Student Blog #5 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Rachael

Now that we are reaching the end of Cleaning Closets I cannot express how grateful I am to be a part of this experience. I have learned so much, not only about the LGBTQ community but about myself. Through this process it has allowed me to realize that a dream I had is obtainable. When I first declared myself as a theatre major my goal was to own my own theatre and use it as a way for children to come to a safe space and express themselves creatively. Thinking this is an unobtainable goal I divulged myself in many different realms of theatre to find where I would be able to excel. Now that I’ve been through this process and have talked to many professionals doing exactly what it is I want to be doing I know that it is a goal I can reach and will do one day. Jonny has helped me so much and I am very grateful to have signed my name up for Cleaning Closets because maybe this confidence and hope wouldn’t have shown itself.

In addition to my own breakthroughs I have seen many for the others in the cast, and I am elated that I was able to be present for these wonderful people. I am now more vocal about the treatment of others and hope to be a more present ally to all of those in the LGTBQ community. This show has so much substance and I hope (because of the weather) audience will be able to enjoy what it is we’ve put together.

Student Blog #4 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Renee

Unfortunately, we were only able to perform the show we had put together once. Due to an enormous amount of snow and ice, we were out of classes for a week. And as classes were cancelled by the University, so were any other events. Honestly, I was worried about the one performance that we did have. We hadn't rehearsed in a week, so I was worried that things wouldn't run very smoothly. We were able to get a rehearsal in just a bit before the show though, and things ran pretty smoothly. After the show, we had a talkback with the audience members. They asked questions or gave their commentary on the show, and I think we received a lot of pointers on what makes our scenes more interesting to the audience. 
This process was so different from anything I have been involved in before, and I'm honestly kinda sad that it's over. Rehearsals were the highlight of my day. I knew no matter how horrible the day had been, I had an amazing group of people that would be surrounding me that evening, making me laugh and cry and realize how many things I have instead of seeing only what I lack. Honestly, even if it sounds kind of cliche, this was an eye opening experience. Many of the people in the cast were not those I would usually cross paths with, and I would have never guessed the struggles they have been through just by seeing them. I'm really glad that I had this opportunity, and I hope that we can all stay in touch.

Student Blog #7 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Alyssa

I think what has become the most challenging part about being an actor/actress in these scenes is that we don't want to let the true stories fade, we don't want to let the writers' visions become blurry, so we try harder to understand our roles. We have become much more than a cast and crew, we have become a safe haven for each other. It is remarkable how far everyone has come. 

I will miss our Love Bucket, where we shared our thoughts and feelings toward what we learned each rehearsal. I will miss sitting In my bright yellow chair watching the scenes in front of me unfold, but most of all I will miss seeing the friends I have made here. Of course I will see them after the shows are done, but it was great to work on this beautiful project with everyone. We all stood up for something we felt so strongly about, something that our director Jonathan started. This project to share the

stories from the LGBT community  also helped us create a bond together that can never be broken. 

Student Blog #9 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Samuel

My experience with Cleaning Closets has truly been magical. I would not trade the memories and friendships I have made during this process for anything in the world. I just feel like there is something so special and so unique about people who are struggling with similar issues coming together and sharing their stories. I am truly amazed at the strength and the courage the cast members have shown throughout this process. I am so proud that we were all able to dig so deep inside ourselves and pull out things that may be a little painful. 

Jonathan Mayo is truly a remarkable man. I have personally felt like I have learned so much from him in the short time he has been here. Not only is he an incredible mentor, but I am so proud to call him a friend. It was so easy to see how much he deeply cared for us and this project. Sadly, the weather put a little bit of a damper on our performance week, but we fortunately get to perform the show tonight and I am overjoyed that the public is going to see this awesome show we have created compiled of such interesting and moving stories. My heart is broken that Jonathan will not be here with us but I know we will all be putting everything we have learned from him to the test and our performance tonight is definitely dedicated to him. We could not have done it without him. I honestly hope to be half the man he is one day. 
Cleaning Closets is a beautiful project. I look forward to watching this grow and grow in years to come. I hope that down the line I will get to sit in the audience at another university or wherever Jonathan decides to take it and watch other people's stories come to life the way we have brought our stories to life. I will carry Cleaning Closets in my heart for the rest of my life and hopefully can utilize what I have learned from this experience in my theatre career for years to come. 
Remember to always Live, Laugh and Love!!!!

Student Blog #11 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Rikki

Now that it's time for the show, I'm really excited about how it turned out. I'm glad that it's turned into sketch instead of a stage reading, because I think it's a lot more fun this way. I hope the people who come to see the show feel the same.

It's been a great experience working with everyone, and I've learned so much. Not just new vocabulary either; I've learned more about myself. The process of Cleaning Closets has opened my eyes to a lot of new things. It's also been a very fun process. I'm grateful to have been a part of it. The things that I've learned during Cleaning Closets will be with me for the rest of my life.

Student Blog #12

by Guest Writer Jordan

When I first heard of Cleaning Closets I wasn't really interested in it. I did not have a very interesting coming out story, and I have always felt that your sexuality should not be made a big deal, it is merely a part of you. I define my sexuality, my sexuality does not define me, the saying goes.

    I was pushed into going to the writing workshop by a friend, and there is where saw what the project really was. This was when I got excited, yet nervous. “What if I am not good enough?” “What if he does not want to use my story?” “I am only a freshman, I don’t know these people, what if they don’t like me?” “What if I don’t fit in with the other actors?” These were all thoughts that were swimming through my head before the auditions.

    But now we are three weeks into rehearsal and I feel as though I have known this ensemble my whole life. We have become not just friends but close ones. We know each other’s stories and connect with each other on a level that I would never have imagined.

    The actual rehearsal process itself is very different than anything I have done before. I have been working in theatre for eleven years, and I thought I knew all about the different rehearsal processes. But this was something different. We weren’t just rehearsing and becoming better actors, we were writing. Writing our stories, watching others' stories, learning from each other’s experience and in turn becoming better people. Whether it was dancing to build our sense of openness with the ensemble or picking up my fellow actor and using her like a battering ram to break my way out of a pantomimed jail, everything we did had a lasting effect on me not only as an actor but as a person.

    I would like to thank Jonathan for bringing this wonderful program to Morehead State University and giving me this opportunity to learn and grow in this environment.


Student Blog #11

by Guest Writer Rikki

With only one week left before the show, I am extremely excited for what it’s becoming. The cast is amazing, and I have so much respect for everyone. They have so much courage, and they inspire me every rehearsal.

It’s been a lot of fun putting scenes together and doing acting exercises with everyone. The scenes are really coming together. It’s a lot of fun to be in the scenes, but it’s also fun to just sit back and watch. Some of them are really funny while others are touching. It’s been a great experience so far, and I have high hopes for how the show will turn out.


A Night of Success!

Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling was an amazing event!  I cannot even get over how exciting it was to experience it finally come to fruition.  The storytellers gave great performances and shared candid stories.  We had about 30 people in attendance which is close to a full house for the venue!  The audience was engaged and entertained.  And the best part was walking around afterward and listening to the audience share their own stories over drinks.  They really were inspired to continue the conversation at their tables.  A big thanks goes out to my co-curator and host Kim Morris, as well as the performers who have bios listed below, and to Chad Luellen at The Glenwood.  Keep checking back on the Archives page to see the video from the night.  And the sneak peak of the documentary was a huge hit!  It really generated buzz for the film. 


Katie L. is a writer and storyteller who moved from Boston to Chicago last year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Gastronomica Magazine, and the Toast. She likes to bike and talk to strangers.


Laura Stempel is, among other things, a reader, a writer, a knitter, a gardener, a teaching artist in the Goodman Theater’s Ge/Narrations program, and co-chair of the LBTQ Giving Council of the Chicago Foundation for Women.  She’s appeared at Sappho’s Salon, Outspoken, Gerber Hart, and in several performance projects with Lucky Pierre.  She’s currently at work on something that may turn out to be a memoir or a set of essays or possibly just a bunch of disconnected writing that only entertains her.  Read her style blog at <>.


Jeremy Owens is the creator and producer of You're Being Ridiculous. He has told stories with Lifeline Theatre's Filet of Solo Festival, Story Club, Guts & Glory, Story Sessions, That's All She Wrote and The Paper Machete. He's a food writer for Oy Chicago and Gapers Block and wants to be Roxane Gay when he grows up.

***Be sure to check out my encore performance at the next You're Being Ridiculous.  

Storytelling Press Release

Explore the coming out process with an exciting mix of performers from Chicago’s storytelling scene at Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling on Saturday, September 27 at 7pm at The Glenwood in Rogers Park. This event is co-curated by Jonathan Mayo and Kim Morris. Cleaning Closets is an oral history project that collects and shares true coming out stories from both sides of the closet door. This includes the perspective of the LGBTQ individuals as well as the family and friends to whom they come out. For information on the project, check out The Glenwood is conveniently located off the Morse Red Line stop at 6962 N. Glenwood Avenue. Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling is a one-night storytelling event that shares a variety of point of views about the coming out process that include a lesbian daughter, a straight sister, and a little gay Kreplach. Featured storytellers are Katie Liesener, Laura Stempel, and Jeremy Owens.  You’ll laugh and cry as you learn that not every fairy’s tale has a happy ending.  Plus you'll be able to catch a sneak peak of the upcoming film documentary! 

Co-curators Kim Morris and Jonathan Mayo are both a part of the storytelling community in Chicago. Morris has been a member of the 2nd Story Collective and is also one of the founding curators of the annual Side Project Theatre Company Storytelling Festival. Mayo has also been involved with the Side Project festival and decided to create the Cleaning Closets oral history project when he was inspired by a conversation with his mother about his own coming out. It’s only once we hear both sides of a story that we can find common ground.

The Glenwood is a gay-friendly, neighborhood bar in Rogers Park with friendly bartenders and great drink specials. Come out and start your Saturday off with good drinks and good stories at Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling

Almost a Night of Storytelling

It’s been a long process getting the storytelling event organized, but it’s been worth it.  We have selected our storytellers.  We’ve found a new venue to replace the one that closed down.  I don’t know how we did it so fast.  There’s still a lot left to do, though.  We have to market for the event, so be sure to keep an eye out next week for all of those materials.  We have to have a meeting with the storytellers, as well as a development session for them to make some edits, as well as a rehearsal for them to practice reading their stories aloud.  I also have to work with my other associate to do some editing on the film documentary so that we can preview a sneak peak of it at the storytelling event.  Lots to do!