History

Founded in 1982 by five Northwestern University graduates — Meryl Friedman, Suzanne Plunkett, Kathee Sills, Sandy Snyder and Steve Totland — Lifeline moved into its permanent home in Rogers Park, a converted Commonwealth Edison substation, in 1985. The facility includes a 95-seat theater, rehearsal and office space, a scene shop, and costume, prop, and scenery storage.

Over the past 35 years, Lifeline Theatre has developed over 120 world premiere literary adaptations and 16 original plays, nearly 40 of which have had a life beyond their Lifeline premieres, with over 300 subsequent productions spread across 46 U.S. states and six Canadian provinces, plus productions in Australia, England, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, South Africa, and Wales.

Lifeline has received numerous awards and nominations for both adult and children’s programming:

CHICAGO/ILLINOIS AWARDS

Lifeline Theatre has received 54 Joseph Jefferson Awards (Equity and Non-Equity) and dozens more Jeff nominations over the years, along with over 20 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.

NATIONAL AWARDS 

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.

Visit our Production History page for detailed listings of awards and recipients.

WORLD PREMIERE ADAPTATIONS 

Lifeline Theatre’s history of extraordinary world premiere adaptations includes MainStage productions of Pride and PrejudiceThe Left Hand of DarknessThe Talisman RingJane EyreCat’s CradleAround the World in 80 DaysThe Killer AngelsA Room with a ViewThe Island of Dr. MoreauThe Mark of ZorroMariette in EcstasyNeverwhereThe MoonstoneWatership DownThe Count of Monte CristoA Tale of Two CitiesMonstrous RegimentMidnight CowboyNorthanger Abbey, and Anna Karenina.

Lifeline also produced world premiere adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers, and The Return of the Ring) and four installments of the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries (Whose Body?Strong PoisonGaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon).

Family MainStage productions have included A Wrinkle in TimeLizard MusicThe Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of DeathThe Phantom TollboothJourney of the SparrowsThe Silver ChairJohnny Tremain, and Treasure Island.

In 1986 Lifeline inaugurated its KidSeries program. Productions have included Mr. Popper’s PenguinsMike Mulligan and His Steam ShovelBunniculaJames and the Giant PeachThe Story of FerdinandMrs. Piggle-WiggleMy Father’s DragonClick Clack Moo: Cows That TypeThe Stinky Cheese ManDuck for PresidentThe True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!The Velveteen RabbitThe Last of the DragonsArnie the Doughnut, and The One and Only Ivan.

Click here for a complete list of past productions.

SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY 

Lifeline employs over 150 artists every year and serves over 17,000 audience members 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, Chicago’s premier solo performance and storytelling festival, which attracts national talent.

Lifeline’s Student Matinee program serves over 3,000 students each year through special weekday performances, post-show talk-backs and optional add-on workshops, 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 2015-16, Lifeline worked with over 900 students in 34 classrooms and seven schools.

Lifeline’s classes and workshops bring professional artists together with children ages 4-11 to teach them skills that make the arts fulfilling and fun. Over 300 children participate annually in Lifeline’s on-site programs such as Drama Camps, Stories Come Alive, and specialty workshops.

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.

From 2002-2018, Lifeline served as lead organizer of the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest, collaborating with a host of Rogers Park artists, businesses and community organization as the annual event grew from one day to two and a half days of art, music and family activities. In 2019, the not-for-profit Glenwood Avenue Arts District was formed and Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest continues under its management.