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TODAY

Monday, June 24

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Airbags

Mierka Girten is the founding member of Mookie Jam Foundation, a Chicago-based, not-for-profit organization created to assist artists living with Multiple Sclerosis. Girten was diagnosed with MS in 1992, during her first year of graduate studies in acting at DePaul University. The financial struggles of trying to maintain her career as a professional actress and covering the costs of medical bills and the medications required to treat MS had a profound effect on Girten, and in 1999 she began developing her foundation. Over the past six years Mookie Jam has given away $30,000 to artists with MS. With or Without Wings, Girten's original one-woman show that chronicles her life with MS, has been performed at The Victory Gardens Theater and Gallery 37 here in Chicago, as well as Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Girten is a company member of A Red Orchid Theatre, and has appeared in numerous productions with such companies as Live Bait Theater, American Theatre Co. and The Hypocrites. Visit the Mookie Jam Foundation website to learn more about the foundation, and to reserve tickets for the 6th Jam, "A Fun-filled Evening of Bluegrass Entertainment!" which will be held July 24th at The Morseland, 1218 W. Morse, Chicago, 6 pm.

Q: An actor's instrument is his or her body, which acts as the physical bridge between performance and thought. MS is a disease that attacks the nervous system, the center of the body's ability to physically act and react. Have you found your body has responded more courageously to your craft as you battle your disease?

Girten: I do not know about the "courageous" part. I still "attack" my roles from a physical stand point as I did before I was diagnosed, because each character is unique as to where they live in their bodies. I do however, know and understand my limitations with each role because I deal with a lot of fatigue.

Q: No doubt being diagnosed with any disease moves one toward the sanctuary of community. Your starting Mookie Jam Foundation is of course a natural extension of your desire to meld with and support other artists suffering from MS. I'm interested, is your empathy at all challenged these days, or is it an unchallengeable presence?

Girten: My empathy has grown, that is for sure. I wake up every day with MS, and as tired or crappy as I feel, I'm always aware that some people I know have it worse and deal with more issues. Through Mookie Jam I am able to show people that individuals with MS can still function, live, create and be productive in this crazy world. But, we need some help sometimes. MS is not a death sentence, but sometimes it really sucks.

Q: At the end of the day, is there any humor to be found in living with MS?

Girten: MS can be hysterical! Just kidding. My friends always make fun of me because I am very forgetful. The lesions on my brain are very close to my cerebellum, which affects memory. So, as an actress you can imagine how often I need to rehearse my scripts, and I concentrate very hard on that and I do a great job. But when I leave rehearsals I really have to search my memory for where I parked my car. I know that people without my disease would say that they lose cars, too. But seriously, I lost my car for an entire winter on Southport. I still can't remember what made me park on that end of the street! Thank goodness for the Brown Line.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan, and today lives with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them. Direct comments or suggestions for interviews to tqf@gapersblock.com.

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