ALBANY PARK — About 10 miles northwest of the Theater District, in an old park district building in Albany Park, a group of high school students rehearsed scenes from a play they devised and would soon take to a more prominent stage.
“I think I feel the pressure of being at the Goodman Theatre more than our youth ensemble members do,” David Feiner said with a laugh.
Feiner is the co-founder of the Albany Park Theater Project — a nearly 20-year-old multi-ethnic theater ensemble made up of 22 teenagers. The ensemble will take its new production of "God’s Work" to the Goodman Theatre from Friday to April 19, marking the fourth artistic collaboration between the groups.
“'God’s Work' is a story of survival. It’s a story of resilience. It’s a story of redemption,” Feiner said.
Like all of the theater project's productions, "God’s Work" is based on a true story. In this case, the story came from a former ensemble member who, along with 17 siblings, survived years of emotional and psychological abuse from their fundamentalist father.
“When you hear the story of her past, of her childhood, you can’t help but ask, 'How did she survive that and how did she come out so exquisitely human?'” Feiner said.
For more on the Albany Park Theater Project and to see a rehearsal, watch the video.
Many ensemble members say the pressure of performing on the Goodman stage is outweighed by the responsibility they feel in doing justice to the person’s story.
“We try to remember that these stories are from real human beings,” said Paloma Morales, a student at Lincoln Park High School. “More people should know what these people have gone through and that’s what helps us even more to keep going with the stories and the plays.”
“Being able to tell stories that people may be scared of or people may be touchy around, you can’t really talk about these things straight out, it’s an amazing thing and it’s so important to me,” said Kyra Mae Robinson, an ensemble member who is currently home-schooled.
Still, an the ensemble that typically performs on a second-floor stage in an Albany Park field house, performing at the Goodman Theatre brings a new kind of intensity to the group.
“It’s exhilarating,” said Abraham Espino, who performed at the Goodman for the first time last summer.
Performing on the Goodman stage was more of a “challenge” for Morales, who said she had to adjust the volume of her voice to make sure she could be heard above the sound and music cues.
“You want to make sure everyone can hear your diction, every single word,” Morales said.
Feiner said when the teenagers begin rehearsals at the Goodman, they often adjust their performances in response to the size of the theater and the size of the house.
“How do I make my performance the right size for this space?” Feiner said.
“The first time, I really learned a lot about myself as actress,” Morales said. “I learned that I can push myself even more than I’ve pushed myself before.”