LF) This ensemble has been a joy to work with, an absolute joy. In truth, you have to get very lucky when you’re building an ensemble from scratch. There is something mysterious about it—are all of these strangers going to “gel?” In order for an ensemble to work, people have to be willing to leave their individual egos at the door and see themselves as a part of a bigger whole. They have to be open to one another, they have to be good listeners, and they have to be willing to take risks and to fail in front of a large group of people. This group has been all of the above. They encourage one another, they BELIEVE in one another. Each one is better because the others are there. These are all of the ingredients of a good ensemble, and this group is the best.

(PJP) You’re creating a vivid physical vocabulary with the actors too, keeping them present on stage throughout the play and very active whether they are speaking or not. Is this type of physical work and choreography something you’re always drawn to as a director, or is it mostly for this particular play?

(LF) I have always been drawn to this type of work, but I have been able to express it in ways in this play that I haven’t been able to in the past, so it has been thrilling. I love physical acting. The actor’s body is like a beautiful instrument. They can communicate so much beyond the text. I am interested in the physical interplay between and among them and how much story can be told beyond the text. Text is one element of theater, but there are so many others. This physical world is one layer, but it provides a strong foundation for this piece in terms of the story telling. When their bodies are listening, their minds are keenly in tune also.

(PJP) One of the things that first struck me about the play is that it offers no easy answers about oil drilling and its impact. You present an array of viewpoints. If you had one hope for how people would respond to the play, what would that be?

(LF) One of the things that strikes me about “documentary theater” or the label or perception of “documentary theater,” is that these plays seem to be held to a different standard than other plays. These plays come with an expectation that the playwright is supposed to make a big statement or comment on the event, create their own spin or take on the story.

For me, Spill is as much about the fragility of human life, about love and about loss, as it is about oil. It’s not a play about the BP oil spill, though that was its starting point. It’s a play about human lives and how life changes as a result of an event like this. So I keep wishing that “documentary” plays could simply be viewed as plays, simply be seen as a study or examination of human nature, human behavior, and life.

Yes, Spill does point to larger themes—as an allegory in a way—for where we are as a society in terms of fossil fuels. We know that nature and our current oil-based economy are on a collision course. Most of us feel personally powerless to do anything about it, even if we deeply care.

When I was in Louisiana I thought, “We’re doomed, we’re never changing course, here.” The infrastructure alone down there is stunning. People who are not from there often say things like, “We should just stop drilling.” That is a very naïve idea, which I now only realize having been there. As Bob Bea says, “We don’t realize how much oil permeates our lives.” Try going a day without petroleum products. You literally cannot do it. Our lives are inextricably linked with this industry and so is our economy. When the people of the Gulf say oil is a “way of life,” they are right. But it is a way of life for all of us, too, though we would never name it like that.

I do think it would be good if when people leave the play that they thought deeper about the people they love and hold dear, how fragile life really is, how your life can change in an instant. But I’d like them also to connect those deeper existential questions to the earth and to the environment, what kind of society to we want to live in—what kind of society DO we want to create? I think most people would say that we want to create a society where life is valued, where the environment is valued, where we actually recognize how precious a natural resource like oil really is.

I think noticing that oil is precious and acting accordingly would change a lot. Just shifting our thought to the fact that it’s not a cheap resource but a precious one would change a lot. We would be less inclined to use oil on one use or disposable items and perhaps begin to use it for the things that we really need to survive and make our lives richer and more productive.

My only big take-away from this is that we really have our work cut out for us as a society and my question coming out of it is: are we going to rise to the occasion?

One of the most shocking things as an outsider is that I FULLY expected the families of the rig workers to suddenly turn anti-oil in their views. I think I realize now that you can’t actually be pro-oil or anti-oil. You can think you are, but you really aren’t. We all use fossil fuels to survive. All of us, regardless of our political views, so if we are going to start talking about an issue like climate change in a real way, we have to at least be honest with ourselves about that.

I can’t stand back and judge someone for saying, “drill baby drill,” although I have and still might have an inclination to do so! But now I have to look at the situation more as a predicament or a puzzle or a dilemma that we’re all in, it’s a problem that needs to be solved in a deeply creative and committed way.

One of our characters says, “We’re all in the same boat now,” and truly we are. Whether you live in Wyoming or Louisiana or New York City we all need water to survive, we all need air to breathe, we need our land to not wash away under our feet, the ecosystems of the world need all of the species we are killing off, and we need them, too. Standing on two sides of the issue isn’t going to get us to the solutions that our future needs.

It’s a cliché, but we must stand together, we must rise above those labels in order to change our mentality about oil. We are all inextricably linked to the oil industry at this time in human history. So for that to unravel, for that to shift and to change is going to be a very big deal.

 

Turning the stage into a classroom

October 5, 2015
Ali Delianides hard at work during the National Seminar for Teaching Artists.

Planning and lesson Design: two things that are essential before going into any residency. Having the opportunity to participate in the National Seminar for Teaching Artists at the Kennedy Center this past August has made me take a closer and deeper look into my own planning and objectives, and how I can incorporate the tools and resources shared with me going forward.

Twenty teaching artists from across the U.S. were invited to participate in this three-day seminar. We all came from incredibly different backgrounds and mediums. Dance, music, visual arts and theatre were all represented. Each teaching artist had been in the classroom as a lead teacher for at least four years. As you can imagine, the wealth of knowledge and experience in that seminar room was overwhelming.

Our seminar was led by Lynne Silverstein, who is a senior program consultant to Education at the Kennedy Center and co-designs the Kennedy Center’s seminars for teaching artists, and Sean Layne, who is an Arts Coach for the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts program.

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Ali with seminar leader Lynne Silverstein. (Photo by Susan Shaffer / Kennedy Center)

Each day they welcomed us with a new warm-up game, invited questions and responses from the previous days, and provided a new binder chock full of materials that would help refine and develop our arts-integrated curriculum.

I’m still trying to sort through all the information presented to me, and to incorporate Living History’s classroom model into the Kennedy Center Education plan. With that being said, one of my biggest takeaways was remembering to look backward when starting to plan a residency. To look at what our expected results for the students will be—what they will know ahead of time, be able to do, and what they will appreciate or have increased awareness of as a result of the residency. This ultimately will help in guiding our objectives for the residency and help in integrating the art form with the subject matter. This is something I will incorporate before I head into every classroom this school year.

Although our time with these students is brief, the impact that we hope to leave behind will be long lasting.

Being a part of the seminar and working with other teaching artists reminded me why I love what I do. The opportunity to be able to go into a classroom and enlighten students by bringing a play that might not seem to relate to them or their lives, but in time finding the resemblance, making history personal for themselves and the world they live in, is extremely special and important. Although our time with these students is brief, the impact that we hope to leave behind will be long lasting.

I am grateful to work for a theatre company that allows me to explore in the classroom and constantly improve myself as a teaching artist, and remembers that taking time for professional development opportunities is important and necessary.

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Participants in the 2015 National Seminar for Teaching Artists, including TimeLine’s Ali Delianides. (Photo by Susan Shaffer / Kennedy Center)

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In August, Living History Education Program Assistant Ali Deliandides was one of just 20 teaching artists chosen from across the nation to participate in the National Seminar for Teaching Artists at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her experience in Washington, D.C., will be a valuable resource to enhance Living History’s ongoing work in Chicago Public Schools! 

Happy 100th, Mr. Miller

August 27, 2015
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Welcome to TimeLine’s 19th season! Today we open The Price, commemorating the 100th birthday of the celebrated playwright Arthur Miller this fall.

This marks the third time that we’ve presented one of this master’s plays, following up on two of TimeLine’s most acclaimed productions—The Crucible in 2001, directed by Nick Bowling, and All My Sons in 2009, directed by Kimberly Senior.

With The Price, Miller becomes TimeLine’s most-produced writer, perhaps not surprising since much of his work embodies our mission, exploring the ramifications of time and examining how social and political issues intertwine.

Roderick Peeples (from left), Kymberly Mellen and Bret Tuomi in "The Price."

Roderick Peeples (from left), Kymberly Mellen and Bret Tuomi in “The Price.”

Quite often, Miller wasn’t necessarily intending to craft “history plays.” He was responding to contemporary issues and topics that were most urgent at the time he was writing. Now, with the perspective of distance, our viewing of so many of his works has deepened, providing capsules of a bygone era—a window into history. Yet his explosive writing still stings with a resonance today.

The Price, written approximately two decades after All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, explores a theme similar to those seminal dramas—the elusive quest for the American Dream.

In this play—set within an attic filled with family relics—the baggage of time and the weight of life’s choices not only loom in the air, but shadow the characters’ every move. Each has suffered through the Great Depression, following divergent paths out of it and emerging with starkly different and disconnected lives. They all have been stymied by time and their individual choices. And each is looking back with regret and uncertainty about when things went awry or how their lives and family ties could have been different … if only …

We’re delighted to welcome back TimeLine Associate Artist Louis Contey, a director whose work floored me more than 20 years ago when I saw his production of another Miller jewel, A View from the Bridge. Still relatively new to Chicago, it was a defining moment for me—I grasped what Chicago theatre was, felt confident I was in the right city, and knew I had to find a way to work with Lou. Now a veteran of more than 10 TimeLine productions, Lou’s acute vision and distinct connection to Miller’s writing is exceptional.

Bret Tuomi (left) and Mike Nussbaum in "The Price."

Bret Tuomi (left) and Mike Nussbaum in “The Price.”

Joining him is an all-star design team and cast, including the inimitable Mike Nussbaum who returns to TimeLine just months after appearing in Lou’s production of The Apple Family Plays. What a true blessing it is to have this remarkable artist, and even greater person, with us for so much of 2015. He was born to play the role of Solomon in The Price, and it’s been our goal to make this happen for the past few years.

As we embark on year 19 for TimeLine, we’re grateful to all of you for continuing to support this theatre company, for engaging in thoughtful discussion and going along with us for new experiences of classic works and maiden voyages of bold new scripts. With Spill, Sunset Baby and Chimerica on the horizon this season, I couldn’t be more excited by what lies ahead at TimeLine and with you.

We’re honored to begin another year together by saluting a man who continues to mean so much to us. Happy 100th, Mr. Miller.

What would you fight to save?

May 15, 2015
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In a time of crisis, what would you fight to save?

An obvious first instinct is to protect yourself and your loved ones. But beyond that, what items are most valuable to preserve?

Perhaps a family heirloom, or letters, or books? Photographs? A piece of art? Maybe something not even in your possession—a national relic or antiquity? Something you believe must be secured so that it lives on for future generations—representing who we are as a people, a nation, a culture?

This not easily answered question is at the heart of the final play in TimeLine’s 18th season, Michele Lowe’s Inana, which caps off our year of plays new to Chicago.

Inana is set in February 2003, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell makes a case to the United Nations that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, and the city of Baghdad braces for war. An Iraqi museum curator plots to save something dear to him and his heritage—the statue of Inana—so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands or face destruction.

Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy as newlyweds Shali and Yasin Shalid in "Inana."

Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy as newlyweds Shali and Yasin Shalid in “Inana.”

Throughout history, the casualties of war have extended beyond tragic human loss. Architectural wonders, statues, churches and monuments have been desecrated. Paintings, jewels, religious artifacts and invaluable manuscripts have been lost. Whether intentionally destroyed, opportunistically stolen, or inadvertently defiled as collateral damage, these costs of war are difficult to quantify. How do we assess this loss of identity, the erasing of history?

Such treasures are our link to the past. They provide insight into how our ancestors lived, loved and struggled, into how customs and rituals have developed over time. They help define who we are as a people, where we’ve come from, and how we choose to represent ourselves for future generations.

In selecting our season, TimeLine’s Company Members were drawn to Michele’s provocative play because at its core, it’s a love story—a perspective rarely explored in tales of war. Inana isn’t about the people on the front lines, or the ones crafting war policy and strategy. It’s a romance, shining a light on an Iraqi’s quest to preserve the beauty of his heritage, while he also forges a fresh start with his new bride.

Recently, this play’s themes have become distressingly timely, with news coverage showing members of the Islamic State destroying artifacts at Iraq’s Mosul Museum.

Recently, this play’s themes have become distressingly timely, with news coverage showing members of the Islamic State destroying artifacts at Iraq’s Mosul Museum. Such heartbreaking and enraging reports understandably elicit feelings of helplessness. We hope that Michele’s love story will be a reminder, in the face of such devastation, of what each of us holds dear, and why.

We are grateful to have had Michele deeply involved in this production, continuing to develop and deepen the story and enthusiastically collaborating with our team of artists. Under the always-inspiring leadership of director and TimeLine Associate Artist Kimberly Senior, they have created a piece of theatre that gives us much to reflect upon and discuss.

Images from TimeLine's interactive lobby experience for "Inana."

Images from TimeLine’s interactive lobby experience for “Inana.”

In fact, you can participate in that discussion even when you’re not at the theatre! As many of you know, the TimeLine experience starts well before you take your seat, through our interactive lobby experiences. During the run of Inana, a portion of the lobby asks you to imagine that you must leave your home quickly, never to return. All your loved ones and animals are safe, but you have time to save just one personal item. What would you take and why? Share a photo of your item and/or a short description about your choice on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and be sure to tag @TimeLineTheatre and #inanaiwouldsave. You can view everyone’s contributions online, and we’ll also be adding the items and stories that are shared to a wall in the lobby so you can see them when you attend the show.

Thanks for all your support this season, and I’ll see you at the theatre!

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