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Ogden teen writes play about experience with Crohn’s disease

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 7, 2023

Photo supplied, Sharah Meservy

Danny Borba, left, and Estephani Cerros perform "Ballet for Aliens" on Sept. 1, 2022, at Plan-B Theatre’s Free Elementary School Tour in Salt Lake City.

OGDEN — When Gerard Hernandez was in the sixth grade, he wanted to help other kids know what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. So he wrote a play about his own experience.

The play, “Ballet For Aliens was picked up by Plan-B Theatre’s Free Elementary School Tour based in Salt Lake City and has been performed nearly 200 times onstage and online over the past year.

“I have Crohn’s disease and was diagnosed when I was around 6 or 7 years old,” said the now-15-year-old DiVinci Academy student. “I started to get really sick when I was around that time and I was also tired. We didn’t know what was going on, but I got so bad I couldn’t really do anything. My skin even started to turn a gray color.”

After seeing several doctors, Hernandez was finally diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, which affects the lining of the digestive tract. More than half a million Americans are affected by Crohn’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“It has kept me from doing some things. I played soccer but I decided to quit, but I stuck with ballet and pushed through,” he said. “When I saw the ‘Nutcracker,’ I decided I wanted to be on that stage, so I joined Ballet West Academy and was in the ‘Nutcracker’ for five years.”

Photo supplied, Rebecca Ory Hernandez

Gerard Hernandez wrote "Ballet for Aliens" about his battle with Crohn's disease.

In 2021, Hernandez decided to retire his ballet slippers for other interests. Because he had been asked — a lot — about his illness over the years, he thought he would try his hand as a playwright after a close friend asked him if he would be interested.

Hernandez and his friend, Oliver Kokai-Means, co-wrote the play along with Oliver’s mother, Jenny Kokai, an Ogden playwright and associate professor at Weber State University.

“I gladly accepted the offer and had a really fun experience,” Hernandez said. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from the kids who have seen it and especially kids who are dealing with their own chronic illnesses.”

The play is geared for grades 4-6, said Plan-B Theatre artistic director Jerry Rapier. It will wrap up with its final performance later this month.

“It’s such a unique play because it’s centered around Gerard’s experience living with this chronic illness,” Rapier said. “He has been struggling to be able to balance doing what he loves with his disease and I think it’s really important for people to learn about it because a lot of folks tend to assume children are faking if they’re not gushing blood or vomiting.”

Photo supplied, Sharah Meservy

Tamari Dunbar performs "Ballet for Aliens" on Sept. 1, 2022, at Plan-B Theatre’s Free Elementary School Tour in Salt Lake City.

Rapier said when a disease seems to be “invisible” to others, they don’t take it as seriously.

“It really is educational. Sometimes the most difficult things to talk about can be expressed through the arts and can create a pathway for conversations, especially when it comes to difficult subjects,” Rapier said.

Estephani Cerros, left, and Danny Borba perform "Ballet for Aliens" on Sept. 1, 2022, at Plan-B Theatre’s Free Elementary School Tour in Salt Lake City.


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