Actress from Buffalo Grove blends fantasy, reality for 'Kin Folk' role
The new play "Kin Folk" features a werewolf, dragon, gnome and elf -- the kind of creatures that you'd normally find in the magic forests of fiction. The drama's setting? The suburbs.
"Kin Folk," in its world premiere at The New Colony in Chicago, explores the world of "otherkin," real people who identify partially or entirely as nonhuman. The cast includes Stephanie Shum, an actress from Buffalo Grove whose character believes she was a werewolf in a past life.
"It's a mixture between realism and fantasy and exploring the tension between those things," 27-year-old playwright William Glick said.
Shum, 29, plays Dusk. She introduces the main character of Lucy, who believes she is a dragon, to the online world of otherkin.
"Dusk is definitely another player in helping her fully realize her new identity and help with that transition," Shum said.
Just as the characters in the play are caught between the two worlds of reality and fantasy, Shum had to find her own path between her passion for acting and the demands of real life.
She got her first taste of acting in elementary school when she followed a friend to theater camp, and she continued to do theater at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. But when it came time to choose her major for college, Shum opted for marketing over acting.
"Both my parents moved to Canada when they entered college from Hong Kong. They paved a way for me and took a huge risk in moving and making a life for themselves," Shum said. "My mom loved to sing and my dad was in a band. I think in order for them to make that move and make the best for their family, they made some sacrifices in terms of the arts. So when I started going that path, I think it was hard for them to see."
After graduating, Shum took a marketing job at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago. She saw the job as a way to merge her love of theater and her training in marketing.
"I was close enough to it," she said, "but not quite there."
Yet in time, being close enough was not enough for Shum.
"On a whim, I just looked at one of the audition postings and saw a show that fit my type," Shum said.
"I didn't even have a real headshot," she added. "I just had a photo of myself that I stapled to something so I went into that audition and ... ended up getting cast."
Shum now lives the best of both worlds as she is not only an ensemble member of The New Colony, but the managing director as well. On top of that, she works as an assistant manager at Southport Grocery and Cafe in Lakeview.
"My parents became more open to (theater)," Shum said. "They had that very traditional mindset of the starving actor and that's not what they wanted. But being able to see that you can have it all made it a little bit more feasible for them."
Audiences, however, might have more trouble relating to Shum's latest production and characters who see themselves as something other than human. But Shum says the story has applications beyond the world of otherkin.
"('Kin Folk') has so many themes that are relatable right now in terms of transitioning or feeling like you are not what you present," said Shum. "I hope that audiences come to see this and find love and choose acceptance at all times."
Location: The New Colony at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, (773) 398-7028, newcolony.org
Showtimes: Previews at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 8-9, and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 10. Play opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12. Regular run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 14
Tickets: $15 preview, $20 regular run