With mixed-ability cast, Tellin’ Tales Theatre takes on the economy, stereotypes

The music blares from a boombox in the corner, pulsing an Argentinian tango through the practice studio. Kris Lenzo and his daughter, Olivia, start from the top – again. After all, they’re less than a week away from opening night, and there’s still a lot of work to do.

Kris lifts his daughter high in the air and swings her across his body. Then the two spin around in perfect sync – Olivia on her feet and her father in the wheelchair he has occupied for nearly three decades.

Kris, who lost his legs in an industrial accident when he was 19, and Olivia are part of Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s latest production, a satirical look at the recession titled “Six Stories Up in the Economy.” The “Six Stories Up” series, now in its 12th year, pairs adults and kids of mixed abilities to perform a six-scene play.

Though its focus this year is the economy- guided by “Aunt Sam,” a takeoff on Uncle Sam – its real lesson is on the value of diversity and the danger of stereotypes.

“People might think that people with disabilities can’t do a certain thing on the stage, but they can,” says Matt Benzo, a seventh-grader from La Grange who plays the show’s protagonist. “They just do it differently … and that can be cool to see.”

Director Tekki Lomnicki founded Tellin’ Tales Theater in 1996. Lomnecki, who stands just 41 inches tall, was born with a type of dwarfism as well as a hip dysplasia that requires her to use crutches. But decked out in a patriotic, sequined costume, Lomnecki twirls, slides, sings and swings along with a cast that includes members with cerebral palsy, dwarfism, amputations and learning disabilities.

“The kids with disabilities learn from the kids without and vice versa,” Lomnecki says. “I have kids without disabilities who think up new ways for kids with disabilities to do things. And it’s just so wonderful to see that happen.”

“Six Stories Up in the Economy” opens Oct. 16 and runs through Oct. 25. For more information and a complete schedule, visit www.tellintalestheatre.org.

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