By, Teresa Veramendi
Both the actor and the spectator are immigrants – they cross the threshold of the theater and enter a new reality. In the case of documentary theatre, we all become explorers of specific aspects of our reality in such profound detail that our understanding of our lives can be reborn. This is part of the immigrant experience: a new location reveals aspects of identity previously unacknowledged, unaccessed, or unconscious, but always within reach. The spectator’s willingness to travel and the actor’s willingness to embody a new reality makes documentary theatre the ideal vessel to carry the stories of immigrants.
Immigrant documentary theatre creates an urgency in the communities who come together to perform and witness such a performance. When this kind of theatre is made, many more bridges are crossed than the threshold of the front door. The intermixing communities spontaneously share their languages, stories, and translations in rehearsals, in the green room, at the ticket booth, and in the talk backs.
When a spectator is immersed in a multicultural and multilingual reality, their hearts and minds cross into new territories. It is the shortage of multicultural spaces and events that strengthens the systems of racism and xenophobia. The more we talk and listen across borders, the more we build the skill to hold multiple perspectives as equally real. Our society needs immigrant theatre, so that people who have never crossed a border may begin to feel what such a journey demands of the immigrant, and what such realities demand of our society.
When we ask the spectator to listen to a story in two languages, when we ask the actor to tell a story in two languages, we are asking them to reconnect what has been separate within themselves, to excavate the multiplicity of our lineages. By creating bilingual immigrant documentary theatre, we ask all of us to cross a bridge over a wall of fear, to tenderly reach towards what we do not wholly understand, and to fall in love with the musicality of the differences within and around our realities.
Multicultural theatre has been flourishing in the Chicagoland area for decades: Free Street Theater has been making inclusive and innovative multicultural work reaching across the divides of Chicago since 1969; Albany Park Theatre Project is an award-winning multiethnic youth ensemble dedicated to social justice; Urban Theater Company and Teatro Vista consistently produce profound and important Latinx theatre, and the annual Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, Destinos, brings work from other countries to our hometown.
Teresa Veramendi is the writer of Santuario|Sanctuary, which will have a staged reading at the Piven Theater November 16, 17 & 18. Purchase tickets here.
Teresa Veramendi is a proud alum of the Young People’s Company and previous faculty member at the Piven Theatre Workshop, which she considers her artistic home. A graduate of the Tisch Drama Department at New York University, Veramendi received her Master’s degree in Performance Studies from NYU while she performed and wrote theatre Off-Off-Broadway. Since co-founding Theatre of the Oppressed Chicago in 2012, Veramendi has facilitated over one hundred community workshops on diverse topics such as immigration, education, intersectionality, internalized oppression, electoral politics, and career transitions, in various settings and cities around the country. Receiving her MFA in Theatre from Naropa University in 2016, Veramendi has established herself as a theatre maker, playwright, teaching artist, community facilitator, and administrator in higher education. Her work has been performed in Boulder, Chicago, New York, and Buenos Aires.