Lee Wichman is a therapist and an actor, but it didn’t matter whether he was talking to patients or fellow actors. After the November presidential election, they all were feeling pretty much the same way.
They were more than surprised; they were shocked. Especially young people.
Women, gays and other minorities told Wichman that the election of President Donald Trump left them feeling vulnerable, scared. A lot of men were downright angry. Many people were scared to go home for the holidays, knowing how family conversations would go.
He soon discovered that other therapists were seeing and hearing the same things. Patient after patient was saying how the election left them feeling helpless, powerless.
And that kind of hopelessness, Wichman says, speaking as an experienced therapist, “is the worst kind of feeling.”
Wichman wasn’t feeling so great, either, actually. But grousing on social media with like-minded friends, he knew, wasn’t going to help anyone. People feel better when they’re doing something.
Then an idea started taking root. What if he could get a group from Chicago’s theatrical community to put on eclectic monthly events — music, skits, comedy bits, readings? The proceeds would go to support local organizations, such as the NAACP and environmental groups, considered to be more vulnerable after the election. Each event would focus on the benefiting organization’s particular cause rather than just the show. And the organization and location would change monthly.
Wichman turned to social media with his proposal. He’d need a small core committee. Was anyone interested?
A Facebook page for his new group – Chicago Actors’ Call to Action (https://www.chicagoactorscta.org/) – shot up to 1,000 members almost overnight. “I’m still sorta blown away by how quickly it’s grown,” says Wichman, who has performed on a variety of stages in Chicago.
Each event would require musical talent and actors. Performances would be tailored to the organization. How would organizations be selected? Wichman caught a monologue by John Oliver in which the TV talk show host recommended seven organizations that would need support “more than ever” now that the Trump administration was in charge. Wichman took his cue from Oliver, and so far this year his group has held benefit shows for, among others, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, ACLU of Illinois and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Wichman thought he’d have to persuade performers to participate, but they are approaching him.
Among them, for example, is actor/singer Donica Lynn, who’s already involved with other charitable efforts. The mother of three is in rehearsals for “James and the Giant Peach” at Drury Lane Oakbrook, which opens Thursday. She also has survived two brain tumors and is battling a third. She’s beyond busy.
Yet Lynn has prepared something new for each month’s CACTA show. “It’s important to give something back,” she says, and “to make those particular organizations know we, the artistic community, stand behind them.”
She’s on board to participate in the group’s fourth event, which for her and Wichman holds personal interest. A cabaret show on May 16 at the Uptown Underground will focus on mental health issues, with proceeds going to Erasing the Distance. The Chicago non-profit uses real-life stories in performances and art to combat the stigma of mental illness.
When Lynn was diagnosed in 2010 with her third brain tumor, her eldest child grew depressed. Lynn sought a therapist for her daughter, which Lynn says made a world of difference.
CACTA is still in the developing stage and open to adjustments. But all in all, the shows have been a success. People feel empowered by participating or watching. The benefiting organization usually hands out action sheets, pointing folks to what they can do next to fight for the cause. Action beats helplessness.
Wichman is still a bit surprised he’s made it all happen. But he says the night of Nov. 8, 2016, awakened his “inner activist.”
“Something,” he says, “got triggered by the election.”
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