Name: Scheherbano Rafay
Hometown: Auburn, Alabama
Major: Business Analytics with a minor in Computer Science
Activities: Previous technical director of Bloomers Comedy Troupe, previous member of Penn Women’s Week Board, West Philadelphia Tutoring Project, previous TA for OIDD 105
34th Street: What was it like growing up in Alabama?
Scheherbano Rafay: I was born in Pakistan. We moved to the US when I was about two. We actually lived at Penn State for a semester while my parents were both getting their PhDs, and then lived in Texas for about six years, and moved to Alabama where I grew up. It’s very different. When I came to Philly it was an adjustment. Alabama is a very sweet place. Everything goes a bit slower, so there’s sort of a homey vibe. When I came to Philly I had to get used to not waving at every single person I saw on the street, because that's what you did back home. It is very homogeneous, so it was a bit tricky at times growing up, especially being who I am, but I think it gave me the ability to understand other people's viewpoints from a place of compassion. Now that I live here, when people ask me where I'm from, it's not like ‘but where are you from, from?’ That exoticism is kind of gone, which is refreshing.
Street: Why did you decide to join Bloomers?
SR: I came to Penn not thinking that I would be doing anything in performing arts. I thought that here it’s serious, it’s professional. I went to the Bloomers free show my freshman year, and I just couldn't stop laughing. I thought it was the funniest thing in the world, and the fact that it was all women was amazing. The last day of auditions, I was sitting in my dorm room, and I was like, 'You know what, why just not go and see if you could get in?' So I auditioned for tech. We basically do all the sets, lights, sounds, props, stage management, basically all of the behind–the–scenes. It's just been an incredible place for me. It's been an environment where I’ve really gotten to learn who I am, and be unapologetic for myself, around incredible women who are each just so amazing for their own special reasons. It's been a great place to have some fun outside of Penn, let loose, and just create something. At the end of our first show my freshman year, I was this terrified freshman still. We have this amazing band, who I just think is like the best thing ever. They start playing, and we're about to start doing bows, and everyone backstage just starts dancing. And I mean dancing like I had never seen people dance before. Everyone was just unabashedly being themselves, dancing just for the sake of having fun with everybody, and celebrating the fact that we had just done this great show. I had never seen so many women together being themselves completely. So I thought ‘you know what, I'm going to dance too.' It was just such a joyous moment where I didn't have to worry about what people thought of me. It was just like we're here together, we made this amazing show, and we're here to support each other. And that's really what it's been throughout the entire four years.
Street: Why did you decide to do tech for Bloomers?
SR: Our Bloomers’ weeks, which are the weeks of our show, are some of my favorite weeks of the year. The fact that we go in there, especially as tech, and build something out of nothing is really great. It was my junior year that I got to be tech director. It was a great experience about learning how to be on an exec board, how to lead people, and make tough decisions. It was awesome, and it still has a very special place in my heart, because it’s been the backbone of my college experience, and I've gotten to make some of my best friends through Bloomers. I've gotten to see the organization grow so much. My freshman year, we were in Houston Hall in this tiny little auditorium. It was a very small scale production, and now we're in IGT [Iron Gate Theater] and we sell out every year. Our cast went to Carnegie Hall. Sometimes I forget that it’s just a bunch of women at Penn who are putting together a show—and I might be a bit biased—but the quality is great. I know I'll be coming back as an alum to see the shows and laugh my head off.
Street: We heard that you spontaneously left for Europe for a month in the summer? How did that happen?
SR: So my junior year, I was a bit burnt out. It was junior spring, towards midterm time, and I was just like, 'I am working so hard but I have no direction.' I didn't have this clarity that I wanted so badly, so I thought, ‘What would make me really happy at this exact moment?’ And I was like, 'I really want to travel and go somewhere.' I had some money saved up from my internships, and so I thought 'Okay, if you want to do something, instead of thinking it would be so nice if I could go to Amsterdam or go to France, why don’t I just do that?' So within 24 hours I had booked a flight to Amsterdam. It was the most spontaneous thing I've ever done in my life. I think I had a midterm the next day. But I think it was a life–changing experience. I went by myself for almost a month. I went to Amsterdam and all around Belgium. I landed in Amsterdam and the first thing I did was get on my phone, once I had Wi-Fi, and Google, ‘What language do they speak in Amsterdam?’ I'm not normally that kind of person, but I think you should have some spontaneity in your life. I went to the Rijksmuseum, and there's this huge field. And it was a beautiful day. They have these lines of trees in that park. So I went into the museum, and I went outside and got my the necessary photo with the “I amsterdam” sign. I had my book in my bag and I was like, 'You know, I’m just going to take a minute, go into the park, and read for a little bit.' So I sat under one of the trees and just read. I thought I was only going to read for maybe half an hour, but half an hour turned into one hour, two hours, three hours. I decided to scrap the plan and just enjoy what I’m doing right now. I got to see families taking picnics, and couples on their first dates in the park, and just got to enjoy my environment. I sat in the happy, instead of trying to find the next happy. I read this book by Shonda Rhimes during my trip. The whole concept of her book was just saying yes to things that scare you, and that was something I’ve taken away from that trip. If you want to do something just do it even if it's really scary. It's a very cliche thing to say, but if you actually apply that, its incredible power will transform the way you live your life. If you decide, 'You know what the hell, why don't I do it?' then those possibilities start expanding a lot.
Street: What do you plan to do after graduation?
SR: I'll be working as a product manager in an enterprise software company in D.C. I’m really excited about it. The geography is great. I sort of have a very Type A, east coast vibe. I love the east coast, and I thought I was going to have to give that up. When I went into tech I think it was one of those moments where I was like ‘Okay, I can only do X, Y, or Z’, so I thought I would have to go to the west coast. I thought I was going to have to do the "normal" path you have to take for product management, and luckily I was able to find a job in D.C. doing a job I love. There are more possibilities than you think there are. I wanted to work at a company that was smaller and growing a lot—a company that had a lot of impact with their clients. The specific company I'm working for, their clients are in a breath of industries. They’re still a very small company; they recently just went public. I still have the opportunity to make the kind of impact I want to make. I don't have to feel like I'm a cog in the machine.
Street: What is your favorite comedy sketch that Bloomers has ever done?
SR: Oo, that’s hard. There are so many good ones. I think one of my favorite ones for sentimental value is the sketch I saw at the free show my freshman year. It’s called “Calvin,” and it was so funny I couldn’t contain myself. And that's the reason I joined Bloomers.
Street: What do you love to cook?
SR: Peach cobbler. I use my mom’s recipe which is really just Paula Deen’s, but it tastes like home.
Street: Do you have any secret or hidden talents?
SR: I don't know how hidden it is, but I learned how to embroider sophomore year. Any and all surfaces that can be embroidered I do them.
Street: What is your favorite East Coast city?
SR: It’s a tie between New York and D.C., depending on my mood.
Street: If you were a building on campus, which would you be?
SR: I’ve never thought about that! That’s good. I’d like to think I’m Fisher Fine Arts, but in reality I’m probably Van Pelt.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
SR: Those who are Bloomers fans and those who haven’t been to a Bloomers show.
Street: And which one are you?
SR: Always a Bloomers fan.