October 22, 2019

A month ago, a group of Chicagoans met in the glorious Hyde Park Arts Center, noshing on delicious food from The Nile, to read the words of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. As part of our salon reading series, we sought to unpack and explore the well known text by casting a few of our favorite actors to breathe the roles anew: Terri Lynne Hudson as Laura, Abbas Salem as Tom, Lars Ebsworth as Jim, and Haley Bolithon reading stage directions. Tamara Rozofsky was originally cast as Amanda, but unfortunately had to step down last minute so our managing director Elana Elyce heroically cold-read the role.

We arrived at this play when we began discussions in rebooting our salon reading series.  I reached out to a few of our favorite actors with the simple question: What are you dream roles? What's on your actor's buck list?  Terri Lynne Hudson put Laura on the top of her list and all of us as a group collectively gasped -- WHY HADN'T THIS HAPPENED YET?!  We sat down with Terri to talk about her journey with this story, what was important to her about the retelling and cast the reading from there.  What transpired in September was several dreams in the making.  

 Once there was time to catch their breaths, we asked the artists and our staff a few questions about their experience...

How, if at all, did this experience change your understanding of the play and the characters within?

"There is SO much of a difference between "here is what I think it would be like if the world perceived me as ___" and "he is what my life is like because the world perceives me as ___" and although there is a lot that can be achieved by actors via craft and exercise, getting a Laura whose characterization and subtext just live in her body because that's her body, and getting a Tom whose sexuality isn't just implied by the lack of women in his life makes the play more visceral and more real to me. Also, having the family not be white speaks to the lived stories of southern black wealth and class structure culture, which is real and documented but not discussed or portrayed very often at all."

                                                                                                                         - Terri Lynn Hudson, actor - Laura

Since I had never seen or fully read it, it was pretty much just a new play for me.  The only thing I ever had full knowledge of is Laura, her disability and that she had a caller who wasn't that into her. And the menagerie of course.  Everything else, brand new.

                                              - Elana Elyce, Chicago Inclusion Project staff member and actor - Amanda

To be honest! That was the first time I actually payed attention to the script. I had always surpass the script or half-assed was engaged in it to the point I would forget what the actual show was about. This experience kept me engaged and I walked away thinking “I’d see THIS production of the show.”

                                                                           - Jess Vann, Chicago Inclusion Project staff member

"Jim is so totally into Tom, cause why wouldn't he be - Tom is a damn dreamboat (this was my first time realizing that). I bet those shoebox poems are GOOD. Jim is also a self-centered egomaniac who wants everyone's attention all the time. "Look at my shadow across the wall" has never had any meaning for me and this time I was just like, UGH. JIM. OF COURSE. YOUR SHADOW IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. Jim is also super sad and sympathetic in his disappointed high school hopes, but mostly I was like COME ON JIM, THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOUUUUU. Somehow I always just thought the guys at the factory didn't like poets, since Tom has always been a sexless automaton, and this time I finally understood he's up against homophobia. I love Amanda and want her to stop absolutely everything she's doing and do other things, but I also kind of get what she's saying. She looks for every flipping avenue to find a path through for her family, and I was legitimately worried for Amanda and Laura when Tom left- how were they going to keep the lights on? Keep the apartment? What options do they have?"

                                                                                                - Meg Harkins, Salon Reading producer

Stay tuned for details about our upcoming readings and events...!

March 8, 2018

All over our city, there are amazing people in amazing organizations working towards more inclusive and accessible artistic spaces, providing opportunities where there were none.  In this interview series, members of The Chicago Inclusion Project have conversations with people in our community really delivering their message in action...


Hi, Nate! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. I'm so excited to learn more about Special Gifts Theatre.  Can you tell us a bit about it?  What do they do?  


Thanks so much for reaching out! I really appreciate it.

Special Gifts Theatre is a place where individuals of all ages with disabilities can come and engage in the theatrical arts without fear of being told they can’t do something. Special Gifts Theatre is in it’s 18th year and has served over 1,115 children with and without special needs and have presented over 40 performances to audiences of more than 18,000 people. We put on several junior version musicals each season in several different locations. Each of our students is paired with a neurotypical mentor and they do everything together from activities in the classroom to singing and dancing on stage. Our students work hard all season long on character development, choreography, and learning their lines. But they also have developed their communication, emotional literacy, social skills, confidence, and so much more. They have become so proud of who they are!


What drew you to them?


I first heard about Special Gifts Theatre from a friend of the family who was the Executive Director at the time and immediately wanted to dive in. My brother, Paul was born with Cerebral Palsy and confined to a wheelchair for most of his life and so I have always had a heart for individuals with disabilities. Having a theatre background as well, SGT seemed like the perfect fit for me and I’m bummed I didn’t hear about them sooner. After my brother passed away 2 years ago, this organization feels like home for me and a place where I can continue to share his legacy.


Special Gifts has partnered with research professionals from UIC, NIU and NLU. What has been some remarkable findings?  


As we conduct and compare our research each year, the data indicates a positive increase in behavior and skill development for the students with special needs and their peer mentors after participating in our program. It was also noted that the children were developing broader relationships with other students and their peer mentors.

Most importantly, it was documented that these skills were transferring to environments outside of SGT including school, home and social environments. This is significant as it directly supports our mission of, “enabling personal growth while breaking down stereotypes related to disabilities within the community at large."

The first phase of research led to further research that included studying the effects of SGT on our new population of pre-primary children ages 3-6 years old with developmental delays (Pilot program initiated 2007). Early results have indicated significant increase in attention, pre-literacy skills, language and socialization skills. The researchers from UIC are planning on publishing these results as well.

In 2007, SGT began a new form of evaluation with the UIC researchers, which included independent trained observation and videotape coding of specific children participating in SGT (it is a longitudinal study over a 4 year period). SGT believes that incorporating surveys, focus groups, personal interviews, case reviews and clinical observations provides us with the most significant outcomes measurements.


What are all of you working on right now?


We are currently working on Annie Jr. at our Winnetka location! We have a Tuesday and a Wednesday program in Winnetka and our Tuesday cast just performed last weekend, March 3-4 and we are gearing up for the Wednesday program’s performance this coming weekend on March 10-11. We have our final dress rehearsal this week and the energy is electric!


What was something that has surprised you, either through your overall time, or during your work on this production?


Well, first off…I am continually surprised by how every show comes together despite never getting to run the show in its entirety! But I am continually surprised as SGT in the best way possible. Whether it is a soft spoken student who has been working on her projection for a year and then totally blows you over by speaking her lines loudly and clearly on stage or you cry during “Tomorrow” because the girl playing Annie sings and performs the song with her entire soul and you’ve never heard a more moving rendition before. I am surprised by our older students who have done countless shows with SGT and yet make bold choices on stage that half of the neurotypical actors in Chicago wouldn’t even dare try.

Actor Alexa, who is 18, and has been doing Special Gifts productions since she was 12, noted that she started because her mother MADE her go.  Now she loves the program because it offers her a community, independence, and has helped her overcome many obstacles. She’s done everything from Grease to Lion King (where she played Rafiki).


How can people come see Annie and support Special Gifts Theatre?

Please come out this weekend on Saturday, March 10th and Sunday, March 11th and support these STARS! Let’s give them a packed house. The shows are at 2pm and the doors open at 1:30 at Skokie School on 520 Glendale Ave, Winnetka, IL 60093. I know it’s a bit of a trek to get there, but it’s SO worth it. Rent a car, carpool, find a way because it will change your life. You can also support SGT by your
donations!  Anything will help!

You can buy tickets to Annie or donate to Special Gifts Theatre by clicking HERE.

September 16, 2017

Continuing our support of productions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows that you can buy tickets to THIS WEEK that we feel are moving our community in the right direction.  Let your wallet do the talking. Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion.​ Then write to producers and tell them you want to see more of it.  Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way we can all make a difference.    

Chicago Inclusion Project Business Manager, Elana Elyce happens to be in a show that I couldn't recommend more highly - it's the remount of the highly acclaimed United Flight 232.  Last year's production is one that I will never forget, not just because of the impeccable casting but the searing honesty and heart that went into every moment of this show.  I am so excited to see it again.

The House Theatre of Chicago presents United Flight 232 

Directed by Vanessa Stalling

Adapted from text by Laurence Gonzalez

Playing now through October 21

The Chopin Theatre 1543 W Division St

“I love you, hurry home. I love you.” On July 19, 1989, a DC-10 headed for O’Hare with 296 aboard is paralyzed mid-air. For 44 minutes, the aircraft descended towards an emergency landing and crashed at Sioux City Gateway airport. To the astonishment of all who witnessed the event, 184 of 296 passengers and crew survived. Drawing on the interviews and research conducted by Evanston author Laurence Gonzales for his critically acclaimed book, Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, this brand new play, United Flight 232, is a reflection on how to comprehend tragedy and celebrate human ingenuity in the face of overwhelming challenges.  Get your tickets here

Tickets for United Flight 232 range from $15-50

The cast and team includes Brenda Barrie, Elana Elyce, Johnny Arena, Jessica Dean Turner, Abu Ansari, Carlos Olmeda, Alice da Cunha, Joseph Sultani, Dan Lin, Brian DesGranges (Stage Manager), Kathleen Dickinson (Assistant Stage Manager), Tracee Bear (Wardrobe Supervisor), Bobby Huggins (Technical Director), Coco Ree Lemery (Scenic Charge), Jerica Hucke (Costume Manager), Clare Roche (Master Electrician), Alex Beal (AME), Emma Couling (Assistant Director), John Musial (Scenic Designer) Delia Ridenour (Costume Designer), Will Kirkham (Lighting Designer), Kaili Story (Assosiate Lighting Designer), Meghan Erxleban (Assistant Lighting Designer), Steve Labedz (Sound Designer & Composer), Matthew Muñiz (Music Director), Marika Mashburn (Casting Director)

Abhi Shrestha, our Community Organizer and Dramaturg cannot wait  to see FOR ONE, for the incredible artists and stories contained in one evening.

(re)discover theatre presents FOR ONE, devised and directed by Ann Kreitman, Alejandro Tey, Julian Stroop, Ned Baker, Shaina Schrooten, Avi Roque, Genvieve Locksley, Freedy-May AbiSamra, Molly Donahue, Melissa McNamara, Andrew Lund, Spencer Ryan Dedrick and Michael Turrentine

Playing now through September 30

Gunder Mansion 6219 N Sheridan Rd. 

Enter into an unmatched personal experience. FOR ONE is a visceral fifty minute event comprised of five plays, built for an audience of one. There are two distinct tracks to choose from for your journey. Each play is it’s own adventure, creating a blend of breath-taking imagery, auditory, and intimate encounters. FOR ONE empowers its audience to affect the outcome of each play putting you in charge of your destiny. Get your tickets here.

Tickets for FOR ONE are $30

The cast and team includes Lara Dohner, Karissa Murrell Myers, Ligia Sandoval, Aissa Guerra, Rejinal Simon, Zac Schley, Kelly Schmidt, Eric Parmer, Phil Vasquez, Yana Atim, Selene Perez, Lara Carling, August Rain Stamper, Erika Lebby, Melissa McNamara, Michael Turrentine, Jay Von Ort, Sonja Mata, Song Marshall, Janet Howe, Claire Chrzan, Autumn McGarr, Sarai Moore, Berit Godo, Tristan Chiruvolu, Alex Meyer, Ellie Humphrys, John Kelly, Archer Curry, Sydney Achler, Matt Reich, Joshua Wentz and Pamela Davis

Charlie Hano, Casting Associate is thrilled about Our Town, because "the amazing crash is crushing it!"

Red Twist Theatre presents Our Town, directed by James Fleming

Playing now through October 8*

Red Twist Theatre 1044 W Bryn Mawr

*There will be an open captioned performance Friday, September 22, 7:30pm: This performance will be open captioned with a text display of words and sounds heard during the performance. The display is positioned in such a way that it is open for anyone to see in a particular seating area. It is a service you may choose to use or ignore during the performance.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece of the 20th century is brought lovingly into the 21st century. Redtwist Associate Artistic Director James Fleming directs an intimate production of this American classic as a love letter to Chicago’s many communities and a reminder that life’s most ordinary moments are often the most profound. Get your tickets here 

Tickets for Our Town run between $35-40

The cast and team includes Adam Bitterman as Joe Stoddard, Hunter Bryant as Si Crowell, Richard Costes as Stage Manager, Elena Victoria Feliz as Emily Webb, Rebecca Flores as Professor Willard/Others, Johnny Garcia as Constable Warren, Jacqueline Grandt as Mrs. Gibbs,Jared David Michael Grant as Mrs. Soames, Ada Grey as Rebecca Gibbs, Nicole Michelle Haskins as Mrs. Webb, Tom Jansson as Simon Stinson, Ramona Kywe as Sam Craig, Brian McKnight as Ensemble Man,Brian Parry as Doc Gibbs, Sarah Jane Patin as Ensemble Woman, Joel Rodriguez as Howie Newsome, Jaq Seifert as George Gibbs, Chinguun Sergelen as Wally Webb, Londen Shannon as Joe Crowell, Ben Veatch as Mr. Webb, James Fleming (Director), Max Colvill (Assistant Director), Melissa Hubbert (Stage Manager), Josy Gonzalo (Assistant Stag e Manager), Julia Heeren (Assistant Stage Manager), Joel Collins (Production Manager), Johnnie Schleyer (Tech Director), Lizzie Bracken (Scenic Designer), Daniel Friedman (Lighting Designer), Alon Stotter (Assistant Lighting Designer), Connor Wang (Sound Designer), Kendall Barron (Assistant Sound Designer), Kotryna Hilko (Costume Designer), Shea Messinger (Props Designer), Robert Schleifer (ASL Coach), Charlie Hano & Catherine Miller (Casting Directors)

Jeff Trainor, Program Coordinator picks  The Infinite Wrench because "the cast is strong and the shows are exciting!"

The Neo-Futurists presents The Infinite Wrench  

playing every Friday and Saturday at 11:30pm and Sunday at 7pm, unless otherwise noted

The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland

The Infinite Wrench is a mechanism that unleashes a barrage of two-minute plays for a live audience. Each play offers something different—some are funny, others profound. Some are elegant, disgusting, topical, irreverent, terrifying, or put to song. All of the plays are truthful and tackle the here-and-now, inspired by the lived experiences of the performers. With new plays every week, The Infinite Wrench is The Neo-Futurists’ ongoing and ever-changing attempt to shift the conventions of live performance and speak to the present audience, including those unreached or unmoved by other types of theater. 

Performances of The Infinite Wrench are priced at $9 + the roll of a six-sided die (or, pre-paid $20 with a rollback).

The cast and production team includes Kurt Chiang, Ida Cuttler, Dan Kerr Hobert, Tif Harrison, Leah Urzendowski Courser, Jasmine Henri Jordan, Connor Shioshita Pickett, Neil Bhandari, Kirsten Riiber, Nick Hart, Trevor Dawkins, Lily Mooney, Malic White, Joanna Jamerson and Trent Creswell

Casting Associate, Stephanie Diaz is thrilled about Muthaland. She explained, "What I'm particularly excited about is something I keep hearing and reading over and over: how utterly universal it feels despite the ultra-specificity of its cultural context, its particular interplay of traditions and circumstances and discovery. Audiences of all backgrounds and ages are recognizing themselves in her journey. It's this sense of perhaps-unlikely connection that makes this production, in my opinion, a marvelous example of why inclusivity is so vital not just in casting, but at the programming level-- beginning not just with staff, but season selection. We are all walking through this world together, connected whether we know it or not... and there is nothing theatre can deliver quite like the profound experience of realizing that."

16th Street Theatre presents Muthaland, directed by Heidi Stillman

Written by Minita Gandhi

playing now through October 7

6420 16th Street - Berwyn, IL

While foraging through her parents’ basement, Minita discovers her father’s worn suitcase from his very first journey to the United States, with a single statement scribbled in black Sharpie: “When I die, discard this bag if you like, until then it stays.” This sparked a curiosity leading to vulnerable interviews where her parents shared stories they had never spoken of before. By weaving their stories with her own life-changing journey to India in 2009 for her brother’s arranged marriage, Muthaland shares the magic of Minita’s journey to India, full of prophets, ritual, the convergence of American and Indian cultures and finding one’s own voice within a culture of silence.  Get tickets here.

Ticket prices range from $18-22 

Muthaland is performed by Minita Gandhi

March 14, 2017

This week The Chicago Inclusion Project was honored by the Actors Equity Association with the Kathryn V. Lamkey Award at SPIRIT: A Celebration of Diversity, alongside such incredible organizations as 3Arts (a nonprofit organization that advocates for Chicago’s women artists, artists of color, and artists with disabilities who work in the performing, teaching, and visual arts) and The St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre (providing platforms for acting and interpretation of theatre from the Black perspective). Due to Inclusion Project business, the entire staff was unable to attend the event.  My husband, Chad, graciously spoke on our behalf.  Here's a transcript of the speech I wrote...

The truth is that right now I don't feel too much like celebrating.  While there might be more minorities onstage than there were 10 years ago, it still feels like we are getting scraps. Like we should feel lucky that we've been invited to the meal instead of sharing in the creation of the feast. Despite the good intentions, it’s not enough to designate a slot in a season or a "diversity opportunity" in an ensemble show, and this is what it feels and looks like to those wanting to see themselves in the stories we tell together.

There is still real resistance in places that I wouldn't expect to find it.  It is still much more of an uphill climb than there should be in 2017:  default casting is still white, cis-gendered and able bodied.  It's still too easy to automatically imagine a role not designated to a specific body type or ethnicity to be exactly what we have been seeing for ages.  

Listen, I do it too sometimes.  We've all been conditioned.  Implicit bias is real.   But we're living in a world right now where artists need to step up and create the counter-narrative. This city, this time and place is truly frightening to so many of us.  People are worried for their livelihoods.  We make plays. This is not to diminish what our jobs are, but to empower… The very least we artists can do is DEMAND greater representation from every single aspect of our craft.  

Producers, board members, ensembles, artistic directors, when it comes time to choose the plays, writers, directors and designers in your season, please remember how far the pendulum has already swung NOT in favor of minorities. For change to really happen, you have to be making room for new voices, and sometimes this might mean getting out of the way.  It must be more than adding a minority as an assistant or intern in the room.  We have to make a conscious effort to nurture the talent IN OUR CITY that hasn't been recognized throughout our industry's history, and put that talent into real positions where they can have a true platform for their work.  

Actors. Speak up.  If you're called in for a role you think might be a stereotype or one for which you don't culturally identify or in a play that may potentially be harmful to a community, say something.  Have that conversation - with your agent, with the director, with whomever called you in.  Your perspective is valid.  That discussion is vital to us moving forward together.

I recognize the irony of having a white man speak for me in this instance. But I'll offer it as an example of how we can be allies for each other. Which is desperately needed right now.

I also understand that everything I'm asking you to do poses a threat. Either to you or your position in this industry or your company or your sense of security (whatever that may be for an artist).  But it's not a real threat.  If we don’t begin to tell different stories in different ways, we are sending the message to minorities that they can or should be erased -- from the community and from the narrative.  The real threat is to stay exactly where we are.  

I believe deeply in this community and the talent within it.  I believe in the work ethic and the desire to do better with every project.  And I want to believe that this is the town to change the narrative.  We REALLY have to try.

Thank you for this recognition and this honor, words cannot express what it means.  Now, let’s get to work.

January 3, 2017

The Chicago Inclusion Project founder and producer, Emjoy Gavino, discusses this past year's brightest moments and her wishes for the new year.

My Favorite Moments of 2016

June, The Gift Theatre

The day after the Orlando shooting, there weren't many rooms I wanted to be in, aside from my own dark corner at home.  But it was the only time I could see a run through of The Grapes of Wrath at Gift Theatre before it opened. I hadn't seen many of these actors since director Erica Weiss, artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton and I cast them several months before.  It was their first run through after teching the entire beast of a show.  This point in any show's process is typically tense and tiring and stressful.  But I saw none of that. I saw an ensemble and production team become a family.  They were mourning too, but they had to do their job.  And they did it with more care and love than I had witnessed in a very long time.  They told Steinbeck's story of an American family incredibly well, and obviously would continue to get better at telling it.  But beyond that, they exhibited a spirit of true generosity.  Looking at this stage picture: black, white, Asian, Latino, gay, straight, able bodied, differently-abled, crying, hoping, singing, "IF NOT NOW THEN WHEN?"…They took every ounce of sadness they must have been feeling - we had all been feeling -  that day and turned it into something beautiful that permeated the rest of the run: Care, hope, love.  That day will never leave me. 

July, Jackalope Theatre

I was one of the lucky few who barely made it into the closing performance of Prowess by Ike Holter, directed by Marti Lyons.  4th of July weekend in Chicago is one where citizens brace themselves for the popping sounds of explosions, not knowing if they're gunshots or fireworks.  Leaving the theater after what was one of the most terrifying and cathartic things I could imagine seeing, we walked to the car in silence, not talking to any of the industry friends we knew on the way out.  Donovan Diaz, Andrew Goetten, Julian Parker and Sydney Charles did more than perform play well.  They reached into our collective heart and soul and forced us to deal with our present day and fears, with all the fierce honesty I've only seen displayed in Chicago.  I still shake, thinking about it.  

July, Writers Theatre

Avi Roque is a trans actor and devisor of color who also happens to be charismatic and wonderful with language.  To be at the first table read and see them as the titular character in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan – I kid you not, it felt like this is the way Shaw wanted this story to be told.  Played by some of my favorite actors in the city, some making their Writers Theatre debut, the men that surrounded Joan had no idea what to do with this vibrant, brilliant leader who dared to defy the Church and the order of things. The world couldn’t put Joan in a box.  Over 100 Writers Theatre patrons stayed for the talkback and strongly advocated for the show, with this cast, to be done on the mainstage. 

August, American Theater Company

Alongside fellow TCIP associate, Steph Diaz I got to watch ATC artistic director Will Davis run an audition room (both at the ATC generals and in callbacks for upcoming productions of Picnic and Men on Boats) with the exact creative, inclusive and loving spirit that we expected to see from Will.  I witnessed actors I’ve known for years do some of their best work because of the space and opportunity to delve into roles they hadn’t necessarily been able to explore.  When

theaters do a William Inge play, they seldom invite minorities into the room and to Will’s point – Inge wrote himself into each character – marginalized, misunderstood, yearning for a better life.  Who better to tell his stories than people of different gender identities, abilities, ethnicity? The generosity of Will’s direction throughout the day provided a new jumping off point for text we thought we knew. 

August, Timeline Theatre AND Victory Gardens

The Chicago Inclusion Project collaborated with Timeline Theatre Company for a staged reading of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room: or the vibrator play, featuring an amazing cast, directed by company member, Mechelle Moe.  The cast members assembled and their performances were

spectacular. We had a sold out house, standing room only, mostly full of Timeline Theatre patrons who were seeing some familiar faces in different context and some very new faces to the Timeline stage, but we also had industry folks, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary…Except that evening was also a major theater event a few miles over:  The Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists (ALTA) was hosting a town hall event responding to whitewashing of Latinx roles in the theater community.  The Victory Gardens event was also full of artists and patrons trying to figure out how to create action toward making change in the representation of minorities onstage…These two packed houses on this one night told us something about THIS MOMENT in time: that artists and patrons are ready for change. 

August,  The Hypocrites                                                                            

I don’t know what I expected at first rehearsal when I finally got to work with The Hypocrites.  But when we were all seated and I got a chance to look around the room, the cast, production and artistic team of mainly minorities and women, each person beginning their introduction with “My name is, my pronouns are…” I remember thinking this is where I’m supposed to be, this is what every room can look like.  Artistic leaders (director, Devon De Mayo, artistic director, Sean Graney and casting director, Lavina Jadhwani) made space for all of us.  They believed that this group of people (many of whom had never worked together before) could tell these classic stories from American and British literature.  Jaclyn Backhaus's You on the Moors Now challenged what those heroines could look like.  Throughout our run, there were quite a few girls still in grade school in our audiences.  And the idea that their first picture of Jane Eyre, Jo March, Cathy Earnshaw and Lizzie Bennet could look like this...

It proved that in theatre there is a bigger world.  And they deserve it. And so do we.

My Wishes for 2017

For there to be new voices in theatre criticism.  There just aren’t enough different perspectives. When audiences wonder what shows they should see, not all audiences have a voice that represents their ethnicity, their gender identity, their economic status, their educational background, their physical ability.  There are some smart artists out there, giving their opinions on shows that are culturally relevant to so many people, but they’re not technically a “critic.”  Yet so many audiences and so many theaters representing different groups would benefit greatly from these writers getting their word out there.  Your opinion is valid. Your voice is valid.  And needed.

For institutions to start teaching ethics in casting. Now I understand this is still controversial – not everyone agrees that if you are not the ethnicity/gender identity/physical ability of the role you shouldn’t audition for it.  And I also know that there is nuance to this conversation.  But this is a conversation that can start to at least be opened up in school so students don’t have it drilled into their heads that “if they can pass, they should go for it.”  Representation in theater is a major problem and is just now getting the attention it should be getting. Let’s start it early.

For accessibility for artists and patrons. Theaters complain they lack the funding or staffing to accommodate people with different abilities for audience members.  And consideration for artists from that community is hardly a whim in many institutions (making the audition, rehearsal, performance process welcoming to all). There isn't an excuse for this anymore.  At the ADA Cultural Accessibility summit hosted by The Goodman, Michael Patrick Thornton asked artistic leaders in the community, "Are we coasting? Or are we leading?" He challenged everyone to do what they can within their institutions, even though "the right thing is often the hard thing...Do the right thing."  Evan Hatfield (co-chair of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium) offered solutions - can't afford ASL interpreters?  Captioning is possible in most spaces.  Touch tours are always an option.  Want to know more?  Check out the CCAC website for resources and workshops.

For audiences to realize their power.  Your pocketbook can be your activism.  Literally the CHANGE you want in the world.  Do you believe in inclusive casting practices? In stories by playwrights with a new perspective?  Buy tickets to the shows and theaters already doing that.  The more successful they are, the more likely everyone will follow.  Many of these shows don’t even cost very much, but if expense is an issue, email the producers telling them you want more of this. OR email producers who aren’t making these new choices and tell them exactly what you want to see.  Producers make decisions based on what they think you want. Don’t give them a chance to decide you want the old regime.  Keep the institutions already doing good things the chance to keep doing them.  And stop supporting those that refuse to see the light. 

For all of us to dream bigger. No one else is going to do it for you.  You have to dream the theater scene and the artist trajectory you want for yourself. A lot of us have been trained to not aspire to things "outside of our boxes," to make those around us comfortable, not to ask for what we want.  That mandate often comes from people afraid you'll take something precious away from them.  Remember that opportunity belongs to all of us.   

For artistic leaders to let go a little.  Look. I get it. You’re the artistic director of a company, money is tight, board members are scared of a risky season, you don’t know if your audience is ready.  But…do you have to direct every show in the season?  Do you have to use the exact same design team for your space? Do you have to do that classic piece the exact way it would have been done 30 years ago? NO. You don’t.  It's time for you to step up and step aside. To make room for people.  To give opportunities to new voices, new directors and designers, new administrators, new decision makers.  We are storytellers.  We take risks.  You can do this and it can be beautiful.

November 15, 2016

The Chicago Inclusion Project's mission to illuminate our shared human story by bringing together communities of people who have been separated for a multitude of reasons, embracing the idea of acceptance and truly seeing each other seems more pressing now than ever before.  Creating spaces for each and every one of us to grieve and create and expand is vital.  Action is the only option.

But what do we do?  And how do we do it?

For starters, we can put our energy, support, money, time, whatever we have available to us into the institutions that will protect the communities at now risk. This city contains a stunning amount of organizations you can volunteer for RIGHT now -- these are just a few:

For the LGBTQI communities

Broadway Youth Center:  For more than 1,500 teens and young adults, the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) of Howard Brown Health is a haven to seek refuge, medical care, social services, clothes and other much-needed care. All of our services are for youth, ages 12 to 24. BYC sees anyone, regardless of ability to pay.

- Chicago Ambassadors of the Trevor Project: The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.  The Chicago Ambassadors are a network of inspiring volunteers who help to expand our reach, raise awareness of our programs, raise life-saving funds, plan regional events, and advocate for the young people we serve.Ambassadors are an integral part of our mission to prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people.  

- Center on Halsted:  Center on Halsted is proud of our legacy of advocacy, support and educational services. The same services that helped form the core of Center on Halsted's programming.

- Chicago House - Chicago House and Social Service Agency serves individuals and families who are disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ marginalization, poverty, homelessness, and/or gender nonconformity by providing housing, employment services, medical linkage and retention services, HIV prevention services, legal services, and other supportive programs.

For Immigrant and Refugee, Muslim and Latinx Rights

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights:  Dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.

Grassroots Illinois Action – A community-based organization building a permanent, grassroots independent political organization. GIA works to expand the progressive influence of our members by organizing and empowering eachother to address community needs and promote economic and racial justice.Our community needs leadership who will fight for policies that benefit working families, and who will address the issues that affect our communities.

- Enlace Chicago - Enlace Chicago is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of the residents of the Little Village community by fostering a physically safe and healthy environment in which to live and by championing opportunities for educational advancement and economic development.

- Muslim Women Resource Center - The Muslim Women Resource Center’s mission is to assist immigrant and refugee Muslim women and their families in overcoming cultural and language barriers, while empowering them with the appropriate occupational skills for them to become self-sufficient and ready to enter the job market.

For the African American community

- the #LetUsBreathe Collective -This aims to harness creative capital and cultural production to deconstruct systemic injustice in America and worldwide. A grassroots alliance of artists, journalists, and activists, we use our talents to amplify marginalized voices, disrupt the status quo, offer opportunities for healing and education, and provoke critical thought and dialogue about the intersections of oppression through film, music, theater, poetry, and civil disobedience.

- The Lucy Parsons Lab - A transparency non-profit that seeks to engage our community in a horizontal manner while organizing around digital rights issues, supporting free and open source projects and seeking the free flow of information globally.  The Lucy Parsons Labs is a Chicago-based collaboration between data scientists, transparency activists, and technologists which focuses on the intersection of digital rights and on-the-streets issues. The core group is made up of data scientists, sysadmins, and activists with a goal of merging these issues into a functional non-profit.

- Black Youth Project 100 - BYP100 is an activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. We do this through building a collective focused on transformative leadership development, direct action organizing, advocacy and education using a Black queer feminist lens.

- Rainbow PUSH Coalition - The Rainbow PUSH Coalition (RPC) is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international membership organization fighting for social change. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Their mission is to protect, defend, and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields, and to promote peace and justice around the world.

For Reproductive Rights and Sexual Assault Victims

- Planned Parenthood of Illinois - Planned Parenthood of Illinois is Illinois' most trusted provider of reproductive health care. Each health center provides preventive services that help women, families and communities stay healthy including: lifesaving cancer screenings, breast health care, well-woman exams, contraceptive services, and sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment.  

- American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois - The ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project seeks, through litigation, public education and legislative advocacy, to make certain that all in our society have access to safe and effective contraception, sexuality education and information, reproductive technologies, prenatal care, childbearing assistance and safe, legal, and accessible abortion. ACLU strives to ensure that women have the right to decide whether and when to bear a child and the resources to effectuate their decisions. They believe that these decisions should be made without government interference and that all people must have equal access to the information and resources necessary to make informed, independent choices about their reproductive lives. Because of our work, Illinois has become a destination for people throughout the country seeking quality reproductive healthcare and information without harmful government restrictions.

- Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault - ICASA member rape crisis centers are located across the state and provide services to approximately 98% of the state's population. Each center responds to victims of sexual assault and several centers provide services to multiple counties. Each center operates a 24-hour-hotline that provides services every day of the year. Staff and volunteers provide counseling, education and advocacy for victims and their families regardless of age, race or income. The rape crisis centers conduct training and prevention programs for local schools, law enforcement, hospitals and civic groups.

- Sarah's Inn - Sarah’s Inn provides comprehensive services for families affected by domestic violence so that they get the support they need to find safety, rebuild their lives, and heal. Our legal support services help ensure that survivors of domestic violence receive equal rights and protection under the law. Sarah’s Inn is a community leader in educating children and adolescents about how to cultivate healthy relations