As part of our yearlong series, New Hampshire’s Immigration Story, NHPR’s Keith Shields attended a performance of “Dreaming Again’ and brings you this report.
(Play) We are gathered here together in this goodland..., New Hampshire, United States, North America, Planet Earth. All of us Immigrants. Or the children of immigrants. Or the children of children of immigrants, or the children or children of children of immigrants. (:16)
Dreaming again is described as ‘an original play’ but there are no central characters, no real plot or set design. The performance is a series of personal stories of immigrants and refugees recited by five actors. Stories of men and women who out of economic or political distress were forced to leave and found a new home in the Granite State.
(Montage of voice sound)
I left Bagdad five days after my graduation. It was very unsafe, you cannot go out at night, anyone would shoot you, it was better to leave... I was working in school during the invasion of Zvornik. They killed 1,200 people in one day... I am the only girl in the family and my mom always told me “ you got to do this, you got to do that”. I think it’s not fair and so it grew a seed in my little mind, just go to the United States.
Cultural lines are blurred in Dreaming Again. An African American actress tells the journey of an Irish woman, A Romanian’s story is recounted by a Venezuelan born actress, while a white actor plays the part of a Bhutanese refugee. The narrative weaves real stories from books, oral histories and interviews. The result is snapshot after snapshot of immigrant life in the Granite State.
I had to leave Ethiopia for Kenya and then had to leave there. When the refugee placement service told me: You are going to New Hampshire. I said: Why New Hampshire? What is even New Hampshire?
“For me, sharing stories is the most connected thing that we can do and a way that we can build community with each other “
Genevieve Achelle was commissioned by the New Hampshire Humanities Council to write and direct Dreaming again.
“It doesn’t matter what language we speak, it doesn’t matter what our traditions are. There are certain things that we as human beings value and we all connect with those stories through our hearts.”
From Dreaming Again, we begin to see a commonality in the immigrant experience, that no matter if you are a German student, a Scottish dye worker or the Burundian who spent a decade in a refugee camp. Each person struggles, each person tries to assimilate, and yet each tries to maintain some of their native traditions. Something that at times is not so easy to do.
My children don’t want the food I cook, the West Indian... We want a pizza and cheese. All the time I cook and then nobody’s going to eat it... Bring us to McDonalds. Our friends go to McDonalds... We are not them... We want to go to McDonald’s. Oh, this is too hard. I don’t know how to be in America!
Connection, identification and understanding are central themes to the play and not just with the audience, some of the cast are themselves immigrants, like Theo Martay, a percussionist in the performance, who came to New Hampshire from Ghana twelve years ago.
“You don’t know what’s going on here and you come here you have to adjust to the system here which is very hard. First snow storm was very different”. (Keith) “So you were one of those people who had never seen snow before” No never!”
I had never seen snow in my life! There was no snow in Pakistan... I look at pictures of snow in the movies, but I never touch, I never actually see. There is no snow in Burundi... We came here from Bhutan,. We were so scared of the snow. But now that feeling has changed. I am a wizard on snow and it is OK by me.
But some of the play’s greatest moments aren’t on stage, they come from the audience. Each performance is followed by a discussion. This talk can be tough and often deeply personal. And sometimes the story on stage comes to life only a few rows away, once again, Genevieve Achelle.
“In the performance in Concord, the woman who told the story about being in Sudan. “
One time they arrest me at Ramadan. All the staff are busy preparing for the eat and they forget the door is open. I clap for the women. I say OK I want to say something. I shout against the President Down, down Al-Bashir! And the Prisoners shout with me: Down, down Al-Bashir.
“She was in the audience and when we finished that scene, she called out ‘that’s my story you did a good job’
For eight years I was not scared of them. But in the hospital one day, they want to arrest one of the doctors there, a girl. My son, who is also a doctor, tried to help her. One of the men pulled his gun and he said to my son: I will kill you like we killed your uncle... After that, my husband and the American ambassador said, “you have to get out of this country now”
It was just one of those moments where this story that we’re watching, it cracks us open a bit and then the real person was there and she was deeply moved and thus we were moved on this next level.
Although performances have ended for now, Achelle hopes there could be a future for Dreaming Again in community theatres and schools. She sees the script as a pallet that can accommodate new stories as New Hampshire’s history dictates and for as long, as the play suggests, new immigrants and refugees come here to dream again.
Consider yourself blessed. This is a beautiful place. Half my heart is there, and half my heart is here. This is the beauty of being an American. You shall pass free wherever you go. You can teach yourself how to dream again. You can teach yourself how to dream again. Welcome to New Hampshire (music)
For New Hampshire Public Radio, I’m Keith Shields