Dusty Trellis was her stage name. If you met her, she might offer you a business card bearing that name. But she had been baptized Elizabeth Rahuba 65 years ago in New Jersey.
She was living in subsidized senior housing in South Shore. She had a part-time acting job with the Chicago Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), where, in training exercises with cops, she would play the role of a person experiencing a mental health crisis.
She became involved in advocacy for people with mental health issues. In 2014, she spoke at a press conference put together by advocacy group ONE Northside, asking CPD to put more resources into responding to mental health crisis calls.
She had first auditioned for the Hyde Park Community Players in 2012. She didn’t get cast. But she kept coming back. Finally, in 2013, she snagged a role in the annual Halloween Show. She went on to act in many shows, and to work the sound board or ticket desk for others.
Dusty was also in readings with Black Olive Theater, and got a small speaking role in an indie film. An avid Star Trek fan, she joined a group of fellow Trekkies. “I think she worked her way all the way up to Lieutenant or something like that,” said her close friend Clark Weber.
But she was most at home with the Players. Whenever the troupe had something going on, Dusty was there. She was as dedicated as could be. And the Players became her family.
Where was her real family? She had a father, living, and a brother. A few years ago — when, at about 60, she came out as lesbian — they had disowned her, she said. So Dusty relied on her created families: Trekkies, Players and the CIT community.
Last April, she stopped posting on Facebook. HPCP members got worried. In July, someone combed over WBEZ’s coronavirus memorial page and found her name. She had died at Mercy Hospital on April 12.
Apart from that list, Dusty’s passage seemed to have gone unmarked.
So the Players decided to mark it. They set a date for a Zoom memorial. Then they set to work the way they always do: There was a show to be mounted! A send-off party for a cherished friend.
At the July 12 memorial, there was music. There was an impressive gallery of photos: Dusty in A Musical of Musicals. Suited up for Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." Posing with a helicopter flight crew at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where the nursing staff noticed her childlike enthusiasm for ‘copters and pulled strings to give her a memorable experience.
On Zoom, there were many testimonials. People noted her intelligence, her persistence, her indefatigable ambition — which several speakers called “inspiring.”
The keynote speaker was Weber, who worked with Dusty as a fellow actor in the police program, and who joined her in that first audition for the Players.
“She was my best friend," said Weber. “We talked almost every day.” Speaking at the memorial “was tough for me. When I finished, I cried.”
At the end of the Zoom ceremony, special sound effects were combined with photos to simulate one of Dusty’s favorite things: a helicopter ride. Straight to heaven.
Andrea Holliday is a member of the Hyde Park Community Players.