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Lifeline Theatre was founded in Chicago, Illinois, United States, in 1983 by five Northwestern University graduates—Meryl Friedman, Suzanne Plunkett, Kathee Sills, Sandy Snyder Pietz, and Steve Totland. The company moved into its permanent home in Rogers Park—a converted Commonwealth Edison substation—in 1986. The facility includes a 99-seat theatre, rehearsal and office space, a scene shop, and costume, prop, and scenery storage. The site is the anchor of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, a neighborhood of studios, theatres, and restaurants.
Lifeline serves over 17,000 people each season running from September through August with a 3-play MainStage season and a 3-play KidSeries season. Additionally, Lifeline hosts The Fillet of Solo Festival, a solo performance and storytelling festival, which attracts national talent.
Lifeline's Student Matinee program serves 2,500 students each year through special weekday performances and extensive study guides.
Lifeline's Artists-in-Residence program pairs up professional actor-teaching artists with classroom teachers in Chicago-area schools to teach drama to children in grades K-8 and provide professional development to teachers. Lifeline's residency programs not only teach acting basics, but help students in all areas of learning and social development. In 2010-11, Lifeline worked with over 850 students, 25 classrooms, and seven schools.
Lifeline’s Theatre School classes and workshops bring professional artists together with children ages 4–11 to teach them skills that make the arts fulfilling and fun. Over 80 children participate annually in Lifeline’s Drama Camp (ages 7–11), Junior Camp (ages 4–6), Winter Drama Camp (ages 6–11), School's-Out Workshops (ages 7–11), and Stories Come Alive! Workshops (all ages).
Lifeline's Arts-For-All and Community Days initiatives are aimed at providing financially accessible cultural experiences for everyone, particularly residents of Rogers Park, a low-income, culturally diverse neighborhood. 3,500 people take advantage of this program annually.
Since 2002, Lifeline has collaborated with Rogers Park artists, businesses and community organizations to produce the annual Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest: two and a half days of art, music and family activities. Approximately 8,000 people attend this free event.
Lifeline Theatre has received numerous awards and nominations for both adult and children's programming:
Lifeline has received close to 100 Joseph Jefferson Awards (Equity and Non-Equity), nominations and After Dark awards. In 2007, Lifeline was honored by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee with a Special Citation for its 25-year contribution to Chicago theater.
Honoring Lifeline’s children's programming, New City named Lifeline the Best Children's Theatre Company in Chicago in 2000, and Chicago Magazine named Lifeline Best Kids' Company in 2002. In 1991, Lifeline received an award from the Illinois Theatre Alliance for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Theatre, and in 2006 the City of Chicago presented Lifeline Theatre and Joyce Kilmer School with a special award honoring 15 years of educational partnership.
Ensemble member Meryl Friedman won the 1999 Distinguished Play Award in the Elementary Category from the American Alliance of Theatre and Education for her adaptation of Journey of the Sparrows, produced at Lifeline in 1996. The American Alliance for Theater and Education awarded Lifeline the 2003 Sara Spencer Artistic Achievement Award for sustained and successful achievement in the field of theater for young audiences.
Lifeline Theatre's history of extraordinary work includes MainStage productions of Pride and Prejudice, The Overcoat, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Talisman Ring, Jane Eyre, Cat's Cradle, Around the World in 80 Days, The Killer Angels, A Room with a View, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Mark of Zorro, Treasure Island, Neverwhere, The Moonstone, Watership Down, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Lifeline also produced world premiere adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the Ring) and four installments of the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (Whose Body?, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon).
Family MainStage productions have included A Wrinkle in Time, Lizard Music, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, The Phantom Tollbooth, Journey of the Sparrows, The Silver Chair, and Johnny Tremain.
In 1986 Lifeline inaugurated its KidSeries program. Productions have included Mr. Popper's Penguins, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Bunnicula, James and the Giant Peach, The Story of Ferdinand, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, My Father's Dragon, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, The Stinky Cheese Man, Duck for President, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Last of the Dragons, and Arnie the Doughnut.
Lifeline Theatre's Artistic Ensemble members are: Patrick Blashill, Christina Calvit, Victoria DeIorio, Alan Donahue, Kevin D. Gawley, Peter Greenberg, James E. Grote, Chris Hainsworth, John Hildreth, Paul S. Holmquist, Elise Kauzlaric, Robert Kauzlaric, Frances Limoncelli, Katie McLean Hainsworth, Dorothy Milne (Artistic Director), Shole Milos, Sandy Snyder Pietz, Suzanne Plunkett, Phil Timberlake, Christopher M. Walsh, and Elizabeth Powell Wislar. Emeritus members include: Eric Lane Barnes, Meryl Friedman, Rebecca Hamlin, James Sie, and Steve Totland.