Tales of Travel

"The Migration Project" combines theater and dance to illuminate the choices that come with leaving home

Carlos was pushed out of

his home in Jalisco by NAFTA.

After the free trade bill rolled out in 1994, Carlos and other small Mexican farmers couldn't compete with the subsidized U.S. corn flowing into their country. They had no choice but to migrate north to the United States to find work.

In "The Migration Project," a documentary theater/dance production that will run two weekends at ZUZI Theater, the true story of Carlos's journey from Mexico rolls out in a fashion familiar to Tucsonans.

On his first try crossing the border, Carlos (played by Eddie Diaz) gets caught by Border Patrol north of the Rio Grande. He's held in a freezing cold prison and then deported.

On a second attempt, he gets all the way to Georgia and finds construction work. Yet he misses his family and his girlfriend back home, and he can't seem to find his place in America.

"He's still asking himself questions about how to create home," playwright Eugenia Woods says. "He doesn't have all the answers."

Carlos's wrenching tale is just one of five migration stories acted out in the production, a collaborative theater piece based on interviews with local refugees, immigrants and Native Americans.

"It's like watching five short plays," says Woods, who's written a number of plays produced in Tucson and in Portland.

Framed at beginning and end by the Hopi creation story, the other tales enact the less-familiar journeys of refugees from Africa, the Middle East and China. Each of the migration sagas is distinct but they all touch on universal themes.

"The central questions are 'Why do we migrate? What do we leave behind? How do we create a new home?'" Woods says. "We can all relate to this, either through our ancestors or our own migrations."

But the play is not a straight narrative. The playlets are "short theatrical poems," made more lyrical by dances interspersed throughout. Six ZUZI dancers perform works choreographed by ZUZI artistic director Nanette Robinson. And a "theatrical chorus" of four actors stays onstage, playing subsidiary characters and fleshing out the migrant stories.

Marc David Pinate, who this week takes on the job of producing director at Borderlands Theater, directs the ensemble of 15 performers. The set, sculptural installations designed by artist Wesley Creigh, heighten the atmosphere of myth and ritual.

Though Woods gets writing credit, "The Migration Project" is what she calls a "devised" work. Over a period of almost two years, Woods and company interviewed their sources, many of them people in difficult circumstances associated with the Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Project for refugees. Woods' team also worked with them in art activities at the Tucson Museum of Art and with ZUZI! Dance Company.

Woods then blended the interviews with her own dramatic writing. Sometimes the interviewees' words made it directly into the play. The monologue for one character, Umagore, is woven from verbatim statements made by four women hailing from four nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia and Iraq.

A Hopi elder's words were also transferred directly into the script, while the character of a young Hopi woman speaks a monologue of words gathered from multiple interviewees.

"I make composite characters from interviews, from my research, from community people," Woods says. "I wrote the play but I nod to all those people. They were 'in the room' with me."

The Migration Project

7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 14 and 15, and Nov. 21 and 22

ZUZI! Theater, 738 N. Fifth Ave. in the Historic YWCA

Opening night performance free, first-come, first serve. Tickets for remaining performances $18 general, $15 for students, seniors and military.

Reservations via email at themigrationprojecttucson@gmail.com

Running time: just over two hours with one intermission


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