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UW Theatre and Dance Season Closes with ‘Six Songs from Ellis’

April 17, 2018
man surrounded by others on stage
The UW Department of Theatre and Dance will stage “Six Songs from Ellis,” an original work that captures the voices of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, Tuesday, April 24, through Sunday, April 29. (Donald Turner Photo)

The University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance closes its “Finding Freedom” season with “Six Songs from Ellis,” an original work that captures the voices of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in one of the greatest human migrations of all time.

“Six Songs from Ellis” will run Tuesday, April 24, through Saturday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 29, at 2 p.m. on the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts main stage. UW dance faculty member Marsha Knight conceived and choreographed the production, and will direct the show with co-director Leigh Selting.

Tickets cost $14 for the public; $11 for faculty, staff and senior citizens; and $7 for students. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts box office and the Wyoming Union information desk, by calling (307) 766-6666 or going online at www.uwyo.edu/finearts.

“Six Songs from Ellis” is a multimedia dance-theater work that centers on the oral histories of the immigrants and refugees who passed through Ellis Island.

Millions of immigrants and their stories entered the United States through the gates of Ellis Island during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Knight says. Today, more than 40 percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to this period of relatively open immigration through New York’s harbor.

Knight was so affected by the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1990 that she began to consider the possibility of creating a work about the immigrant experience. She conducted research at the Oral History Museum at Ellis Island, which alone houses more than 2,000 oral histories.

A seminal production was presented in 2009, which explored how immigration and refugee crises are topics as critical now as they were 100 years ago, and how attitudes toward access and response to need and crisis can benefit from stories -- inspiring, cautionary and human -- of those who helped to build the country, Knight adds.

During a recent yearlong sabbatical, Knight’s subsequent extensive research of approximately 500 oral histories resulted in a broader glimpse into possibilities for her piece, with 88 individuals represented to date.

“Over the past months of developing the script and getting it on its feet, I continue to find stunning the commonalities, past and present, regarding immigration,” she says. “Depicting the immigrant experience as human and individual is at the heart of this work.”

Knight expresses her passion about the subject and what these stories have to offer audiences.

“These similarities might be about the will to contribute uniquely to American society, the range of these contributions, their effort and pride in family and home, and of places in the world still in conflict,” she adds. “The oral histories have the wisdom and reflection proffered by time, and they offer story and perspective about obstacles, opportunity, hope and achievement.”

Excerpts for the 2018 production include themes of economically forced separation, quotas, genocide, exclusion, location (Syria and Ukraine) and religious bias, and also reflections on freedom, access, economic contribution and American identity.

“The piece has a particular resonance in the current moment as we, as a nation, consider again our relationship to immigrant voices,” Knight says.

For more information, call Kathy Kirkaldie, UW Fine Arts coordinator, at (307) 766-2160 or email kirisk@uwyo.edu.


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