52 Phenomenal Women- photo essays by Amy Boyle Photography benefitting Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. 2019 - pictured Barbara Zahora
52PWP Blogging Chicago Dress for success guest blogger

Telling a different story, my own – Meet Barbara 33 of 52 Phenomenal Women

Meet Barbara:

In her own words…

“For a long time now I’ve held a lot of different jobs simultaneously – actor, teacher, coach, director, and now artistic director.  The common thread in all these jobs is storytelling, which I’m clearly passionate about.  I have always loved the transformative power of stories, and the way my body and voice could change to embody different characters.  Later I took delight in helping other people be better and clearer storytellers, whether that was teaching conservatory students how to use their voices, or helping them discover Shakespeare’s language, or directing them toward a performance.  Now I get to play a significant role in choosing the kinds of stories people will be hearing at Oak Park Festival Theatre, one of my many artistic homes.  It’s exciting to think about the kinds of stories people are looking for these days.   Do they want to be encouraged? Challenged?  Empowered?  Unburdened, even for a moment?

52 Phenomenal Women- photo essays by Amy Boyle Photography benefitting Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. 2019 - pictured Barbara Zahora
©Amy Boyle Photography 2019

In 2016 my personal story changed significantly and transformed me in a powerful way.  I was diagnosed with Stage II invasive breast cancer in June of 2016, after having a lump that didn’t feel right for a few months prior to my annual mammogram, and a biopsy that confirmed that it wasn’t quite right.   I was referred to a surgeon almost immediately (I found out on a Thursday and was in his office scheduling surgery the following Monday), and before I knew it I had had a lumpectomy and was being set up with a plan for chemotherapy and radiation to follow.  Like many people who work in the performing arts, I had lined up several gigs for myself over the span of that year – both acting and directing work.  I didn’t know if I would be able to work on those projects while going through treatment, but I wanted to try.  In the end, I worked through every single one of them.

52 Phenomenal Women- photo essays by Amy Boyle Photography benefitting Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. 2019 - pictured Barbara Zahora
©Amy Boyle Photography 2019

When I think about what I learned during that time that I couldn’t have learned any other way, it all comes down to two things.  First, I very clearly saw the love surrounding me in my life.  From my incredible husband to friends who offered an ear or a ride to chemo, to students who told me I was inspiring them to get through their bad days, I truly felt carried aloft by the people I cared about most.  Secondly, I knew that along with the last microscopic specks of cancer that were being burnt away the non-essential parts of me were being incinerated as well.  Extra measures vanity, self-consciousness, and cowardice (along with many other things) were being stripped from me.  The person that remains is tougher, more mindful, more courageous, more grateful and more beautiful than the person I was before.

52 Phenomenal Women- photo essays by Amy Boyle Photography benefitting Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. 2019 - pictured Barbara Zahora
©Amy Boyle Photography 2019

I hope to share more of this particular story on stage someday in the form of a play.  But in the meantime, I’m happy to have the opportunity to share it with you here, and to celebrate what I do best – telling the story.”

Barbara is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is the Artistic Director at Oak Park Festival Theatre.

*** Please follow along on instagram as well and learn more about Barbara. This year for my birthday, I am embarking on a weekly photo essay project highlighting 52 Phenomenal Women. This is week 33 of 52. Participants in this project will be supporting the efforts of Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. We are all stronger together and it is my sincere hope that we will be inspired by each other’s stories. Now is the time to celebrate as well as encourage one another. Tell your story!**

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