Lit Cleveland Brings Immigrant Stories to CSU Stage for Cleveland Humanities Festival

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Sat 3/18 & Sun 3/19 @ 7PM

If there is one constant among all Americans, it’s the immigrant experience. Unless you have Native- American blood coursing through your veins, at some point an ancestor left a foreign land and came to the United States with the hope of finding a better life.

Tapping into that experience is Literary Cleveland, whose mission is to create and nurture a vibrant literary arts community in Northeast Ohio. The nonprofit put out a call for immigration stories by Northeast Ohio writers. The response was immense, leading to the conception of “Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives.”

Bringing the material — short essays, fiction and poems written by immigrants from Syria, Iran, Colombia, Poland, China, Azerbaijan and elsewhere — to life are professional actors performing stage readings Sat 3/18 and Sun 3/19 at the Cleveland State University student center ballroom. The events are part of the Cleveland Humanities Festival which kicks off this week and runs through late April at various venues around town.

CoolCleveland talked to “Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives” director Marc Moritz, a Cleveland native/resident who spent a quarter of a century working in New York City and Broadway.

What initially appealed to you about “Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives?”

The idea of working on new material from writers about a topic — immigration — that’s important, especially in our political atmosphere. It’s also connected to the Cleveland Humanities Festival, which always does really interesting stuff. So it was the idea of the immigrant experience and the opportunity to gather some great actors to present the material in a theatrical way. Most of these writers are more fiction-focused, so the material isn’t necessarily written for the stage. The challenge is really interesting to try to make their voices heard in a way that’s engaging.

What’s the process been like bringing the production to the stage?

It’s the challenge as a director to make something like that visually interesting with limited options. I’ve assembled a really mixed racial cast. The challenge also is in assigning the material. We have a musician onboard playing keyboards as he hears this material and sort of underscores it when needed. That will be really wonderful. It’s a lot of fun. I always thrive more when there are limitations. It forces me to think outside of the box. Some of these are two or three pages long of just narrative and you have to try to spice it up in some way.

Can you discuss a few of the stories being brought to life with “Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives?”

There’s a piece called “Alien Writer, American Dream” by Maria Perilla. It deals with the idea of the DREAMer as in an immigrant. There’s “Food and Family,” which is written by Crystal Zhao. It tells the story of a second-generation Chinese immigrant. There was so much wonderful material submitted, if we did it all in one night it would be three hours long. So we split it up with a group of writers on Saturday and another on Sunday. There’s some crossover.

How do you think audiences will respond to the production?

What I hope they take away is less about it being a theatrical piece and more about the story. I hope they’re able to hear the words, I hope they’re able to connect to the heart of these writers and what they’re trying to communicate. That’s why I hired five brilliant actors, all of whom will bring something really unique to these pieces.

Considering today’s political climate, “Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives” seems ripe to present a living, breathing portrayal of the American immigrant experience.

The interesting thing is, this is a project that was conceived long before the shit hit the fan. That’s what I like also about it. This would be something worth presenting at any given time in our history, but particularly right now it is what it is.

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