Elgin native finds her home on stage

When Laura Shatkus graduated college a decade ago, she felt “lost.”

The Elgin native had majored in education at the University of Illinois and done her student teaching — only to find that her heart wasn't in her chosen field. She went on an “epic road trip across America” in the summer of 2001, but returned home still uncertain about what she wanted to do with her life.

Then, she saw Stephen Sondheim's musical, “Sunday in the Park With George.”

“The play is about being an artist. And choosing things in your life,” Shatkus says. “And I was like, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.' It was a real light-bulb moment.”

Shatkus, currently starring in Collaboraction's “Sketchbook Reverb” in Chicago, hadn't found theater in high school, as so many actors do.

“I didn't do much theater,” Shatkus says of her years at Elgin High School. “I was a cheerleader; I was in choir; I did creative writing.”

But once she committed to a career onstage, Shatkus moved in with her parents, then living in Algonquin, and looked around for roles. As luck would have it, there was a plucky little theater company located at the time in Arlington Heights: Janus Theatre. The company, now based in Elgin, specializes in performing theater in nontraditional settings.

“We did this cool stuff,” Shatkus says. “One of the first things I did with them was (Terrence McNally's) ‘Bad Habits' in this old greenhouse. I worked with them for a while. I was in play after play after play. I got to do a lot of cool stuff with them. We even went to the London, Ontario, fringe festival. I tell people I went to London to do a play.”

Eventually Shatkus got enough confidence to begin auditioning at theaters in the city. She starred in a succession of shows, began taking acting classes and moved to Chicago's North Side.

“I don't regret I didn't get a theater degree,” Shatkus says. “I feel like I have learned so much from doing. I have gotten wonderful boutique training experiences.”

Shatkus is currently working with Collaboraction on “Sketchbook Reverb,” a revival of favorite short plays from 10 years worth of Sketchbook shows.

“I am in a piece by Lisa Dillman (‘My Yeti Dreams') about a woman who is in love with a Yeti,” Shatkus says. “You understand that the woman in the play has been unlucky in love and finds this primal man in her back yard. And she invites him in and tries not to change him. But things happen.”

Shatkus is in two other “Reverb” pieces as well. In one, she plays a corpse.

“I love working with Collaboration. They create a little community,” she says. “And they are a cool theater; they are really, really cool.”

<b>“Sketchbook Reverb”</b>

<b>Location:</b> Collaboraction, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (312) 226-9633 or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>

<b>Showtimes:</b> 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays (no show Sunday, Feb. 20); 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28 and March 21. Runs through March 27.

<b>Tickets:</b> $18-$25