Immigration and refugee crisis are critical topics now as they were 100 years ago. Unsubstantiated fear and misinformation prompt current policies and actions of bias, beckoning reflection and awareness of who we are and the true diversity of our constitution. Attitudes toward access and response to need and crisis can benefit from stories – inspiring, cautionary and human – of those who helped build this country.
Millions of stories came through Ellis Island during the years of comparatively open immigration (1892-1922).
Six Songs from Ellis is a multi-genre work based on these oral histories, demonstrating commonalities past and present encountered by those taking drastic steps to improve their lives. Making the immigrant experience human and individual is at the heart of this work.
Six Songs from Ellis
Premise and Research
Millions of stories came through Ellis Island during the years of comparatively open immigration (1892-1922). An exhaustive effort by the Oral History Program at Ellis Island Museum began in the 1970’s to gather oral histories of immigrants and refugees who passed through New York’s Harbor.
Six Songs from Ellis is a multi-genre work based on these stories, and of commonalities past and present encountered by those taking drastic steps to improve their lives. The voices of 88 immigrants from 25 countries are represented in this full-evening dance/theatre work where oral history audio is blended with actor’s use of text, dance and physical abstraction, projection of historic images and music true to country of origin.
Six Songs is the outcome of my 2016-2017 sabbatical in NYC where I spent months at Ellis Island’s Oral History Library listening to and editing oral histories, developing the script, gathering historic images, signatures, and considering structure. Script content is based entirely on oral histories of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island—many excerpts thematically grouped having to do with reasons for leaving, forced removal from home, reflections on this and their journey, arrival in the NY Harbor, and statements on their lives as Americans; reflections on a lifetime of contributions made to our society. These thematic chapters are the “Six Songs”; to the end of understanding of why people make drastic moves to change their life.
Relevance and content of this work are indeed timely.
A Thematic Offering of Human Voices
Dreams for change, uprooting, strategy, vision of America from afar
The First Song:
The Walk Away
Genocide: Armenian and Jewish oral histories; forced uprooting, no return
The Second Song:
The Song Of Flight
What they did and did not bring, mélange en route, the new, the harbor
The Third Song:
Water Under Foot
Ellis in awe, humor and fear, discovering father/uniting, feet on new soil
The Fourth Song:
Landing On Two Feet
Themes on barriers, exclusion, deportation
The Fifth Song:
A Change Of Current
The Statue, heart here and behind, reflection, contribution, being an American
The Sixth Song:
At The Lady's Feet
Photo Credit: David Andrews Photography