Northwestern staff member creates one-woman show discussing albinism


Courtesy of Ashley Hicks

Northwestern staff member Ashley Hicks performs her one-woman show, “Beautifully Broken Pieces.” The show focuses on Hicks’ albinism and incorporates singing, dancing and a PowerPoint slide.

Jonah Dylan, Assistant Campus Editor

As a black woman with albinism, Ashley Hicks said she always felt like an outsider.

Hicks, an administrative assistant at Compliance, Audit and Advisory Services at Northwestern, has reduced pigment in her skin, hair and eyes as a result of the genetic disorder. For the past 10 years she has worked on “Beautifully Broken Pieces,” a one-woman show based on her own life that opens this Friday at Collaboraction Theatre in Chicago. Accompanied by singing, dancing and a PowerPoint slide, Hicks portrays several different characters beyond just herself in the show.

The show charts Hicks’ life from age 6 until about a year ago. Through her work, she aims to convey her experience with albinism.

“My hope is that a show like this will bring more positive attention to the condition, rather than the negative stigma that surrounds the genetic disorder,” Hicks said.

The idea started when Hicks was a student at the University of Missouri, and she has been developing it ever since. She said she initially struggled to figure out what form the show would take — a fictional play, a book or a screenplay — before settling on a one-woman show.

Justin Dietzel, who works as the show’s stage manager, said Hicks’ show helps the audience understand and learn about albinism.

“It’s very educational,” he said. “It’s very vulnerable and open, and it’s really about her experience but in a very humorous way, a very relatable way and there’s really some key moments in the play that really strike your heart.”

Dietzel said the 54-minute show helped him understand more about albinism and how it manifests itself in the real world. He added that any one-person show takes a lot of courage and is a “huge undertaking” to produce.

Hicks, who is originally from St. Louis, said she performed the show in the 2016 St. Louis Fringe Festival and won the Fringe Crush Award in the respective category.

BrittneyLove Smith, Hicks’ best friend, said the show does a good job of explaining albinism to the audience without sounding condescending or angry. The show uses humor to break down the audience’s guard, she said.

Ted Hoerl, the show’s director, said he first started working with Hicks about two years ago at The Conservatory at Act One Studios. He said he noticed her talent, felt she wasn’t being properly recognized and then wanted to work with her on “Beautifully Broken.”

In the future, Hicks said she hopes to continue performing the show in hope of spreading awareness about albinism.

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