And then the pandemic happened

Change happens. Change is definitely going to happen, no matter what we plan for or expect or hope for or set in place. We will adapt to that change, or we will become irrelevant.  – adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

Members of TimeLine’s staff read and began discussing Emergent Strategy more than a year ago, looking to become a more effective organization. We had the goals and values of a change-making institution, but we sought to identify and implement practices we could use to become more intentional, to welcome in more people and perspectives, and to spark collaborative conversations that would enlighten our art and our business. The words of adrienne maree brown’s essential workbook helped us see where possibilities for change and intentional transformation existed in our work. We had discussions, revamped hiring procedures, poured artistic energy into shows that spoke to our commitment to social and political issues, and embraced a sustained process built on trust and open dialogue to integrate new practices into our day-to-day.

And then the pandemic happened. And an overdue national reckoning demanding social justice in the face of systemic racism.  

“Kill Move Paradise” completed its run online in the wake of the pandemic.

With our theatre shuttered, TimeLine pivoted quickly in March and April, closing the run of Kill Move Paradise but finding a creative solution to share the production online. Soon thereafter, we revived a treasured hit productionTo Master the Artalso online. In a lot of ways, it didn’t feel like we had stopped! Our offices went remote, we moved our Step Into Time Gala online, and we produced virtual performances for appreciative audiences—all while the staff still operated at full speed, albeit from our respective homes. Although we were crushed to cancel so many live performances and saddened to postpone the world premiere production of Tyla Abercrumbie’s ever-relevant Relentless, TimeLine was grateful to keep moving, keep problem-solving, and keep inspiring each other to continue.

One of the greatest motivators was our continued connection with you. Whether it was interacting on the phone, via email, through the virtual Donor Breakfast or one of the many virtual discussions held for Kill Move Paradise and To Master The Art, our dialogue with you—and the outpouring of support and encouragement we continue to hear—is uplifting in a time of anxiety and uncertainty.

Throughout the Spring, as our shows went on(line) and we approached a new fiscal year that started July 1, it became apparent that a more comprehensive strategy was required to address financial realities, unknowns about how and when we might re-open, and what substantive role TimeLine would play to address inequity and racism. As an organization, and more specifically, as leaders within the organization, we humbly recognize that what we’ve done thus far to be an anti-racist company and a leader in the community has been insufficient. We must—and will—do more.

Inspired by one of the themes of Emergent Strategy: using change to “[stay] in touch with our deeper purpose,” we began to plan … strategically. 

In May and June, TimeLine’s staff, Company, and Board embarked on a period of strategic planning, during which we revitalized our values, reorganized our priorities, and recommitted to the mission that makes TimeLine Theatre Company a unique and vital group of storytellers. Throughout our lively discussions about TimeLine’s top priorities, words like “transparency,” “communication,” and “dialogue” kept floating to the top of the list. It was clear that all the voices in the room (well, Zoom) were devoted to being open, honest, and forthcoming with the public, with our patrons, and with ourselves—throughout this crisis, and beyond.

That’s what we’re doing here. Welcome to the first of many TimeLine 2020-21 Strategic Plan initiatives! 

There are many projects inspired by our new strategic plan that we want to share with you, and we will be doing so—including more details about these primary goals within the plan:

  • Everyone’s History – Expanding diversity in every element of TimeLine’s organization and programming
  • TimeLine Culture and Environment – Fostering a collaborative environment where innovation and great work can happen
  • The TimeLine Experience – Creating immersive, impactful experiences that engage the curiosity of expanding and diversifying audiences
  • Audience Growth and Retention – Expanding TimeLine’s community and ensuring everyone feels invited to engage with TimeLine’s mission
  • Financial and Organizational Capacity – Expanding our capacity to support the growth of TimeLine
  • New Home Development – Establishing a new home to better fulfill TimeLine’s mission and foster more robust programming

The first of these projects is a commitment to provide informational updates to all those who wish to know about TimeLine’s goings on. Our intention is to acknowledge your importance to this organization, and also to keep ourselves accountable. Arts organizations are essential to their communities, and we know we must be more porous and open to truly fulfill that promise.

With that introduction, here are a few news items for you, valued members of our community. We plan to share updates regularly, and we hope to hear from you as well. Please know that our doors are open (metaphorically—our offices on Wellington Avenue are still closed!). If change is going to happen, then TimeLine is going to embrace it to the best of our ability. And we hope you join us.

Financial Planning and Staff

As TimeLine launched our new fiscal year on July 1 in the midst of this current crisis, we redoubled our efforts to live by our core values, including managing financial resources responsibly and effectively. This will not be a regular year, and we are planning accordingly.

The site of our future home, featuring an installation celebrating Black Lives Matter and Pride, with signage and color blocks in the building windows. Photo courtesy of Am’Ber Montgomery.

Our one-year Strategic Plan, the guide to our decision-making throughout the 2020-21 season, sets a goal of maintaining TimeLine’s fiscal health and ensuring that we have adequate resources for the uncertain times ahead. We’re still committed to realizing our plans to  develop property at 5035 N. Broadway as TimeLine’s future new home. And we’ve developed a reduced annual operating budget that anticipates significant loss of earned revenue, but which keeps our organization largely intact.

However, we want to be transparent about the fact that one aspect of our 2020-21 season budget involves reductions in staff costs for the year. We have eliminated several part-time audience services, administrative, and production support staff positions, and reduced the hours of remaining part-time employees. The budget maintains TimeLine’s full-time staff through salary adjustments and selected temporary furloughs that achieve a 19% reduction in permanent-full-time staff salary costs over the course of the year. You may have experienced disruption in reaching out to TimeLine staff in July, as seven of our 12 full-time staff members have been on furlough. All full-time staff will be back and working by August 10, and the team is eager to be back together, working toward our strategic goals.

We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to produce an adjusted schedule of plays this season and meet our reduced revenue and expense projections, and that the tough decisions made so far will allow TimeLine to continue to fulfill our mission and make progress on our many strategic goals as an organization. We’re aware that the landscape may change as we move through the year, which we’ll monitor closely, and we will continue to share updates with you throughout.

2020-21 Season Changes and Reopening Plans

While we cannot wait to open our theatre again, we must be able to ensure the health and well-being of our audience, artists, and staff, and we still aren’t sure when that day will arrive. Due to their size and scale, and addressing safety issues related to how some plays need to be staged, we’ve postponed many of the shows that had been previously announced for our upcoming season to a time when they can be fully realized. In their place, TimeLine’s Company Members and staff are working on revisions to the season that will include performances at our home on Wellington Avenue accompanied by the option to stream at your home if you prefer.

We’ve also been monitoring guidelines from city and state health experts about reopening. And we’re in dialogue with artists’ unions and other leaders within our industry about new processes and procedures that will best serve all who enter.

As the course of the pandemic continues to be uncertain, we can’t fully answer the “what” and the “when” just yet. Know that we will share updates as soon as possible!

What to Expect

This is the first in a new series of blog posts and Behind the ‘Line monthly email newsletters that are coming your way. You are a central part of this dialogue, so please do not hesitate to reach out if you want to suggest a topic for next month, have a question, a correction, an idea, or an inspiration. 

You can always stop by our website, Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram to get more information on TimeLine and our ongoing activities.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Comments (14)

  1. Margie Marcus

    You are all so dedicated and aware that your subscribers want to be updated all the time about what’s going on at Timeline, I really appreciate all the information you sent today The world is insane and it is a disaster that the arts community has to deal with what you are all dealing with.
    Thank you for your ongoing communication. I really appreciate it.

  2. Doug Schuetz

    If we do not choose to be a part of the 20-21 season, will we be able to get a refund for our flex pass tickets?

    • TimeLine Theatre

      Hello Doug – Our team is figuring out the answer to that question and more and plan to communicate with subscribers this month. Thanks for sharing your concern and please stay tuned! And if you’d like to talk to someone directly, you can email

    • Lois Roewade

      I love the idea of the streaming option because I do not live in the Chicago area. Once in a while I’m there and catch a live production but generally I give my tickets to my kids!

  3. Elizabeth D. Richter

    Great update. I had just added a current board member what was happening. Good luck and keep the pot of creativity bubbling!

    Best, Libbet

    • TimeLine Theatre

      Thanks so much Libbet!!

      • Glen Prezembel

        Dear Timine friends,

        Thank you so much for the update. As always, you are forward-thinking, responsive and responsible.

        We will continue to support your efforts to the greatest extent possible. Our Flexpass $$ for the coming season can be viewed as a donation as may be appropriate, to further your work, which we so much enjoy.

        God bless and Gospeed, friends.

  4. Alice Gross

    I am very pleased there may be an option to stream at home. I became interested in Timeline Theatre when I was introduced to the theatre through the streaming of To Master the Art. I so enjoyed the performance! Unfortunately, I do not reside anywhere near enough for me to attend in the theatre but I would be very interested in supporting any streamed performances.
    Thank you for even considering this option.

  5. Pat Daniels

    We love TIMELINE, and hope to sign up for another season of FlexPasses when it is available. Your ongoing updates and enthusiastic commitment to keep “on truckin'” is inspiring. Such a tough time for everyone in the arts as well as for the very poor and sick among us all..

  6. Dani Jachino

    Thank you so much for this update. I’m very impressed that TimeLine South went forward this year. I’m looking forward to the performance on Friday. Please continue your good work!

  7. trucia drummond

    I will miss the Friday production. Can I view at a later time? Thank you, Trucia

    • TimeLine Theatre

      Hi Trucia – yes, our TimeLine South presentation will be available for viewing after Friday, via our YouTube channel.

  8. Nancy and Jay Grove

    Hello dear TimeLine,
    Thanks for the informative update. We appreciate this and are so looking forward to the day we can return to the theater!
    We enjoyed the online presentation of Kill Move Paradise. In our opinion, it would be a great to reprise other productions, as you did with To Master The Art. Even when regular productions resume, reprisals would be an additional option for viewers and income for you. We have enjoyed every production since The Farnsworth Invention. An opportunity to enjoy some of your fantastic plays again, in our own home, would be wonderful.
    Best wishes and good health to all.