Today – April 9, 2009 – marks the 12th birthday of TimeLine Theatre Company.
True, we were not officially incorporated as a not-for-profit organization until December of 1997, and we didn’t produce our first production until April of 1998, however the company really began on April 9, 1997 in an apartment on the north side of Chicago. This was the date in which the six founding company members, led by Nick Bowling, gathered to hatch the idea of TimeLine, a company that would be devoted to plays inspired by history.
It seemed a risky gamble at the time and, as I’ve written before (with egg on my face) there perhaps was no louder skeptic in the room than me (“History? Really!?”). But that night began a series of conversations that would take us through the cumbersome year of official inauguration. We spent those 12 months getting our house in order before tackling the daunting task of producing a play, because our aim was not to just produce a play, but rather to start an organization that looked beyond the immediate project.
We were thoughtful and at times meticulous about building an organization, articulating a mission and vision and goals, creating job descriptions (even though it would be another five years before anyone saw a paycheck), and laying the groundwork for being a company that would embrace strategic planning, constructive self-analysis and criticism, and open discussion to grow, improve and thrive. (The post-mortem for our first production lasted six hours. While we’ve gotten a bit speedier, it’s a process that continues to this day among the company members to identify what we did well and where we can improve.)
Twelve years ago we were young with little to lose, but we had lofty goals for building something bigger than ourselves – something that we hoped would become a long-standing part of this great city’s arts scene. Being dissatisfied with the type of work we were doing at other people’s theatres, we wanted a say in the bigger picture of how a theatre is run and what is on stage. We wanted to help set the point of view. So in the grand ongoing Chicago tradition we set out to do it ourselves, aiming to produce plays that not only were rooted in a specific historical context but that also engaged you through discussion and the sharing of research to better understand that context. And in an answer to my flippant question on April 9, 1997 — “History? Really!?” — I came to realize (through the wisdom of my cohorts) that by looking at the past we can, hopefully, better understand where we are today and where we might go tomorrow … and that the theatre is a great forum to engage our community in such a discussion.
Looking back on the last 12 years I’m really stunned, humbled and honored by what all of you, dear readers and supporters, have enabled us to accomplish. I often get so wrapped up in the day-to-day work here at the theatre (I actually was not even aware that today was our birthday until our Marketing Director Lara Goetsch reminded me this morning) that I fail to step back and look at where we’ve come. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have a videotape of our first discussion a dozen years ago. Much has changed, but at our core our mission and vision have been steadfast. Luckily, many more talented and generous souls have joined the movement along the way and helped us prosper.
Here’s to many, many more happy birthdays yet to come!