A family separated, the fear of being deported, a constantly changing political landscape.
California Repertory Company will touch on these issues in its upcoming play, “Dreamers: Aqui y Alla” directed by Andrea Caban and Julie Granata-Hunicutt. The story begins in 2012 and follows a group of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients when former President Barack Obama granted them residency, all the way up to President Donald Trump threatening the program’s existence in 2018.
“It’s a very urgent and necessary piece of theater about dreamers that highlights this question about who gets to call themselves an American and who gets to call this place home,” CalRep Artistic Director Jeff Janisheski said. “I think it’s a beautiful example of the kind of work we want to do here at CalRep, which is work not only responding to urgent issues of our country, but urgent issues of California.”
The production is part of CalRep’s Devising Democracy series, a four-year promise to develop original stories on issues Californians are facing and to create a conversation about democracy.
While “Dreamers” certainly falls in line with that promise, the means to produce this play may be the most interesting aspect about it. In order to research the complex issues of Deferred Action and immigration, the directors and select cast members traveled with a group of students to Mexico to cross the border and visit their families. The trip was made in collaboration with the California-Mexico Studies Center, an organization that has sent over 150 Deferred Action recipients to Mexico in order to let them see their families and return back to the United States safe from the fear of being denied reentry.
“The most important part of the trip is returning home, hugging your grandma, seeing cousins you’ve never met before,” President and CEO of the Cal-Mex Studies Center, Armando Vazquez-Ramos said. “These students were there to capture the emotion and mental state of these dreamers and they were just as impacted. It’s a really unique way of providing perspective.”
After visiting their families, students were prepared through group therapy sessions for the nerve wracking process of crossing back through the border, and the emotional transition of returning home after that. The directors and cast members were present for the entire process, then used those experiences along with interviews and journal entries to devise the original piece.
“My students that went on the trip with me were silent about their experience when we came back,” Caban said. “It surprised me how difficult it was for them to share their experience. I think they realized how similar they are to those students, but yet they’re documented and those students are undocumented. They were silenced by their privilege.”
Although the play is emotionally driven, it doesn’t shy away from the political aspects of Deferred Action and those who can be held accountable for its outcome. Verbatim interviews from politicians speaking about the issue are mixed into the play, along with a real-time updated aspect of current news being inserted into the ending.
Caban wanted the play to react to any news that comes out about the bill and communicate it to audiences, so chose to leave a window at the end of each night for a different ending that includes those updates.
“It’s the play of the moment,” Caban said. “So I want it to be able to respond to the moment.”
By pointing audiences to the real-time events that are affecting Deferred Action recipients, they are able to convey a call to action and to make the issue more relatable to students, whether they are affected by those changes or not.
“A lot of times when people talk about dreamers they speak in abstract and stereotypes,” Vazquez-Ramos said. “That’s why we’re trying to give a human face to the issue. That’s why this opportunity is so important.”
“Dreamers: Aqui y Alla” will premiere at 8 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Cal State Long Beach Studio Theater. Shows will continue through Feb. 25 with a special viewing on Feb. 22 followed by an inside look at the making of the play with collaborators. Tickets can be purchased at the Studio Theater or by visiting http://web.csulb.edu/colleges/cota/theatre/on-stage-now/index.html.