Middle school students encounter Chicago ghosts in inclusive theater production
By Laura Katauskas
A Bolingbrook teen will perform in a play that showcases the talents of actors with and without disabilities; taking direction from mentors in a production house dedicated to supporting young students.
According to volunteer Barbara DiGuido, in the 1990s Elmhurst native artistic director-writer-performer-Little Person Tekki Lomnicki of Tellin’ Tales Theatre was asked by Chicago’s then first lady Maggie Daley to offer a theatrical program for kids with and without disabilities for After School Matters.
That effort spawned a yearly original Tellin’ Tales Theatre production (with music/lyrics) written and performed by six middle school kids and their six adult theatre mentors with and without disabilities called Six Stories Up!
This year’s production features one of Bolingbrook’s own, Miles Wilson, a seventh-grader at Jane Addams Middle School who also plays trumpet in the Mustang marching band.
The mission of Tellin’ Tales Theatre is to shatter barriers between the disabled and
non-disabled worlds through the transformative power of personal story. The group said it brings together children and adults from both communities to share their stories in theatrically innovative productions and programs to promote awareness, understanding and acceptance. Artistic Director Tekki Lomnicki led storytelling programs for Gallery 37 and After School Matters for more than a decade.
DiGuido said the idea for the initial Six Stories Up came from her work with these programs, which included students with and without disabilities. Lomnicki, herself a person with a disability, took the process a step further to include adult mentors with disabilities. Six Stories Up in Haunted Chicago is a result of this mix, and strives to remove all barriers between artists, including race, ethnicity, gender, age and ability.
DiGuido said the theme changes each year and “this year’s cast is truly diverse ethnically and ability-wise.”
In Six Stories Up in Haunted Chicago, Wilson plays the character of “Skye” and worked with mentor Di Reed of Austin (Chicago) who plays the spirit of Malcolm X.
“My favorite part of Six Stories Up is learning to act out the script,” Wilson said of his first acting experience.
This year’s Six Stories Up in Haunted Chicago is the final production of Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s 21st season. In July, professional theatre mentors were paired with middle school students with and without disabilities. DiGuido said each team was given the mission to explore overcoming difference in their lives. In early August, mentors and their apprentices came together to present their vignettes; a final script was then drafted by Lomnicki and Matthew Kopp.
Six Stories Up in Haunted Chicago finds kids on a ghost tour that takes a turn toward the scary when they stop at Resurrection Cemetery. The ghosts of important figures in Chicago history meet up with the kids at Resurrection Cemetery and have a lot to say about the current state of our city. The spirits include Al Capone, John Belushi, Resurrection Mary, Malcolm X, Mary Garden and Lorraine Hansberry. The result is a hilarious and often moving musical peppered with personal stories told by students and adults with cerebral palsy, blindness and dwarfism, as well as their non-disabled peers.
Performed at the Filament Theater, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, the play runs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21; and at 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 22. A sign language interpreted and audio described show will be held Oct. 15.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students. Group rates are available. For tickets, call 1-312-540-1330 or visit tellintales.org.
Six Stories Up in Haunted Chicago is geared toward adults and children age nine and up.The show length is approximately 90 minutes with one intermission.