Des Plaines actress is right where she belongs -- starring in Shattered Globe's 'Rasheeda Speaking'
Barbara Roeder Harris was born to theater.
She made her debut playing the king in a production of "Cinderella" she and her siblings staged in the family basement.
"I was 5 and I had three lines," says Harris, who grew up in Oak Park, but has lived in Des Plaines since 1980. "We put on extensive productions in our basement. We'd get the neighborhood involved. We set up a stage and sold tickets for 5 cents."
Growing up in a family of seven, with parents who dabbled in community theater, performing came naturally to her and her siblings.
"It's in the blood," said Harris, who co-stars in Shattered Globe Theatre's pandemic-delayed revival of "Rasheeda Speaking" by Joel Drake Johnson, the Stevenson High School teacher-turned-playwright.
Most of her siblings and some extended family members have been involved in acting in one way or another, said Harris, whose sister Peggy Roeder is a veteran of Steppenwolf, Goodman and Marriott theaters. Sister-in-law Patti Roeder is an actor and costume designer, and sister-in-law Janet Ulrich Brooks, also a Goodman and Steppenwolf veteran, is a member of TimeLine Theatre Company.
"The Chicago theater community is such a family anyway, it's like another extension of our family," she said.
From a young age, her family encouraged her career choice.
"My parents always said do what you love, do what's important to you," said Harris, who has worked as both an actor and an arts administrator.
A background in theater and education (she once administered a Montessori school) landed her at Highland Park's now defunct Apple Tree Theatre, where she served as the youth theater artistic director and did some casting. She also ran performing arts workshops there and at Victory Gardens Theater, and held a management position at Berwyn's 16th Street Theater.
"I loved having contact with people, helping people find their niche," she said of her work in arts management. "It was so inspirational to find the right thing for them, to find the right class or the right workshop enabling them to move ahead in their work."
Nowadays, though, the 71-year-old mother of four sticks to acting.
Working with Shattered Globe on Johnson's play about workplace racism has been bittersweet for Harris, a longtime colleague of the playwright who died in 2020.
"I would have loved to have Joel here," she said of SGT's "Rasheeda Speaking," which runs through June 4. "It's interesting to work with a team that may not have known him as well as Sandy (Shinner, SGT producing artistic director) and I, but they are so appreciative of his words."
Harris was delighted when Shinner asked her to audition for the play.
"Sandy and I worked together at Victory Gardens. We produced Johnson's plays while I was there. I loved his writing," said Harris, who had long dreamed of acting in one of his plays.
She says she's fortunate to be able to do so within a rich, creative community that, to her, has always felt like an extended family. Here there's a sense of people looking out for each other, having each other's backs, said Harris, who wouldn't trade that feeling for the world.
"Everybody wants everybody else to do and be their best. We support each other in that," she said of the Chicago storefront scene. "It's not a catty or petty atmosphere. It's a very supportive, nurturing and creative place to be."
And it's right where she belongs.
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When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through June 4. June 4 performance is at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago; sgtheatre.org
COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination and masking required