Press Release

Journalists, Actors, and Homeless Collaborate on a Play and Conversation on Homelessness


Media Contact:
Carlos Velázquez
(312) 422-5580, x233 

 CHICAGO, IL- April 16, 2014— On any given day, there are more than 5,000 homeless people in the streets of Chicago, and more than 14,000 in Illinois. An upcoming event will use the power of theater to add depth to these numbers, and help the public better understand homelessness through the real stories of the men, women, and children living in the streets. 

Written Off? will be a staged reading of the new play, SHELTER/CHICAGO, and a public discussion about homelessness and how the media covers the story. Written Off?  will take place Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 5:30pm at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Cassidy Theater (78 E. Washington St.) in Chicago.  The event is being presented by the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), and The Living News Project. 

The event is free to the public, though reservations are recommended and can be made by emailing to, or visiting the IHC website,  

Created by homeless Chicagoans, homeless shelter staff, theater artists, and journalists, SHELTER/CHICAGO looks at the tangled knot of causes leading to homelessness – beyond what the media reports.

Following the performance, a discussion moderated by Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and ABC 7-Chicago Political Analyst will invite the audience to talk about the roles and responsibilities of the media, and how the public can better understand the plight of groups so often written off by society. 

In development over the past year, this will be the third and most advanced reading of the play, which is directed by Lisa DiFranza of the Living News Project. It was inspired by DiFranza’s work tutoring children at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a homeless shelter in Uptown. The play is modeled after the “Living Newspapers” of the 1930’s, a WPA Federal Theater Project, when journalists and theater artists created and toured dynamic theater productions investigating current events, and inviting citizens to wrestle with important national issues in a local context. 

“Often I would meet a person [at Cornerstone], and learn a little about their story, and never see them again. This started to gnaw at me,” said DiFranza. “What are these stories? And what would this 21st century Living Newspaper look like? When these two questions came together, we hit the ground running.”  

The event is part of Media Remix, a series of public conversations hosted by the IHC and made possible by the McCormick Foundation’s “Why News Matters Initiative”; both seek to illuminate the power of media today and its role in shaping informed communities and sparking civic engagement. 

“Through the arts and humanities, we can explore an issue through a different lens, one that the media cannot always provide,” said Angel Ysaguirre, Executive Director of the Illinois Humanities Council. “We’re happy to be involved in a project bringing together a diverse group of people to engage in fruitful dialogue about homelessness.” 

Panel speakers include: 

Lisa DiFranza, founded The Living News Project and SHELTER/CHICAGO’s director. She is a Senior Lecturer at Columbia College Chicago, and formerly worked in the Drama Division of The Juilliard School in New York City. 

Richard Thompson joined The Living News Project two years ago, when he was homeless. Now housed and in school, Richard is a part of the project’s writing team as well as the cast of SHELTER/CHICAGO.

Mark Brown, a local news columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times since 2000, writes about everything from political corruption to the homeless and family life. 

Sandra Ramsey is Executive Director of Cornerstone Community Outreach, which provides social, education and economic development programs for Chicago low-income residents, including feeding and sheltering the homeless.  

Manya Brachear is the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter and the journalist consultant to SHELTER/CHICAGO. 

For more information on Written Off?, please contact the Illinois Humanities Council at (312) 422-5580. 

There will also be a community performance of SHELTER/CHICAGO at Cornerstone Community Outreach, (4628 N Clifton Ave.) in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on Monday, April 28, 2014 at 5pm. The public is invited, details here. 

About the Illinois Humanities Council

The Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) is a philanthropic and educational organization dedicated to making the humanities a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities in Illinois, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. This year, it marks 40 years of developing or funding educational activities and programs throughout the state, including lectures, seminars, performances, exhibitions, films, library discussions, and written materials – all free and open to the public. Organized as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1973, the IHC is now a private nonprofit (501 [c] 3) supported by state, federal, and private funds.