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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Back of the Yards Meets Albany Park

In my continuing quest to get kids from here to see shows performed by the Albany Park Theater Project, I bought four student tickets to the current show, a remounting of 2003's Aqui Estoy.

For more about the show, in both its original production and its current run, look here.

Finding the four students to join me proved a bit of a challenge, but I should know by now not to try to plan anything in advance. That would have spared me some headache.

First I invited Dawn and another Big Picture student to come and bring a friend. They both said yes at first, then bailed a few days later. Next, I tried calling Su Casa, but their houseful of young people has shrunk in recent days, for happy reasons. One family got an apartment. The director volunteered to call them for me to see if their older kids wanted to go, but I never heard back from her.

So, at 4 p.m., I did what I should have done all along-went out on the block to see who was out throwing snowballs. The 7th-grader at the end of block I refer to as Peter Pan was out with two of his younger brothers.

"Wanna go to a play tonight? It's free," I said.

"Yes!" He wanted to know who else he could bring. We got his older sister and two of the Bradys -- he's friends with one of their boys, the one I worked with on a hard reading assignment. He and one of his sisters came. We'll call these Bradys Alberto and Irene.

Before the play, we met some grownups for dinner at Semiramis, a Lebanese restaurant not too far from the theater. None of the kids had ever had Middle Eastern food before. I kept bugging them to try different foods: the olives and pickled turnip (I know, I was mostly kidding, but for a while there wasn't much else on the table), hummus, baba ganoush, etc. The girls were squeamish, but Peter Pan went for it.

"It's pretty good; it tastes like mayonnaise," he said of the hummus. He even tried the turnip and said it tasted a little like carrot. They all had chicken shawerma sandwiches and fries. The fries came with some spicy seasoning on them; they were a big hit. So was the baklava.

Then we went off to the theater. Peter Pan got very excited when he saw an electronics store that had Wiis and good games. "Lawrence and Central Park," he kept repeating, until he could write the street names on his hand so he'd remember to tell his dad and uncle when he got home.

The best part was watching the kids watch the show. Aqui Estoy is two plays in one--a piece about the lives of day laborers in Albany Park, including the hazardous trek to get to this country as told by one man from Honduras. The second piece is the story of a former company member who was brought to this country from Colombia as a child and his life growing up without legal status.

Alberto's eyes grew big watching the cast leap on stage and engage in some very physical choreography to represent painting, roofing, demolition and other construction work day laborers do. I saw Peter Pan grin at some of the funny, earthy jokes. Irene pointed out Elizabeth Cobacho's name in the program and asked me if she was the one with the big voice in the painter's hat. She was. We met her and some of the other cast members after the show.

In the car I asked what they thought of the show and they told me they liked the show and they want to go back, with more friends. Whoo-hoo! The also said they liked both pieces equally well, that the actors who stood out for them were Cobacho, Jesus Matta and a new cast member whose name I don't know--I'm sorry! He played the role of Honduran soccer star turned day-laborer and told the story of his harrowing journey through Mexico. I personally thought the two company members who portrayed mother and son in the second piece, "Nine Digits" gave very strong performances, too.

On the way home we talked about high school. I'm trying to persuade Peter Pan's sister that Tilden High isn't a great idea. She has friends going there. I told her I've been over there and it has a lot of problems, and many students don't graduate. "Maybe you could get your friends to apply to Kennedy with you," I suggested.

Peter Pan gets it about thinking ahead for high school. He told me, "I know a guy who graduated [from Chavez] last year. He said he would never go to Richards, but he's there now."

1 comment:

Liz said...


It's Elizabeth Cobacho from APTP. I just came across your blog (in a rather embarrassing way... I googled my and was touched by what you wrote. I was disappointed I couldn't talk to you all longer, I figured you were rushed to get the students home before it got too late. Anyway, I would love to invite you all to see the show again. As a performer I have four free comp. tickets and I would like to invite you four (or other students if the one's who saw the performance can't make it) to see the show for free. Also, feel free to invite as many teens/high school students (mature 11/12 year olds can come too) as you'd like b/c they have free entrance to see the show. My email is Please let me know if you can make it. Also make reservations with APTP (but since we've had low audience turnout, you might just be able to show up at the door too). Hope to see you soon. (Oh, I leave to Brazil to begin my teaching assistantship on January 13th, so please come before then!)


Please tell the kids I said "Hi" and that I appreciated their comments and questions and would love to see them at our show again!

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