Documentary play about border, immigration going up this summer

March 18, 2019 GMT

A group of high school students from Dallas spent Spring Break in the Rio Grande Valley working on "Crossing the Line," a documentary-style theatrical show being co-produced by the Cry Havoc Theater Company and the Kitchen Dog Theater group in Dallas.

The students conducted first-person interviews with people who have made the difficult trek from Central America to seek asylum in the United States and are waiting at a refugee camp in Matamoros for a U.S. asylum interview.

The group also observed the U.S. government’s official immigration and refugee/asylum aparatus in action, visiting immigration courts in Harlingen and McAllen, conducting interviews with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in McAllen. They also volunteered at the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen and traveled to the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias.

Based on the student interviews, Mara Richards Bim of Cry Havoc and Tim Johnson, managing director of Kitchen Dog Theater will compose the script for "Crossing the Line." Marisela Barrera, a creative consultant from San Antonio and an Alamo native, also will help shape the script.

The students then become the actors in the documentary play, which is to go up July 18-Aug. 4. Two of the students were actors in Cry Havoc’s production of "Babbel," a critically acclaimed and similarly produced show about gun violence based on the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut. The other six students were chosen for parts through auditions.

Interviews are to continue through April, among them with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas and, the group hopes, with Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso native and Democratic candidate for president who came close to unseating Texas’ other Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, in the 2018 election.

"To me, the most compelling part is getting to connect with these people and hearing them tell us why they fled," said Angie Hogue, a junior.

Landon Robinson, a sophomore, added, "You hear a lot of hearbbreaking stories about what’s going on in these northerrn triangle countries (Hondouras, Guatemala and El Salvador). The reasons are very real why these people are fleeing. They’re fleeing gangs, gang violence and poverty in their countries. It was realy tough to hear these stiories and see the babies and children living in tents."

Ollin Barrera Fernandez, a senior who has family living in Mexico in relatively good conditions, said he has spent lots of time in Mexico but that squaring that experience with conditions in the refugee camp was difficult.

Larsen Nichols, a junior who appeared in Babbel, said she has high hopes for Crossing the Line.

"Theater produces a much more viceral reaction," she said. "It’s really an all-sensory experience, with the audience being able to experience what we experienced but in an even more powerful way. Theater is the most viceral art form you can experience," she said, adding that Crossiing the Line gives the students the capability to tell the refugees’ stories when they themselves can’t.

"What we all want to do is tell the real story," she said.

"It’s not like playing a character," Bim said. "It’s moments from these interviews presented theatrically, with reflections by the students."

Bim, who started the Cry Havoc Theater Co. five years ago to give students the opportunity to be cast for plays based purely on their talent, said Crosssing the Line is intended to encompass everything now happening at the southern border with regard to the nation’s immigration debate.

Johnson started Kitchen Dog Theater 28 years ago. Its work is based on justice and human freedom issues, he said.

The premise behind Crosing the Line is that young people, however they have arrived on the border hoping to enter the United States, "have become political pawns in a national debate about identity and patriotism. Their fates are entwined with the fate of a country grappling with a surge of white nationalism and contradictory claims of religious freedom. Where do we go from here?" promotional material on the Cry Havoc website asks.