Student Blog #3

by Guest Writer Iva 

Before I even auditioned for Cleaning Closets, I thought I had a clear understanding of what the show would be about. Basically, we would be sharing other people’s stories. And these stories would be about someone coming out, or someone who had been come out to. I only had two terms in mind. And they were “Homosexual” and “Lesbian”. We would be telling their stories only. But from the moment I attended the [initial] workshop, I realized we would be learning about the entire LGBTQ community. And not only that, but how race, culture and religion was tied into it. I am only 3 rehearsals in, and there is still so much I am going to learn. I learned a lot about gender and sexuality. I learned a lot about how a person can express their gender and their sexuality. Not only that, but I have learned so much about my fellow actors. I learned how they identify, and I have learned a lot about their struggles and how they have over come them. I assumed Cleaning Closets would be just an ordinary show, but it is beyond that. This show has created a positive learning environment for everyone involved. Everyone is accepted, and everyone is comfortable with each other. Before this show, I thought I knew all there was to know about Gender and Sexuality, but thanks to Cleaning Closets I have gained and will continue to gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ community.

Student Blog #2

By Guest Writer Sara

To begin with I was a bit hesitant and unsure about the events that would happen through this process. As a theatre major and art major I have always tried to be a very open person with expressing myself. However, as a person that started college with extreme social anxiety and the distrust of other people it has been a very difficult journey.

I have found that in the theatre I have established a type of family with the people that I learn and work with every day. So I have been progressively coming out of my shell more around these people and being myself.

With this production I have found myself in a new type of family. This family is full of people that I may not know that well yet, but I still trust them more than I ever thought was possible in my entire life. I'm excited to see where things will be at the end of the semester and I am very appreciative of this experience and for Jonathan for making all of this possible.


Student Blog #1

 By Guest Writer Eric 

We recently started our rehearsals and workshops for the show Cleaning Closets here at Morehead State University. Seeing as this is the alma mater for our director, Jonathan Mayo, I think we all feel a sense of pride to be able to bring this show to the stage in our theatre.

This is my first show in a couple of years and each time I am on stage, I learn something different. The stage, while it’s a place where you typically portray someone else, is a place where you learn the most about yourself. Since my first performance in fourth grade, it’s been a safe haven for me to feel comfortable. Before coming out, it was a parallel to my life because that's what I was doing in my life; portraying a character who is straight. After coming out, the stage was even more freeing.

I have done many shows and many characters and put myself in many different costumes. I have had Whiteout in my hair, I have worn army uniforms, and I have put on heels. This is the first show where I am playing a character in a resemblance to myself, because this is my story. This is my chance to take the things I have been through and put them into words to possibly help someone else.

I have many different thoughts and expectations for this show.  I’ve never been a person for high expectations, but this show is going to be amazing. Jonathan has picked an amazing cast who are all different. We have different stories and we all respect the stories of the others.

When opening night rolls around, I will be ready to show everyone just what we have been working on and I’m sure everyone will feel so elated to be able to share things that may be tough, but we open our lives for a great reason. We share to help.

Flashbacks and Fresh Starts

Being back on campus at my alma mater is surreal. So many things have changed at Morehead State University while so many things have remained the same. I don't want to date myself but it has been almost ten years since I graduated and there are still familiar faces to welcome me back! The things that have changed are for the better while the faces that remain are the best ones to see! 

The new faces are the students and I had a great turnout for auditions last night! The cast list just went up and I'm excited to start rehearsals tonight! Well, I better get ready for that as I still have some prepping to do for rehearsal and some work to do for my job. stay tuned as the students start blogging about their Cleaning Closets experience! 


Morehead, More Stories

In less than a week I will be at Morehead State University creating art with a whole new generation. I'm excited to see how different the campus is since it's been almost a decade since I graduated.  I'm excited to see how different and similar this generation is, to see old friends like the professor I'm boarding with. I am excited to hear new true stories. I'm excited to "give back" as I've mentioned before. Have times changed in Eastern Kentucky, or is it a place stuck in the valley frozen in time? MSU was always pretty gay-friendly despite its position on the GPS, but there was definitely some work to do. 

But I have a lot to get in order before I head out. I have to make sure everything is in line at both of my jobs so that I can work remotely and keep my employment! I have to finish up some things with my friend for the film documentary version of Cleaning Closets so that the next big announcement will be ready by the time I get back. I really want to tell you more about that but it'll just have to wait. Until then, you can enjoy blog posts from the students as they recount their journey through the Cleaning Closets experience. 

Many Things To Be Merry About

I'm sitting here with my dear friend the fine human Kim Morris.  She was so lovely in helping me produce the storytelling event.  She's asked me to give her a tutorial on Squarespace (the website that hosts this site).  I of course obliged because she is amazing.  And collaboration is what Cleaning Closets is all about.  Besides, how could I say no to my fellow artist who helped me out.  'Tis the season to help others.  Happy Holidays!  

Sorry It's Been So Long

Sometimes I wish I could just spend all day crafting my art because I have so many project ideas I want to work on. But that doesn't exactly pay the bills and I have a responsibility to my household to at least keep our utilities from getting shut off. So when it comes time to prioritize my projects, it's extremely hard especially when the inspiration for one idea comes but I'm supposed to be focused on a different project.
For instance, I've been writing a separate play outside of Cleaning Closets for a while now, but my priority is the script for the web series and my lesson plans for MSU. So sometimes my other script must fall to the wayside. But when the inspiration for other projects hits, I can't ignore it and risk losing it all. So I have to start writing down ideas for those projects. Now I also need to start working on the editing for the film documentary.  But trust me when I say it'll all get done!  The good thing is I can set my own deadlines, but I don't want to keep pushing things off either.  Oh the life of an artist.  

I Am Not A Slacker

I have a meeting with one of the producers of the web series next week to edit the script.  Sometimes I feel like I'm so far behind because this script (which will double as a stage play and then be adapted into the web series) has been in the making for two years now.  That seems like such a long time.  But with work and other projects and my collaborators' schedules, it's not easy to create.  But I am constantly thinking about the project whether or not I'm actually writing something down.  But different artists work at different paces and have different processes.  That's just something I have to keep reminding myself.  Besides, I want the product to be the best that it can be.

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.  

Interview Skills

So this project is really the first experience I’ve had conducting interviews, so there’s a lot to be learned.  And interviewing people for the film documentary is even more difficult because you’re capturing everything on video.  And when I say everything, I do mean everything—including yourself.  This means I have to be careful not to talk over the storytellers so as to keep their stories clear on the audio tracks.  But as an interview I want to be sure I’m personable and conversational so as to keep the storyteller at ease.  You also want to be sure that you’re giving them enough time to react because a film is both audio and visual.  Thank goodness my film partner has a lot of experience behind the camera because she gave me some great advice.  Just give them more time in between questions to have reactions because sometimes they’ll even keep going and reveal some really candid moments.  Looking back at some of the footage I collected on my own, I was afraid I wasn’t asking the right questions.  My film partner said my questions are great, but I’m cutting into their honest moments.  There was one time in particular we could see that I had a question and was no longer focusing on what the storyteller was saying.  She advised me to keep a notebook and write those questions down and ask them once the storyteller finishes their anecdotes.  The sad part is, I was keeping a notebook with me!  However, it’s a difficult balance to stay engaged in their story without missing important information while also writing down a question and not be distracting.  I guess I’m not as good at multitasking as I thought.  Thank goodness I have a great film partner who’s already on the same page as me with the editing process! 

Tearful Teaser

My friend Charli and I finished editing the teaser for the film documentary last night.  It's going to premiere at Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling on September 27th.  It's crazy how long it took us to edit a teaser that's just under two minutes.  But we were also being very compulsive trying to get the cuts just right.  We're proud of it, and when we watched the finished product, it made us teary-eyed.  There are light moments and serious moments, and it left us wanting more.  We hope our audiences feel the same, especially because we're also going to use the teaser as a starting point for the promo on our crowd sourcing campaigns as well as for the full length trailer.  You won't want to miss the sneak peak at Cleaning Closets: A Night of Storytelling.

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!

Producer's Dilemmas

So there are many challenges to producing any kind of show or event.  I believe I've met all of those obstacles while planning the night of storytelling.  At first there was a lack of story submissions, but then my co-curator and I changed the guidelines for submissions and we received so many more!  Then I just found out that our original venue is now permanently closing after this weekend.  This is both sad for the venue and for my show because we weren't booked in the space until the end of September!  we're just over a month out from the show, and I had to book the original space 4 months in advance.  But I have a strong team helping me produce the show.  So I'm keeping the faith that we will find a new venue in time for our deadline.  However I must also worry about getting out the posters early enough to market the event but late enough to find a new venue to put on the poster!  Everything is dependent on this one detail!  It's stressful, but it's also exciting.  It all comes with the territory of producing.  But I've worked this hard to get where I am, so I'm determined to make this show happen.  So I've already got a meeting set up for next week to talk with the manager of a new venue.  Fingers crossed!

Storytellers Still Needed!

Today's blog is simply another pitch for storytellers!  You still have time to submit your stories, and now we're looking for solo storytellers as well as pairs!  Don't worry if you're story's not completed because there will be time for workshopping and developing it!  Check out the Home page for more details and guidelines.  Keep an eye out for the poster with the show information coming soon! 

Remember the deadline has been extended to August 15th so HURRY!

Lights! Camera! Action?

I’m not a cameraman.  I know very little about filmmaking.  I’m a theatre artist by trade.  So when I had to conduct a few interviews on my own earlier this month while also having to operate the camera equipment, I felt completely lost!  My friend who owns and operates the camera had a rehearsal so she let me borrow the equipment.  I’m trying to appear as professional as possible when interviewing storytellers for the film documentary, but I clearly look clueless when it comes to operating the camera.  During the second interview, I ran out of memory on the drive (or disk or chip or whatever it is that plugs into the camera) because I hadn’t transferred the footage from the first interview on to my computer yet.  I thought my friend had another drive in her bag, but none of them were compatible with the camera except the one that was full.  Thank goodness I was interviewing a friend, so he let me upload the footage onto his computer.  Then I came over the next day to transfer the files onto my hard drive.  Not only did the drive need to be cleared off (twice during the interview), but then I had to switch out the battery!  I swear, I don’t know what I would’ve done if I wasn’t at my friend’s place!  But thankfully everyone that I interviewed on my own was patient and excited to share their stories.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the sun started going down in both interviews, and I started to lose my great lighting.  Who knows what the footage will look like, but thankfully my friend who owns the camera will be editing it with me! 


From Title to Title(R)

Well it’s officially official now!  The title of this oral history project is NO LONGER JUST Cleaning Closets, but Cleaning Closets® because it’s now a registered trademark!  I received the documentation earlier this week and have been so excited to blog about it!  Check out the awesome letter in the Archives (of course it would look much more fantabulous in color because the seal is gold!).  It’s taken a long time to get this trademark registered, but it’s been an exciting and informative process!  I have learned SO MUCH, and power is knowledge.  It all started back in October of 2012 (yes almost two years ago) when I emailed the Lawyers for the Creative Arts and applied for their assistance.  They’re a great organization that helps artists with legal issues get in touch with lawyers who can help them at lower costs (because we all know how broke we artists are).  I did have to pay a nominal fee to LCA, but then they were able to find me a law firm in their network that assisted me pro bono!  I did however have to pay the fees for registering the trademark, which are not cheap, but it was worth it because now no one else can use the title Cleaning Closets ® for at least the next 10 years.  Then I’ll have to reregister the trademark.  I also have to re-file the paperwork in about five years.  The entire staff at Quarles & Brady, LLP was so kind and helpful.  I’m eternally grateful to them.  There are many steps in registering a trademark, but it’s finally over and I have that gold-sealed paper!

Full of PRIDE

So this month is nationally recognized as Pride Month.  In fact it's been officially proclaimed by the President.  It's also proclaimed each year by the Mayor that June is Pride Month in the city of Chicago.  Over 1 Million people are expected to attend the parade this Sunday.  It's exciting and overwhelming all at the same time!  In past years, I've personally been invited to march in the parade, but I always decline so that my boyfriend and I can spend the day together.  Well apparently this year he's abandoning me to sing and dance in the parade with the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus.  I hope he has fun, but now I have to figure out what I'm going to do!  But that's a whole other story. 

On Saturday, I'm volunteering at Proud to Run which benefits four of Chicago's non-profit organizations that lead the way in LGBTQ services!  The organizations include About Face Theatre, TPAN, Frontrunners Frontwalkers, and of course The Night Ministry for which I serve on the Associate Board

This whole weekend and month have been full of Pride.  I'm so fortunate to be a part of an amazing community.  I've even had the great privilege of interviewing four more people for the Cleaning Closets Film Documentary!  All the projects are slowly on their way.  Be sure to check out the Archives page later for clips from the most recent interviews!  Until then, be sure to have a safe and happy Pride!  Maybe you can use the power of this weekend to help someone clean their closets!