Elia Ayala (APTP Class of 2003) hadn’t thought of herself as a performer. In grammar school, she was a self-described shy girl with a loud and infectious laugh. As she transitioned into high school, she knew that she wanted to grow in her capacity to be more spontaneous and to take up more space in a room. Enter APTP.
Elia’s older brother, Jason, introduced her to APTP. Jason had joined APTP himself in 1998 and came home nightly excited to share what he had learned. “He would go on and on about how much fun he was having playing theater games and creating a show from people’s real-life stories. He knew there was an extrovert inside me just looking for an opportunity.” This intrigued Elia and, within a few weeks of starting her first year at Roosevelt High School, she made her way to Eugene Field Park for her first workshop.
Over the next four years, Elia created and performed in eight shows. From the matriarch of a family plagued with generational violence to the partner of a young woman coming out to her family, Elia helped bring life to characters from a wide range of life experiences. “Gaining perspective while literally walking in other people’s shoes was very powerful at 16.”
After graduating from high school and APTP, Elia enthusiastically took some time off before she applied to college. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life so I went directly into the workforce. I soon realized in my dead-end office job that I missed people.” Eventually, Elia made the best decision of her life and changed fields to the food and hospitality industry. “Acting and customer service have a lot of crossover. I shake off my day or personal issues and get in the game. APTP taught me a lot of these skills: how to shift focus, to think on your feet, and be present in the moment.”
Elia is a 2012 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where she majored in Hospitality Management and Business. After graduating from college, Elia explored opportunities in Boulder, Colorado and New York City: running hotels, cafes, even a bowling alley and celebration space in Times Square.
In 2017, Elia moved back to Chicago where she continued to explore the food and hospitality industry. “I kept hitting a wall with managers and cafe owners who wouldn’t take a chance on me. I was experienced and capable of taking their concept to the next level. I was usually disregarded as intimidating for being a strong woman in management. I knew that I could do more.”
Fast Forward to today: Elia is now celebrating one year as the owner of Sunflour Cafe in the Buena Park neighborhood on Chicago’s lakefront. “My support, my family and that core you are left with once APTP is part of your life, it was the push I needed to take this leap.” As she reflects back on her time at APTP, Elia shares:
“APTP was an incredibly transformative experience for me. Aside from the lifelong friendships I made, I still carry the values that we built as a community: trust, risk taking, and following your heart and passions no matter how impossible they may seem.”