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Article posted: 12/28/2012 6:00 AM

Downers Grove native juggles cultures, artistic pursuits

By Jack Helbig

Actor/writer Bilal Dardai has lived his life balanced between worlds. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, he moved with his family to Downers Grove when he was only a month old.

"My mother is Pakistani and my father is Indian," Dardai explains. "Finding the balance between American culture and Pakistani culture was the challenge growing up. ... It was a lot of negotiating."

Theater was a safe zone for Dardai then -- and now. He was recently named co-artistic director, with Megan Mercier, of The Neo-Futurists, an innovative Chicago theater company.

He discovered theater in high school.

"We really threw ourselves into productions," Dardai says. "There were plenty of nights I was there until 8 or 9."

When Dardai wasn't working in theater, he retreated into words. "My mom taught me to read before kindergarten," he says. "I was pretty much reading when I was 4."

Soon after, he started to write. And he has been doing theater and writing ever since.

Dardai majored in rhetoric and creative writing at the University of Illinois. His theater work took off five years after graduating when, in 2004, he joined the cast of Neo-Futurists' "Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind."

"I had first seen the show toward the end of high school," he says.

The cast writes and performs new material every week. They appear as themselves on stage, speaking from personal experience.

With "Too Much Light," Dardai, as a writer and actor, had found a home where he could exercise both of his creative outlets at once.

Over the past eight years, Dardai estimates he has written between 200 and 300 short pieces for the show, many of them autobiographical works exploring the world around him, and the balancing act that is his life.

"Too Much Light" continues into 2013, and welcomes the new year with a special show.

"The goal," Dardai says, "is to start the show at exactly 11 p.m. Ideally we will be finishing the show and handing out champagne at midnight."

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