Student stars in television pilot show about teens dealing with rare diseases

Media Credit: Jack Borowiak | Staff Photographer

Sophomore Shira Strongin is starring in a television pilot show about a support group of chronically ill patients.

Spending 12-hour workdays on a television set and running your own charity piles on a heavy workload, especially when you’re a student living with a rare chronic illness.

Shira Strongin spent last month filming her first television pilot, “(Sorta) Supportive,” which tells the story of a support group of chronically ill patients and their medical staff as they come together in solidarity. The characters wrestle with pulmonary hypertension and are also faced with normal teenage tribulations.

Strongin, a sophomore studying political communication, had little acting experience prior to the role and was already busy with her blog turned nonprofit organization, “Sick Chicks,” which launched in 2015. But the opportunity to have a hand in developing her character Dani, a tough-as-nails, sarcastic teenage girl was something she couldn’t pass up.

Television shows and movies often paint sick girls as “sweet and nice and naive,” but Strongin’s character pushes against these conventions, she said. “(Sorta) Supportive” stood out because all characters challenge stereotypes and show a range of emotion, she said.

“There are lots of moments when you’re not going to be sure if you should be crying or laughing and I think that’s beautiful about it,” Strongin said. “It’s a true reflection of the chronic illness community as a whole.”

Travis Flores, the pilot’s director, said the show raises awareness about the unbelievable commonality of chronic illness in young people, especially young women. When he approached Strongin about joining the cast in 2016, he said she brought a great perspective of what it’s like to live with a condition that isn’t always explainable.

“Shira brought a side of chronic disease that I’ve never quite experienced – the unknown. I admired her for that, and still do,” he said.

Flores, a two-time double lung transplant recipient, has been working on the project for about six years but gained momentum about two years ago. He said he wanted actors dealing with or connected to chronic illnesses to star in each of the show’s roles because knowing the hardships characters faced first hand is essential to the show’s premise.

Along with Strongin and Flores in lead roles, the show features Elaine Hendrix of “The Parent Trap” fame, Madison McLaughlin who starred in the television show “Arrow” and Hunter Doohan who appeared in HBO’s “Westworld.”

The pilot is currently being shopped around to major networks. This fall, the team is looking to screen “(Sorta) Supportive” on college campuses and a trailer will be released in October, Flores said.

“We hope a network and audiences alike will agree that there can be truth in storytelling while also be entertaining,” Flores said. “Hollywood needs that now more than ever.”

Strongin, who started “Sick Chicks” to document her journey with an undiagnosed neurovascular disease, wanted to change minds when she began her blog at 11 years old. Now, things have picked up for Strongin, but between shooting the pilot, launching her blog’s first advocacy summit and starting the school year, Strongin said she can focus on her health and advocating for others who struggle with chronic illness.

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