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Ensemble Member Gabriel Franken
Ensemble Member

GABRIEL FRANKEN grew up in a small farm town in Iowa. His people were practical and although he wasn’t so practical himself, he did not yet know it.

When his efforts in being an athlete at last proved fruitless, he had the great good fortune of being noticed by the choir director for always wanting to be the center of attention. The director cast him as the comic relief in the high school play and although he was persecuted by his peers for doing “that girl stuff,” he blossomed in front of an audience.

His method was far from sophisticated. He would watch the movie of whatever role he got and do exactly what the actor in the film had done. Fortunately, most of the audience had not seen or did not remember the film so they thought he was brilliant, which made him feel great.

He went to college on theatre scholarship, but did not major in it, thinking it could never pay the bills. Instead, he studied religion. He took a few classes and worked very hard at Improv, writing, directing, and acting.

Feeling it was impractical and that he was incompetent at it, in his senior year he quit theatre “once and for all.” He knew that he was going out into the real world now and he could not continue playing, though it had brought him much joy and rescued him from many a vortex of maudlin contemplation.

Unfortunately, a crisis of faith kept him from fulfilling his dreams of striking it rich as a country pastor and so upon graduating, with nothing to do, he moved to Mexico to “be poor and serve the poor.”

Four months later, he was back in Iowa living with his mother, knowing less than ever. Fortunately, his theatre professors had kept his number and they asked him to continue doing improv and short plays in the college’s touring program, which sometimes needed folks who were extremely available. He agreed to help because there was a need, but emphasized that he was indeed, still retired.

Nearing his late twenties, Gabriel, still without vision or mission, decided to take a different approach to life choices. Instead of trying to catch that elusive stag of knowing one’s own desire, he looked around to whom his most consistent friends had been. Number one in consistency was theatre. So, even though he believed his pursuit of theatre as sisyphean as his pursuits of athleticism had been, he leapt into the world of acting and improv in Seattle, Washington.

After a few years of riding a fixed gear bicycle up and down the beautiful hills of Seattle, Gabriel (vomiting several times an hour due to one of the worst flus of his life) punched out of his graveyard shift at 9am, hopped on a plane, auditioned for The School at Steppenwolf and made it back to Seattle in time for his 11pm shift. He’d never been so present in a performance. It must have paid off because in 2010, Gabe studied at Steppenwolf in what would become the defining summer of his entire life. The school surrounded him with the love and acceptance he was not able to offer himself.

To fill his post-school void, he volunteered to work stage crew for a play at a theatre company because one of his crushes from school was in the play. This theatre company amplified the spirit of the school. He received consistent messages that he was enough. That he was loved for who he was and not who he should be and that the world of theatre was large enough for him not only to be tolerated but celebrated. He and his crush remain friends.

This special place was The Gift Theatre Company. The Gift is his family. And even though he must commit most of his time, energies and efforts to the good of his nuclear family at this point in life and doesn’t have as much time to play with his artistic family, all of his dreams and hopes and fantasies fill the stages of The Gift nightly.

The Gift helped him to understand that it’s not about him. It’s about something else, something much bigger. In losing himself to get caught up in that good, bigger effort, he found himself, his family and his home. The work to create that home for everyone in Chicago and beyond continues and he is thrilled and humbled to be a part of it.