Our storytelling mission was born in 1994 when Tekki Lomnicki, Michael Blackwell and Nancy Neven Shelton produced When Heck Was a Puppy: The Living Testimonies of Folk Artist Edna Mae Brice, at the Blue Rider Theater and remounted at American Blues Theatre the following year. Based on the personal stories of southern folk artists who used art to triumph over disability and death, this play mirrored the challenges of actress Tekki Lomnicki’s own struggles as a person with a disability. Based on overwhelming audience and critic response, the need for a theatre dedicated to the story of the individual emerged. From 1995 to 1997, by invitation of Maggie Daley, Tellin’ Tales ran summer Magic City Theatre Camps for kids with and without disabilities which culminated in shows at the Chicago Children’s Museum.
In the summer of 1995, the founding trio co-produced Show of Strength: A Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Performance with Zebra Crossing Theatre at their space. In 1998 Tellin’ Tales began forged an alliance with the award-winning Gallery 37 Connections Program. It is with Gallery 37, we worked with middle school students to research, write and produce a radio drama about a historical event. For the first several years we partnered with WBEZ radio where the program developed and grew. Then we launched a program of our own as a storytelling/ performance/fine art program for the city’s own After School Matters.
Six Stories Up, our annual mentoring program and subsequent show began in 1998. We team middle school students with and without disabilities with professional theater mentors to mix personal stories with history, science and the arts. Tellin’ Tales has also produced original solo performance shows featuring adults with and without disabilities since 1996. In conjunction with this show we hold a three-week teen/young adult writing workshop, which culminates in a free reader’s theater performance. Audiences have seen us at the Blue Rider, Zebra Crossing, Live Bait, Victory Gardens, Greenhouse, Storefront, Viaduct, Prop, Frontier and Athenaeum theaters—all of which are accessible for people with disabilities. We always provide sign language interpretation and audio description to make our shows fully accessible.
In 2013-2015 we celebrated our season with a unique event – Fashion Forward. The gala paired Chicago designers with models with and without disabilities to create custom-made ensembles based on the personal dreams and desires of each model. This powerful show was followed by the presentation of the TaleBlazer award – now an annual honor presented to young people who embody our mission of shattering barriers between the disabled and non-disabled worlds.
The 20th Anniversary of life-changing theater for children and adults with and without disabilities was celebrated in 2016. See the photos and read Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proclamation for “Tellin’ Tales Day” in Chicago by clicking here.