DePaul University staff stars bring arts to children, disabled
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER For Sun-Times Media
Linda RM Jones
For the past 16 years, Linda RM Jones has been passionately working to provide exposure to the visual arts, at little to no cost, to students who get the opportunity to see a Chicago Playworks production at DePaul’s celebrated Merle Reskin Theatre. Jones helps to bring in nearly 30,000 young people a year, most of whom have never seen a live performance. Jones serves as the group sales coordinator at The Theatre School at DePaul University, connecting with over 400 educators and group coordinators in the Chicago Public School system and in private and charter schools.
“I enjoy talking to teachers and hearing their excitement when they realize that we offer excellent pricing and that we are committed to supporting student education through live theatre,” said Jones. “On performance days everyone is very busy, but once the performance begins and I see the young people in the audience engaged in the performance, it is very satisfying.”
Chicago Playworks’ Pay-What-You-Can program helps disadvantaged students in underserved neighborhoods, by allowing them to learn about and enjoy live theatre. DePaul University provides reasonably priced field-trip options, which makes these enriching theatrical educational experiences available to students across the Chicagoland area.
“Our mission at Chicago Playworks is to produce shows that reflect the contemporary, urban and multi-ethnic experience of Chicago’s children,” explains Lisa Portes, artistic director of Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences. “It’s equally important for us to provide access to our productions for as many of Chicago’s schoolchildren as possible. We couldn’t possibly achieve that mission without the absolute dedication of Linda Jones. She’s got her finger on the pulse of the work that engages a 21st century young urban audience and she works tirelessly to ensure that everyone feels that our theatre is their theatre.”
Another stellar DePaul faculty member is Leslie Shook, theatre manager at The Theatre School. For 32 years, championing and advocating for people with disabilities has been Shook’s modus operandi. Not only has she offered her voice, support and mentorship, making the theatre experience accessible but also, Shook established pre-performance “touch tours,” allowing people with low vision to arrive prior to the show to touch parts of the set and props and hear recorded voices of the performers for recognition. Shook also works toward promoting accessibility programs-assisted listening devices, captioning and programs in Braille, large print or in audio formats.
“Leslie Shook has led The Theatre School to offer an array of services to support our patrons with disabilities, enabling them to enjoy our productions and, through their participation, assist us in the training of our aspiring theatre artists,” said John Culbert, dean of The Theatre School. “It is also vital that the school serves as a role model to each and every student passing through our programs to enable them to carry this type of service to theatres around the globe.”