In the last months, UrbanTheater Company has become a home to me. A place with good food right down the block (shout out Guerrero’s, a staple), great art, and amazing people. When I first met with Ivan to discuss coming on staff, he immediately mentioned that one of Urban’s main goal is to make their members feel at home. Ivan, you have succeeded. Not only do I feel comfortable talking to and joking with all the staff members, but I feel I am appreciated and my opinion is valued. I think this is especially telling because I am a non-Spanish speaker in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood and organization. While the theater does gear their shows toward the Latinx experience, they also work hard to include others, like me. I have learned some more Spanish while working on the Ashes of Light production, though I’ll admit, the bad words are the ones I know best. Everyone was patient with explaining to me what phrases meant in general and in the context of the play. Additionally, this is the first production of Ashes of Light in English, so Urban does community uniting and teaching about the Latinx experience on a larger scale as well. While leaving, one patron said, “Different culture, but you told my story” and that sums up my experience at UrbanTheater Company this semester. We come from different backgrounds, but they welcomed me, and more than that, encouraged me on my writing and theater journey.
I think the volunteer aspect of many of the staff member’s roles really highlights how dedicated to theater and the arts they are, a quality I wish to emulate. Their dedication and passion shows through the hours they put in, the care they give to the show, and the atmosphere they create for patrons, many of which the staff know by name. Theater simply cannot be created without community, and Urban the best example. Sunday, May 13th is out last Ashes of Light show and my last day at Urban. I’m graduating with a bachelor’s degree May 20th so it’s goodbye to Urban, and to Chicago, for now, but they have set a wonderful example of what I should strive for. I hope to continue to be a part of caring staffs that come together to create wonderful, impactful art like Ashes of Light. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had other artists constantly supporting me along my journey and I see that fostering feeling in Urban every day.
A huge thing Urban has made me think about more deeply is my own culture. I am white, but I am also Persian. I wasn’t raised Persian because my dad pretty much dismissed my grandmother’s culture and immigration, but that doesn’t mean I have to. For a few years I’ve been struggling with whether it’s appropriate to call myself Persian since I look white and was raised so, but seeing this show so fully own its culture on top of my general experience in Chicago as a diverse accepting place has helped me realize my culture is my culture. My ancestors are mine and no one can tell me I’m not “Persian enough” to learn about it. For the first time I am writing a Persian character that shares much of my grandma’s story, and I’m very excited about it. More excited than I expected. I’m excited to learn the clothing, the dishes, and the language. Urban has taught me it’s more than okay to explore that and that it’s never too late to claim one’s culture.
I hope that every experience I have always changes the course of my life, because if it doesn’t, then I wasn’t paying enough attention. Urban has done this. It has helped me realize that working at a theater isn’t out of my reach. Before, I thought I was really only useful to theaters as a playwright. Urban taught me that isn’t true. I am useful to theaters in many ways, and working or volunteering at a theater will also help my writing.
The biggest way Urban has helped change my life is that it was a big contributing factor in my deciding I want to move to Chicago. Before starting this program, I thought I could never live in Chicago. I’m not a country girl, but Chicago is huge and fast paced, and my experience with it was really impersonal. People walked by each other like the other wasn’t alive. They were in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, and no one slowed down for any reason. I saw Chicago as a gray slab of cement, unforgiving. But I realize now that those issues mostly exist downtown, along Michigan Avenue, which is where I was mostly passing through to get from my University in Indiana to my home in Wisconsin. The rest of Chicago is not like this. In fact, for such a big city, it manages to feel small. Urban brought a sense of home to the city for me. A welcoming to an unsure stranger. And the rest of the city confirmed these feelings. Chicago is a wonderful diverse place with much to offer that I didn’t see before. Now that I do, I can imagine myself living here, going to theater productions, and taking the CTA every day. I’ve got some post-graduation things I have to take care of, but see you soon Chicago. You’ve been the realest.