State Of The Artist: A Generous Heart And All That
Kim Schultz is an actor, writer, storyteller, and refugee advocate. She has lived in Chicago for six years. I followed her to the places that are meaningful to her in and around Chicago.
I started the interview process at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin where Kim gave an author talk, spoke about refugee issues, and sold copies of her book, Three Days in Damascus: A Memoir. There I asked her if she’d like to do a SOTA interview, and she said, “Yes.” I suspected she would because Kim is widely regarded as a master of improv and admits she says “Yes” to nearly everything.
A week later, we met again, this time outside Goodman Theatre. Kim credits, at least partially, The Goodman with her decision to move to Chicago.
“I was living in New York and I came here and auditioned for several theaters and had some really great meetings around town. The Goodman offered me A Christmas Carol and it was reason enough.”
The roles Kim performed in the Charles Dickens classic were Mrs. Fezziwig and The Ghost of Christmas Present.
Kim refers to Mrs. Fezziwig as “a hoot and a riot.” She said, “I love playing bit parts and roles and being a comedienne and being funny, but I thought The Ghost of Christmas Present was amazing."
She explained, “It was right around the time of Trump being elected and we were really using that as a tool to connect with people.” Kim said, “What Dickens wrote was so appropriate -- I felt like I was talking to Donald Trump at the time -- trying to encourage a generous heart and all that.”
Kim has a "generous heart and all that." She isn’t afraid to let her art reflect her conscience. Though she hasn't written off traditional theater for good, she emphasized that her career is changing.
She explained, “Part of my growth as an artist right now is I'm into doing my own work. I'm into writing new things. I'm into creating a space for stories and storytelling so that ‘people of different everything’ get a chance to share their story and connect with people and humanity.”
Kim continued, “I think when big box theater bores me, or when any theater bores me, it's because I don't think it has anything to do with me or anything to do with the world today. And I think there's too much at stake in the world today. I just don't have time for that, quite honestly.”
One place Kim's work speaks to “what's at stake in the world today” is the Chicago Theological Seminary, where she is the coordinator of creative events. We talked at her favorite place there, the double-sided wall of free-flowing water outside Clark chapel. She spoke about working with the InterReligious Institute and Shoulder to Shoulder to find ways improve opportunities for refugees, Muslims, and religious minorities who face prejudice and persecution.
Kim said, “I try to do a lot of listening and learning and seeing what voices aren't being heard. I ask myself, ‘How can I help create space for those voices? How can I, as an artist, facilitate those voices?’”
Kim was frank about the present and optimistic about the future for refugees:
“I'm really interested in how things are shifting in this country and how the white majority – the white Christian majority -- is fighting the shift tooth and nail -- and how things can be different and how they will be different.”
Kim identifies as a Christian but said, “I'm not particularly religious right now, but I'm doing a lot of interfaith work, which I think is funny and weird.”
One example of her interfaith work is Keeping Faith: Sisters of Story. The “sisters” are a trio of Muslim (Rohina Malik), Christian (that's Kim), and Jewish (Susan Stone) storytellers and a cultural musician (Lucia Thomas). For the show, each storyteller shares her faith journey with the goal of uniting people. Not only do they share stories, they sing.
Their singing segues into poignant storytelling, more cultural music, and moments of great laughter. The show tours nationally and when I saw it, it was part of the Peace Garden Dedication at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie. The performers received a standing ovation and I overheard a man in the audience say, "That was just what I needed."
After the show, Kim and I grabbed a bite to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, the Baghdad Family Restaurant, which is located just a few blocks from the museum. When we walked in, we were immersed in Arabic music, people speaking Arabic, and the mesmerizing aroma of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Kim said, “Anytime that I can hear Arabic or I can eat Middle Eastern food, you know, brings me back -- the tea, the music, the culture, for sure. Yeah, lots of memories.”
The memories Kim was referring to stem from her trip to the Middle East in 2009. That’s when she interviewed Iraqi refugees amidst destruction, death, and decay. But not only did she experience destruction, death, and decay; she experienced love, generosity, and humor. When she returned to the United States, she penned a memoir, Three Days in Damascus and a one-woman play entitled No Place Called Home based on her deep experiences there. The Middle East is also where she developed an affinity for chicken shawarma.
“So my favorite is the chicken shawarma. I have gotten the beef shawarma, which is very good, but it's got a little kick to it. It's a little spicy. I was a little surprised by it. I've never actually had that flavor before. But chicken shawarma…hooohooowuhhaaaa.”
We both ordered it and I, too, was at a loss for words to describe how delicious it was.
Next we went to Rogers Park. While walking around, I noticed that every time we walked past a woman who was wearing a hijab, Kim would smile and say, "Hi."
She admitted, "I'm probably overly friendly -- too friendly -- but I figure they don't always feel welcomed, so I always smile and greet them."
And outside her apartment building, there is a sign on the parkway that says “No Matter Where You Are From, We're Glad You're Our Neighbor” in Spanish, English, and Arabic. She said she bought it for $20 to remind passersby that Rogers Park is a welcoming neighborhood. It's another simple gesture that reflects Kim's generous heart.
Once inside her apartment, Kim continued to talk about why she loves her home in Rogers Park. She said, “It's very diverse. I believe it's one-third Hispanic, one-third black, and one-third white. I really like the diversity here. And I wanted more space, and you get more bang for your buck up here, and I wanted to be close to the water.”
Kim said the first time she walked into the apartment she knew “in 3.2 seconds” she would move in. “This space makes me very happy. It's very light and sunny and airy.” In that moment, the neighborhood cicadas were especially active and seemed to buzz in appreciation of Kim’s comments. She continued, “And I can hear nature and it's a healthy space for me.”
When she needs a break from her home, which is where she writes, the Lake and her preferred yoga studio Centered Studios are within walking distance. The yoga studio was closed, so we went to Morse Beach.
“Water is medicinal for me. I need water to be a part of my life,” said Kim.
Along with The Goodman, Kim credits Lake Michigan as a reason for moving to Chicago. She said in order for her to create art, she needs “brain space” and the Lake helps give her that space.
“I need space in every kind of way. My desk has to be clean. My brain has to be clean. I need room. Otherwise I’ll just be task oriented. I'll just do emails and empty my dishwasher. But my fake ocean out here gives me brain space.”
She calls Lake Michigan her "fake ocean" because she can't see the other side of it.
Kim Schultz is a tried and true artist with a healing and humorous touch. She is currently penning a new play about "who gets to be American" and she has some international travel coming up soon. You can learn more about Kim on her website or follow her on Twitter @Kimschultz1.