To the editors:

In regard to Maura Troester’s article on Free Street’s teen company, TeenStreet, I must say that the picture Ms. Troester painted of the conflict between African Americans and Latino teens at Pulaski Park was sensationalistic and inaccurate [May 14]. The very teens she quotes saying they can’t use the park, Momo Owens and Joshua Medley, use it all the time, for sports as well as for rehearsals. Perhaps Maura was taken in by Momo and Joshua’s dramatic portrayal of life in Big Bad West Town. It’s actually a whole lot safer and more integrated than many Chicago neighborhoods. Check out the park any day and you see African Americans, Latinos, and Whites using the park together. Pulaski Park is where the different races of the West Town neighborhood, young and old, mix. It is a true community center in that sense and all too rare in Chicago. Yes, there are sometimes problems, yes, there are gangs in the West Town neighborhood that put pressure on some of our kids, but no incidents have occurred in the park since we moved here in February. To inflate the one negative aspect of running a teen program in West Town does Pulaski Park and TeenStreet a huge disservice.

Another glaring inaccuracy which needs immediate straightening out is Ms. Troester’s version of how much TeenStreet performers are paid. “$5 an hour for rehearsal” is right, but where she got the figure of “$125 a week once the show goes into production” one can only guess. Free Street owes it to the people who have funded TeenStreet, the Mayor’s Employment Training Program, the Chicago Initiative, and the Chicago Community Trust, to state unequivocally that “’tain’t so!” We’d like to pay our staff that much. TeenStreeters receive $25 per performance, which essentially comes down to $5 an hour. When they’re performing two shows a week and rehearsing once a week, they might make $60/week. When they’re just rehearsing they make $30 a week. That’s not so much, a little more than minimum wage, but it is enough to keep the job training aspects of the program intact and the discipline sharp in this wonderful ensemble.

TeenStreet is a jobs program in the arts that creates employment for teens from low-income families. It is predicated on them staying in school. It trains them in creative writing and performing arts. It teaches them about creative work. That’s the bottom line. That director Ron Bieganski has created a vibrant theater ensemble which is winning critical acclaim in Chicago is sugar on the cake. We wish Ms. Troester had avoided flogging the twin dead horses of gang glamour and turf tales and talked about what jobs programs like TeenStreet can mean to our youth and our cities.

David Schein

Artistic Director

Free Street Theater

Maura Troester replies:

It is indeed $25 per performance, not $125 per week. Sorry for the error.