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Chicago Actors To Perform Benefit Cabaret Show For The ACLU
By Tony Boylan
Lee Wichman, a Chicago actor and psychotherapist, felt hopeless and anxious the day after the 2016 Presidential election. He wondered what he could do to help causes he believed in.
“I had a lot of patients, especially women, who were sobbing through their sessions,’’ said Wichman whose client list includes a lot of other actors and people in the arts. “It was near the holidays and many of them were afraid to go home because they had relatives who voted for Trump.’’
He wanted to take action that not only was meaningful in its impact on women’s rights, gay rights, immigration rights and the environment, but he also wanted to help people feel empowered.
Inspired in part by a John Oliver segment that encouraged people to fight back and listed key organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, that would be threatened under the new administration, he formed an idea. A group of actors could use their talents, both on stage and off, to start a movement that raises money and awareness for the causes.
He pitched the idea to a few friends, and was delighted to learn many of them wanted to take part. Then he started a Facebook group that quickly ballooned to more than 1,000 members.
In January Chicago Actors Call to Action held its first event, raising about $2,000 for Planned Parenthood in Chicago, a fitting beneficiary timed with the Women’s March. In February, Black History Month, a show in Hyde Park raised a similar amount for the South Side Chapter of the NAACP.
“The benefit, the professionalism, the talent all were second to none,’’ said Rose E. Joshua, president of the South Side Chapter of the NAACP. “In addition to the money raised, the event was important to our communications and awareness efforts.’’
On Monday CACTA will stage its third event at La Taberna Tapas to benefit the ACLU of Illinois. It will feature Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Porno, on which T2: Trainspotting is based, discussing the U.S. as an immigrant nation, as well as many other Chicago performers. The show is meant to support efforts for immigrants and the LBGTQ community in particular, but the all of the efforts of the ACLU—the nation’s oldest civil rights organization—as well.
“It’s inspiring to see Chicago’s acting community come out in support of social justice issues,’’ said Monique Hanson, development director for the ACLU of Illinois. “The series of monthly events they put together shines a spotlight on the values our communities share which are threatened on a daily basis in the current political climate.’’
The show will be hosted by Avi Roque, a Latinx, gender non-conforming performer. It will feature: monologues from In To America, a show written by William Massolia from the Griffin Theater Company, that tells the story of immigrants from Jamestown until the present day, opening March 18; and performances by Isabel Quintero, who recently starred in In the Heights with the Porchlight Music Theater at Stage 773, Ross Lehman, Donica Lynn, Ronald King, Bifrom Griffin and Coco Sho-Nell.
Beyond monthly fundraisers planned for environmental awareness in April, gay and trans rights in June, and others, Wichman hopes CACTA will become a resource to provide action such as phone banks, canvassers, and volunteers while serving as a resource for other arts organizations looking to contribute.
Central to that mission is to hold the events in neighborhoods around the city and make the organization diverse and inclusive, something that has proven a challenge.
“Some groups have said that not only do we want to make we really want to help them,they also want to make sure we aren’t going to hurt them,’’ said Wichman, whose acting credits include playing Sigmund Freud in The Seven Per-Cent Solution at City Lit Theater. “People who have been persecuted have probably experienced a lot of well-intended people who are unintentionally doing more harm than good.
“That’s already changing, though. Every show we do gives us more credibility and each one gets better and broader in its inclusiveness.’’
The Chicago Actors Call to Action will perform a benefit cabaret show in support of the ACLU Monday, March 20, at La Taberna Tapas, 1301 S. Halsted St.