ANDERSONVILLE — For the TimeLine Theatre Company, there's no time like the present.
TimeLine, founded in 1997, produces plays inspired by history that resonate with today's social and political issues. These days, the acclaimed Lakeview theater is more popular than ever — and eyeing a move to Andersonville's vacant (and massive) Lyman Trumbull Elementary School.
As first reported by DNAinfo Chicago on Tuesday, several developers are eyeing the shuttered school, located at 5200 N. Ashland Ave. Chicago Development Partners wants to preserve the four-story school building for a mixed-use residential building with TimeLine as the star of the show — it would reside in the school's auditorium after the space was renovated.
TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers said the theater has been outgrowing its current digs at 615 W. Wellington Ave. for the past four years. They currently split productions between two different spots depending on the size of the audience.
"All the responses that I've heard today have been extremely positive," Powers said Tuesday about public reception of TimeLine's plans. "All of TimeLine's supporters and audience members know that we've been in need of a new space for many, many years, they know that for the last four years we've had to do a quarter of our programming at another venue."
Splitting plays between two venues poses a logistical challenge — both for the theater and audiences, who can get confused about what's playing at which facility, with TimeLine running concurrent shows at both venues. The setup also splits operations and administrative staff "in a way that is challenging," said Powers.
While it's still early in the game and there are other Trumbull reuse proposals on the table, Powers said "potentially there is an ownership opportunity," in the building if Chicago Development's Howard Weiner's plan is successful. Weiner estimates that the theater's yearly ticket sales would balloon from 25,000 to 35,000 in the Trumbull building.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for TimeLine to hopefully play a role in really furthering what Andersonville already has a reputation for, which is being a very cultural area, and to build on some of the assets already there and hopefully bring some new people to that community," Powers said.
Building 'A Theater Destination Up North'
Powers said he's excited to potentially become "a real anchor of the neighborhood" in Andersonville and add to the bars, restaurants and eclectic mix of indie businesses and cultural offerings such as the Neo-Futurists theater troupe across the street from Trumbull.
Jason Geis, an artistic director at pH Comedy Theater, 1515 W. Berwyn Ave., said the addition of TimeLine could create "more of a theater destination up north."
"It would be nice to have something to continue to keep people in that neighborhood — now it's more of a come-to-dinner-and-leave thing," he said.
Bilal Dardai, artistic director and troupe member of the Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Ashland Ave., said he's "generally excited when there's a new art outlet of any kind in Andersonville."
"It's just nice to have a variety of things and we already do have just a block north of us the pH Comedy Theater and Mary's Attic, and we have galleries in the area," he said.
A theater going into the shell of a former school, "is really poetic to me," Dardai said.
"One thing that's exciting regardless of that fact that it's TimeLine, for me, is that school has been there kitty corner sitting empty since the closing, and certainly it's a sad thing," he said. "If it can't be a school, I'm glad if it's able to make some artistic contributions to the community."
When considering the impact TimeLine could have on Andersonville, Powers said he looks about a mile west at what the Old Town School of Folk Music has done for the Lincoln Square community as an arts and education hub.
He wants to "further Andersonville's identity" in the same mode.
The theater in Trumbull would include "a public lobby that is a welcoming gathering place for the community," and TimeLine would partner with Andersonville restaurants to drive patrons to area businesses, according to Weiner and Powers' plan.
TimeLine operates an arts education program at various Chicago Public Schools, and "would engage the neighborhood to deepen work in neighboring CPS classrooms" with the chance for summer youth programs to be run at the potential new theater, according to the proposal.
CPS is expected to issue Request for Proposals for Trumbull this summer and fall, according to the school district.
The buildings will go to the highest bidders conforming with the use agreements in the RFPs, officials said.
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