ELMHURST – At 12 years old, Molly Wiesman of Elmhurst wanted a chance at the spotlight.
Sixteen years of performances later, Wiesman is being honored for her disability advocacy.
“For most people with disabilities, you’re in the chorus,” said Wiesman, who has cerebral palsy, a movement disorder, and Marfan syndrome, which affects her heart.
Wiesman teamed up with Tellin’ Tales Theatre founder Tekki Lomnicki for the company’s mentor program Six Stories Up.
“That was a big deal because I got to write and say lines,” Wiesman said.
Tellin’ Tales Theatre is dedicated to giving people with and without disabilities the opportunity to tell compelling stories on stage.
The theater has chosen to honor Wiesman with the first TaleBlazer Award at the second annual Fashion Forward benefit. The fashion show and gala features models with and without disabilities in custom-made attire by local designers.
“We decided to give the award to two people. One with a disability and one without a disability,” Lomnicki said.
Simone LaPierre also will be honored with the TaleBlazer Award. Lomnicki said LaPierre and Wiesman demonstrate the theatre’s mission to break down barriers between those with and without disabilities.
“I feel that it’s important to mix both worlds because we learn from each other,” Lomnicki said.
Beyond their collaboration on a 10-minute performance, Wiesman said Lomnicki helped her when she transitioned from Acacia Academy in La Grange, where she went to middle school, to York High School.
“I had a really rough time in elementary school,” Wiesman said.
She remembered kids would ask why she talked funny. She developed self-confidence issues, but Lomnicki said that’s not unique.
“I may have a self-esteem issue because I have a disability, whereas a person without a disability may have a self-esteem issue about something totally different,” said Lomnicki, a little person.
As a high schooler, Lomnicki convinced Les Zunkel, now a member of the theatre’s board of directors, that she deserved a spot on stage when Zunkel was casting a York performance four decades ago. During his 36-year career at York, teaching speech, leading the drama department and even serving as assistant principal, Zunkel met Wiesman and many of her family members before her.
“Knowing the mission of Tekki’s Tellin Tales Theatre it was sort of a match made in heaven,” said Zunkel of introducing Wiesman to Lomnicki.
He praised Wiesman’s writing skills as did Lomnicki, but the 28-year-old also loves to talk.
Wiesman spent the last year as a Best Buddies International Ambassador giving presentations to students of all ages on not using the word “retarded.”
“You’re much more than what you look like or how you talk or how you walk,” Wiesman said.
Aside from volunteering with the theatre’s marketing committee, Wiesman is also an Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region associate board member. She received services at East Seals while she was young and began volunteering summers when she was home from Loras College and continued after graduation.
Wiesman believes society has made progress in the way it includes people with disabilities, but there is still a long way to go.
Lomnicki hopes that this year’s focus on young people at the fashion show will further disability advocacy.
“I think the reason that we formed Tellin’ Tales was to share our stories and create a commonality to show that we’re different, but we’re alike,” Lomnicki said.