Past, present, future

This week we’re taking a trip down memory lane with an extensive interview with five of TimeLine’s founding Company Members, commemorating the 15th Anniversary of the meeting that started TimeLine on April 9, 1997.  You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here …

Fifteen is considered an awkward year for children, a time of radical changes and maturing.  I feel that is exactly where TimeLine is.  Not awkward, I hope, but on the precipice of adulthood.

What are your favorite memories from that first year?  Anything surprising, funny or particularly memorable?

Kevin: One of my favorite first-year memories was about tech for Summit Conference when the video was finally ready for us to try. It was one of those rare magical theater tech moments when an idea or concept was soooo much better than what you had imagined. I think we were all sort of speechless and amazed for a moment, not only that the equipment worked, but also the way the video seeped through the layers of scrim and became almost 3-D.

Nick: My favorite memory is that we had been talking a lot about creating a play about Ballroom dance (I had done a lot of it in undergrad) and we had a couple meetings when we just danced together in Pat’s dining room. It became a regular thing to see the company at The Green Mill on Thursday nights for swing dancing. It brought us all closer together.

Juliet: I remember our first party,  “Step into Time” for New Year’s Eve 1997. It was sort of our first production. I remember driving ALL over the city looking for free or cheap booze for that party. And most of our food the first few years was centered around Great Harvest Bread, since founding Company Member Brock Goldberg was a baker there. We had to have bread parties, bread meetings, lots of bread.

Rendering of the “Summit Conference” set by designer Kevin Hagan.

Kevin: One eerie recollection I have about someone involved in the production of Summit Conference was the man who sold us one of the costumes. Nick and I had been shopping for a German military uniform and hadn’t had much luck finding anything appropriate at Army Navy surplus stores, and we couldn’t afford anything we had seen online. On a whim, we went to a war memorabilia store and got to chatting with the owner and asked him if he knew of a resource that might loan us a real German military uniform. He made a phone call and instructed us to meet a friend of his in the parking lot of a shopping center in 30 minutes. Sure enough, a white panel van with no windows pulled up and a strange little man climbed out and  opened the back, and the van was indeed filled with authentic Nazi war uniforms, hats and boots. I’m not sure what was more striking to Nick and me at the time — the fact that we had acquired the real thing, or that someone would collect and sell Nazi uniforms out of the back of a van in public shopping centers!

And hands down, no pun intended, my funniest memory of my history with TimeLine was Juliet’s improvisational skit about what kind of mission we would have if the theater was named “Jazz Hands Theatre Company.”

Nick: On the funny side, one night of our first production, Summit Conference, we did a show for two people (there were three in the cast)!  Those two people in the audience were Kevin Fox (my roommate and PJ’s best friend) and Don Ilko, a man who taught all of us at DePaul. It was sad that night, but looking back, it is funny to me and almost a little endearing.

Juliet: I will never forget doing Summit Conference for an audience of two. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I remember the debates about the name of the company.

I also kept for a long time a note from one of my teachers at The Theatre School after he saw Summit Conference … he was a really tough critic, and he basically said that he was really proud. And that meant a lot to me.

 PJ: My memory is that I secretly loved every minute of it.

As someone who had been an actor since childhood, I thought that being on stage was the be-all-end-all for me, and that nothing could match that rush/challenge/thrill. To my absolute surprise, building this company and being a part of this company surpassed my previous goals of a career as an actor.

I often say that I lucked into my dream job. And I’m grateful every day to now be the Artistic Director of TimeLine and to get to come to work here every day to produce plays. I don’t know quite how it all happened, but I’m just grateful.

Over the company’s first 15 seasons, there have been 51 shows, including 8 world premieres and 16 Chicago premieres. Can you name a favorite?

TimeLine’s world premiere of “Streeterville” by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills, directed by Nick Bowling, 2001.

Kevin: If I had to pick one, I think it would be Streeterville (2001). I loved that the play was inspired by events in Chicago and took place in locations that still exist. More than that, it was by far the most challenging collaboration that Nick and I ever experienced together and in the end, I loved the world we created. And I don’t just mean the sets, lights, costumes and sound but also the energy and the way people lived and moved in that world. If I could pick a second and third they would be Gaslight (1999) and The Lion in Winter (2002) and for the same reasons – the worlds we created for those two plays were not only innovative and fascinating but historically appropriate in their own unique way.

Nick: I have so many favorites, but perhaps The History Boys (2009) because it ran for so long and it almost felt like that cast moved into the theatre that year. It was fun from start to finish. The boys brought such an exciting energy to the theatre and when it got to be too much energy (only occasionally!), the older actors who played the teachers reined them in. It was just icing on the cake that it won awards — a testament to the way everyone had worked. Now several of those cast members are actually Associate Artists of TimeLine.

Aaron Christensen and Juliet Hart in TimeLine’s Midwest premiere of Tennessee Williams’ “Not About Nightingales,” directed by William Brown, 2000.

Juliet: I think Not About Nightingales (2000) felt like a watershed moment … like we really were arriving. We had Bill Brown directing, an exciting script and a terrific group of actors. I was heartbroken when it ended.

PJ: Sorry, can’t do it. Can’t list just one. Maybe this is why I only have one child — because I could never pick favorites if I had more than one. But, out of 50 shows, here’s my top five: Not About Nightingales, Awake and Sing! (2002), This Happy Breed (2004), Hannah and Martin (2003 & 2004) and Fiorello! (2006 & 2008).

You’ve shared the 3 words that, for you, best described TimeLine in the beginning. What 3 words do you think describe TimeLine today?

Kevin: Determined. Exhilarating. Passionate.

Pat: I could use the same 3 honestly, I think. Or instead: Innovative. Tireless. Expansive.

Nick: Thought-provoking. Growing. Professional.

Juliet: Driven. Collaborative. Creative.

PJ: Poised. Focused. Ever-Ambitious.

What does it mean to you that TimeLine has reached its 15th Anniversary?

Nick: It’s amazing. It’s truly hard to believe. I remember back to when we were so excited to see people in our audience who we didn’t know. Now we are excited when we see people we do know. There are so many people who are a part of this family who have played a role in our success that I can’t begin to even remember them all.

Kevin: I am really glad that the company has reached such an important milestone and am proud to have been there at the beginning and for many years afterward.

PJ: Not unlike my feelings about our first production, it means that we’re continuing to keep our promise to those who believe in us (and thankfully that group has grown a lot). We’re on to something, but still have plenty left to do.

Juliet: This is hard to put into words, but I’ll try. The founding members became a company … and I see our company as a family, which is not a word I take lightly. I am so incredibly proud to have persevered in building a place and a culture that I believe is inspiring and nurturing to the very unique craft of theatre, and the people who choose to work in this amazing medium. I am so inspired by what I see in the theatre artists who come in our doors, I am so proud that TimeLine brings in so much new talent every year, and I love what that has added to my life. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this experience. I feel so lucky that I’ve spent the last 15 years here. I can’t imagine who I would be without having had these years with TimeLine — it has shaped me so much.

Nick: Fifteen is considered an awkward year for children, a time of radical changes and maturing.  I feel that is exactly where TimeLine is.  Not awkward, I hope, but on the precipice of adulthood.

What is your wish for TimeLine’s future?

 Juliet: One of the things I’ve come to truly believe in the last 15 years is that theatre is such an important art for our times. To sit in community with people and share a common experience, and to experience the completely unique interplay between an audience that is there to be a part of the art and the work onstage is a very, very rare thing in these times. It is what continues to inspire me to share theatre with the young people we work with in the Living History Education Program.

Kevin: Oddly enough, the same wish I had at the beginning – that the company is able to create innovative and inspired productions, to be truthful to and fully embrace such a unique mission, and to create a passionate place to grow and watch others grow as artists.

PJ: I wish that we continue to stay true to who we’ve always been, but that we can share our work with more people, support our artists as much as humanly possible, give everyone who works here the tools they need to excel, and continue to surprise everyone who walks in our door.

Juliet: I want TimeLine to continue to grow up. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the wonderful ways of adolescence, but I hope we continue to push ourselves to grow deeper and stronger and always more creative. Then we can truly be a place for the next generation of theatre artists to grow up in … I think that would be a wonderful legacy.

Nick: I guess I just want us to continue to grow, risk, change and mature. And I hope we do those things slowly enough to be able to enjoy them. It would also be pretty great if we were all back to answer these same questions in 15 more years!

Anything else you’d like to share? Any question not asked that you’d like to answer?

PJ: God no. This exercise is so TimeLine! Exhaustive, methodic, thorough and, while nice to look back, just reminds me that I need to get back to work! There’s shit to get done!!


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  1. Bernie Holicky

    Although my first TimeLine play was 2000 and I haven’t missed a play since the remount of “Hannah and Martin” in 2004.

    How about remounting “Summit” or a reading so Pj wouldn’t have to appear in the buff. Speaking from experience, as one ages, aesthetically, it’s better to keep covered up.

  2. Gloria Friedman

    These posts have been wonderful. A joy to read! My first production was “Not About Nightingales” and I subscribed immediately after– I think I was one of the original 12. I take great pride in my “good theatre taste” of getting behind TimeLine relatively early. You have not disappointed. BRAVO! I can’t wait to celebrate all milestones yet to come. You’re the best!

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