SOUL Y BORICUA”: IVAN VEGA

Originally published on Chicago Latino Theater Alliance Newsletter Jan 28, 2020

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Ivan Vega, Executive Director UrbanTheater Company

Talented Tuesday is back! For the first highlight of 2020, we are proud to bring you a man with amazing talents, unwavering commitment to his community, a family man with the FIERCEST smoldering gaze and the most welcoming smile, Ivan Vega. 

Ivan’s resume is vast. He has been a model and on various television series as a guest star. His performances on the stage have earned him nominations and awards. He serves on the board of the League of Chicago Theatres, and was a part of the 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre Marketing Committee. While all of these accomplishments are amazing in their own right, we feel that one of his greatest legacies lives between the two 60-foot metal Puerto Rican flags on Division street, UrbanTheater Company. 

As co-founder and Executive Director of UrbanTheater, Ivan has created an artistic home preserving the Puerto Rican voice in Humboldt Park for 15 strong years. He is the calm and the positivity in the midst of the tough battle of equity and inclusion. Ivan has truly served as one of the greatest role models, advocates and advisors for up and coming artists of all theatre backgrounds, and has given them a place and many opportunities to take their skills to the next level. 

Honestly, this highlight should be a book with numerous sequels. From theater artist, community representative, to father (or as his children like to call him ‘Dadu’), there aren’t enough words to fully describe just how much Ivan has and continues to impact the world around him. For this reason, we invite you to an interview that only scratches the surface and we hope it inspires you to take a trip to Division Street for a chat with the one… the only…the highly respected: Ivan Vega. 

GETTING TO KNOW IVAN VEGA 

What is your hometown? 

Chicago! I’m a Puerto Rican who was Born and Raised in La Villita (Little Village). I now live and work in both Humboldt Park and Belmont Cragin. 

What brought you into Chicago Theatre? 

I got involved in the scene while attending the Theatre Conservatory of Roosevelt University. While attending Roosevelt, I made it a point to research, connect and work with the Latino companies who were paving the way at the time as well as the larger institutions producing Latinx work. 

Shortly after graduating, I co-founded what was then known as Teatro Urbano, now known as UrbanTheater Company. This cemented my involvement and my commitment to the Chicago Theatre landscape for the next fifteen plus years after. 

How long have you been involved in Chicago Theatre? 

I’ve been in this game for over 20 years primarily as an actor, administrator and producer. 

How have you seen the industry change? 

Our community is constantly growing. Our industry is much more conscious about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Although, for some this is easier than others. Our community is fiercer than ever and has no problem speaking up when something or someone is out of line. 

What inspired you to choose acting as your career? 

I’ve always wanted to be an actor and loved storytelling as long as I can remember I was just shy and didn’t how to get into the business. While in grade school, I saw a production of The Wiz at Currie Metropolitan High School which hooked me. I wanted to then explore the theater. I didn’t end up going to Curie. My mother sent me to Morton West where I got involved in track and theatre. My time in high school changed the course of wanted to do the rest of my life. 

At 14, I started modeling as way to break into stage/ tv/film. While in High School, I was on the speech team (verse and comedic/dramatic duo). My teachers opened my eyes to “The Concrete River” by Mexican poet Luis J. Rodriguez. I began to research other Latino/a poets/writers, especially those who were Puerto Rican. Even though I grew up in a Mexican community, which I loved and respected, I wanted to identify with writers who were also Puerto Rican. I then, found “La Bodega Sold Dreams” by Miguel Piñero and kept fin– ding all of these writers I never know about and had access to. 

As someone who also runs a theater company (with two of my favorite people, Miranda González and Antonio Bruno) that has been a big part of life as an actor and administrator since 2004, I choose this path to showcase and preserve our stories. To create community. To work with my community. I wanted to create access to something I didn’t have while growing up. 

How do you choose the projects you want to work on? 

As an actor I have to connect to project in some way. I chose projects that allows me to stretch and challenge me as an artist. There is always room to learn and grow. 

As a company, the work has to fit our mission and speak to the community we serve, “From the Streets to the Stage.” 

What advice would you give emerging actors? 

Work your ass off and never lose sight of the goals you want to accomplish. Never stop growing and learning. If you’re a ‘know it all,’ you’re in the wrong biz. Stay humble. Know your worth. Surround yourself around people who work as hard as you. Don’t settle. Dream big. Keeping smiling and enjoy the journey. 

By Sara Carranza, Chicago Latino Theater Alliance