The award-winning Albany Park Theater Project (APTP) youth theater ensemble celebrates its 21st birthday with the world premiere of “Ofrenda,” a collection of real-life stories about creating home in turbulent times. “Ofrenda” is performed by a cast of 33 teens in the company’s home theater in one of the most diverse immigrant neighborhoods in the United States. Preview performances begin April 25 at the Laura Wiley Theater, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., with press performances on Monday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets go on sale March 21 for performances through June 2.
A love song, a requiem and an incantation, “Ofrenda” is inspired by real-life stories gathered by the APTP teen ensemble about how people turn here into home in the wake of social, political and personal upheaval. The source materials were developed for this production by acclaimed playwright Isaac Gomez and “Ofrenda” is directed by longtime APTP artistic leaders Stephanie Paul and Maggie Popadiak.
In Ecuador, a girl coats herself with chicken feathers so she can fly across borders in search of her father. In Chicago, a boy hears his family dream of the day they can go back home and wonders, “Where is home if not here?” In Damascus, a teen teaches herself English as the bombs and gunfire of civil war creep ever closer to her family. At a fancy Chicago university, years before “undocumented and unafraid” or DACA, a new student hangs La Virgencita in her dorm room, telling no one the secret of her status. At an American Embassy, a young woman interviewing for a visa denies the culture burning fervidly in her heart. In front of ICE headquarters in the Chicago Loop, a grandmother gives a press conference vowing to fight a deportation order.
APTP’s youth theater ensemble has a history of transforming real-life stories into powerful, critically acclaimed theater. “Ofrenda,” performed in an intimate space by a cast that reflects the vast diversity of its home neighborhood, is an exploration of and blueprint for how and where people create safety, meaning, strength and hope when the world stops making sense. APTP has built a stellar reputation for its high artistic standards, its imaginative performance style and honest storytelling, and for fearlessly tackling issues such as immigration, poverty, racism, housing, domestic violence, food policy and education. The company’s most recent production, “Learning Curve,” an education-themed immersive collaboration with Third Rail Projects, was selected in 2016 by every major Chicago critic as one of the top theater productions of the year and received accolades from national outlets including The New Yorker and American Theatre. Critics have hailed past APTP productions as “very sophisticated…not to be missed” (Chicago Tribune), “A once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event” (Chicago Sun-Times) and “outstanding and unforgettable” (New City).
Co-director Stephanie Paul has been Resident Director at APTP since 2010. With APTP, she has been a director and movement director on “Learning Curve,” “Feast,” “God’s Work,” “I Will Kiss These Walls” and “Home/Land.” Her other theater credits include “The Wolves” (Studio Theatre); “The Royale” (City Theatre; Repertory Theatre of St. Louis - The St. Louis Theater Circle Awards Nomination, Outstanding Choreographer; American Theater Company - Jeff Award Nomination, Artistic Specialization); “Short Shakespeare! Romeo + Juliet” (Chicago Shakespeare); “Water by the Spoonful” (Court Theatre); and “In the Red and Brown Water” (Northwestern University).
Co-director Maggie Popadiak has been Associate Director at APTP since 2007, during which time she has been a director and movement director for “Learning Curve,” “I Will Kiss These Walls,” “Home/Land,” “Feast,” “Remember Me Like This” and “Aquí Estoy.” An alumna of APTP’s youth ensemble, Popadiak has directed on, performed in, understudied or stage managed nearly every production since the company’s founding in 1997. She is also APTP’s Director of School-Based Programs and one of the leaders of its college counseling program. In 2016, Popadiak was one of 10 recipients of the 3Arts Award.
“Ofrenda” is written by Isaac Gomez. As the project’s writer, Gomez has shaped and distilled and imagined into script form the interviews, writing, scenes and ideas that the company has gathered and devised since it began work on “Ofrenda” in Summer 2017. This marks the first time in APTP’s 21-year history that it has collaborated with a playwright on its devised work. Gomez’s other plays include “La Ruta” (debuting in December 2018 at Steppenwolf Theatre), “Wally World,” “PerKup Elkhorn,” “The Way She Spoke: A docu-mythologia,” “The Displaced,” (premiering this summer at Haven Theatre) “Throwaway Kids” and ”The Alchemist.”
“Ofrenda” is performed by 33 youth ensemble members of Albany Park Theater Project, all of whom are also co-creators of the devised work. Cast members range in age from 13 to 18 and have spent from one to five years as members of the APTP company. All cast members have a connection to Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, one of the most ethnically diverse immigrant communities in the United States. The primarily first- and second-generation immigrant youth who compose the ensemble trace their roots to countries throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East. 16 are veterans of “Learning Curve,” and 18 will make their APTP debut with “Ofrenda.” The cast members are: Ahmad Al-Badawi, Mohamad Al-Badawi, Schantelle Alonzo, Ariel Burns, Anthony Calderon, Jennifer Calderon, Melissa Carranza, Andrea Delgado, Maria Duran, Nichole Espineli, Itzel Espino, Nely Gonzalez, Johnny Hamzo, Ashlie Hawkins, Atreyu Kaunert, Jhazmin Lucero, Sarah Miller, Ana Morales, Teddy Morco, Chris Nieto, Phong Nguyen, Noe Rios, Samantha Romero, Mariana Rosas, Christina Salazar, Danny Sandoval, Anabel Sava, Jalen Serrano, Dayana Soto, Alex Suarez, Yailin Tejeda, Jade Trejo Tello and Melony Vizcarra.
“Ofrenda” will feature Original Music & Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel, Costume Design by Izumi Inaba, Lighting & Projection Design by Elizabeth Mak, Scenic Design by Scott C. Neale and Objects Design by Ellie Terrell. The Production Stage Manager is Monica M. Brown.
“Ofrenda” will be performed at the Laura Wiley Theater, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave. Tickets, which range in price from $18 - $35, can be purchased beginning March 21 by visiting the APTP website at aptpchicago.org or by calling 866-811-4111. Performances run April 25 through June 2. The press performances will be Monday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m.
About Albany Park Theater Project
Albany Park Theater Project is a multiethnic youth ensemble that inspires people to envision a more just and beautiful world. The company is a 2016 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, which recognizes exceptional nonprofit organizations who have demonstrated creativity and impact. APTP's youth ensemble tells the real-life stories of those whose lives are not normally represented on stage, amplifying the voices both of the youth telling the stories and the individuals whose stories are being shared.
Since its founding, APTP teens have created 20 original, evening-length plays, performed for more than 50,000 people, and opened Albany Park’s first performing arts space. APTP has received numerous local and national awards, most notably the Midwest Light of Human Rights Award from the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Coming Up Taller Award from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Chicago Tribune and CBS 2 Chicago critic Chris Jones called their 2016 production of “Learning Curve” “a very sophisticated piece of theater” and proclaimed it “not to be missed.” In The New Yorker, Brian Schaeffer called “Learning Curve” “both a scathing indictment of a defective system and a tender study of the awesome awakening that makes being a teenager so frightening and fun.”
our most recent top picks
Blue Man Group ★★★