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UW Theatre and Dance Tours ‘Six Songs from Ellis’ in Nine Wyoming Communities

May 3, 2018
dancers on a 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, in nine Wyoming communities later this month. (Donald Turner Photo)

The University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance will tour nine Wyoming communities performing “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.

The tour is supported by UW Fine Arts Outreach, the Wyoming Arts Council, the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, ThinkWY/Humanities Council and UW’s College of Arts and Sciences. The production ran at UW April 24-29.

Tour performances, unless noted otherwise, are free and open to the public. “Six Songs from Ellis” will be performed:

-- Monday, May 14, Cheyenne Civic Center, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children.

-- Tuesday, May 15, Sheridan, WYO Theatre, 7:30 p.m., free.

-- Wednesday, May 16, Sheridan, WYO Theatre, Wyoming Girls School students and other school guests, 10 a.m., free.

-- Thursday, May 17, Thermopolis, Hot Springs County High School, 7 p.m., free.

-- Friday, May 18, Casper, Kelly Walsh High School, 7:30 p.m., free.

-- Saturday, May 19, Torrington, Eastern Wyoming College auditorium, 7 p.m., free.

-- Monday, May 21, Cody High School, Wynona Thompson auditorium, 7 p.m., free.

-- Tuesday, May 22, Riverton, Central Wyoming College, Robert A. Peck Arts Center, 7 p.m., free.

-- Wednesday, May 23, Rawlins High School, 7 p.m., free.

-- Thursday, May 24, Rock Springs, Western Wyoming Community College theater, 7:30 p.m., free.

Following each production, a question-and-answer session will be held by humanities scholars Patty Kessler (week one) and Eric Sandeen (week two). Additional theater and dance workshops, as well as humanities lectures, also will be held in conjunction with performances in each community.

Choreographed and directed by UW dance faculty member Marsha Knight and co-directed by Leigh Selting, “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 detailed information for each community performance, email Knight at mfknight@uwyo.edu.

UW students performing in the production and their hometowns are:

Arvada, Colo. -- Justen Glover.

Aspen, Colo. -- Becca Maniscalchi.

Aurora, Colo. -- Jordan Himelrick and Caleb O’Brien.

Bozeman, Mont. -- Samantha Brooks-Smith.

Brighton, Colo. -- Haley Nigro.

Buffalo -- Laura Kelley (understudy).

Castle Rock, Colo. -- Madison Drab.

Cheyenne -- Elizabeth Daly and Walter Taylor.

Eugene, Ore. -- Stephanie Young.

Glenwood Springs, Colo. -- McKendrey McGown.

Golden, Colo. -- Killian Ramey.

Green River -- Eli West.

Houston, Texas -- Hannah Kipp and Aili Maeve McLellan.

Loveland, Colo. -- Baylee Butcher.

Rapid City, S.D. -- Mariah Leigh Brewer and Heidi Carlson.

Riverton -- Andrew Thornton.

San Antonio, Texas -- Jenna Blazek.

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