Lancaster City Culture - Fulton Youtheatre

Lancaster City Culture - Fulton Youtheatre

Among Ruth’s memorabilia are dozens of theater programs, playbills and ticket stubs from theaters in Philadelphia, New York, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona and other major cities around the world, as well as from F&M’s Green Room Theatre and the Fulton Opera House right here in Lancaster. Ruth clearly enjoyed theater – all kinds of theater from opera to Broadway, from comedy to musicals to drama.

I have a hunch she would have really loved the upcoming production of For We Were Strangers In The Land by Fulton’s Youtheatre.

“My name means peace, for I was born in a time of peace,” says “Businge”, an immigrant from Uganda who comes to America, seeking a peaceful life after escaping from the war in his own country. Businge is a character in For We Were Strangers In The Land, the newest Youtheatre production at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, which opens Wed July 20 and runs through Sat July 23, 2011.

Businge’s story, and the stories of other immigrants from Latvia, Korea, the former Soviet Union, Mexico, Bhutan, Cuba, Gaza and Ethiopia are woven together with urgent questions and divergent perspectives on the immigrant experience in America. The youth who are involved in Youtheatre interviewed Lancaster residents who immigrated from these and other countries to gather the stories for the play. The youth also studied US immigration policy and the politics surrounding immigration, then worked with local playwright and author, Sandy Asher, to create the play. And for the past year, they’ve been rehearsing (see photo above), creating music to accompany the play, and engaging in deep discussion about the subject. Last summer, they held several public performances of the play in “workshop” format. This year’s shows will be full-length performances on the Fulton’s Main Stage.

“When we first started on this play last year, I thought how deep could this run? It’s just about people coming to America,” says Kyle Harris, a member of the Youtheatre ensemble. “But it turns out this is a very deep story.”

Nicole Reyes-Molina says, “This is about understanding people’s different backgrounds and where they’re coming from.”

For many of the ensemble members, the subject of this play is deeply personal.

“Some of my family was forced to immigrate,” David Silva explains. “I came to Youtheatre to be in this play because I wanted to understand how they feel.”

The play means a lot to Alyssa Fernandez because her family is from the Taino Indian tribe in Puerto Rico.

Emily Hill remembers how she felt immigrating to the US from Latvia when she was nine. “I’m honored to be part of this play,” she says. “It’s a way of honoring my own people. Some people think all immigrants are bad somehow, but it’s not true.”

Naiby Perez adds, “There are so many people around us who are immigrants. They’re human beings – not animals. To play the part of an immigrant becomes not only acting, but it helps us to feel.”

As one after another of the 35 or so Youtheatre ensemble members spoke about what this play means to them, it was obvious that it’s had a profound impact on them. Ranging in age from 13 to 22, these young people are as diverse as the immigrants they’re portraying. The award-winning year-round Youtheatre program, led by Teaching Artists Barry Kornhauser and Adele Ulrich, brings together teens from all walks of life. Many of them have personally experienced marginalization and discrimination based on their race, socioeconomic status, disability or involvement in the juvenile justice system. For some, being involved in this production has challenged their own beliefs and perceptions.

“This has changed lots of my thoughts about others,” observes Joshua Hendren, who’s in his second year with Youtheatre. “Coming here has helped me to see that there’s no difference between us, whether black or white or whatever – underneath our different colored skin, we’re the same.”

Joshua Prescott mentions another realization he’s come to through this play. “I play the role of Max, who is from the USSR. He comes to America to provide a better life for his daughter. When he gets to a supermarket here, he cries because of all the abundance. I go home and look around at all the stuff we have that we take for granted. It has made me appreciate all that I have.”

For Christopher Aguila, the stories of Nepalese immigrants in the play helped him make a special connection with several new immigrant students from Nepal who attend his school. “I’ve gotten to know them, spent time with them, celebrated Christmas with them, tried some of their food.” He laughs. “Their food is VERY SPICY! But it’s been good to know more about Nepali people.”

Carlos Sanchez has been inspired by his involvement with this play to spend time thinking about issues of immigration and prejudice. He shares these observations. “I’ve noticed that it’s hard for people to get to the United States, with all of the official papers and procedures they have to go through. They think of the US as a place of equal opportunity, and they hope for people here to like and respect them. They just want to live in peace. But the media and others put a lot of fear into American citizens that immigrants are bad. Immigrants come here hoping for a better life, but it’s hard to get that life, because of all of our fears and suspicions.” He concludes, “It isn’t right.”

Kyle Harris sees this play as an opportunity for all of the youth in the ensemble to do something about that. “There’s a lot of hate being built up about immigrants. If we don’t speak up to stop that, then who will? We are a voice. And these are times when the ideas in this play need to be expressed.”

The voices of these young people from the Youtheatre ensemble will challenge and enlighten the public beginning next Wednesday, July 20, 2011. Be sure to come and hear what they have to say.

For We Were Strangers in the Land
Fulton Opera House, 12 N Prince St, Lancaster, PA: 

Performance dates and times:
Wednesday, July 20 at 2:00 p.m. (Preview)

Thursday, July 21 at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. (Preview)

Friday, July 22 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 23 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (Note: there will be a symposium discussion after the final 7pm performance on Saturday)

Admission is free. A goodwill donation will be collected to benefit two organizations chosen by the youth:

Church World Service of Lancaster – Immigration & Refugee Program


the Lancaster office of the Lutheran Church & Family Services (LCFS) Refugee Resettlement Program.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa ruths story peace

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