(Artists Repertory Theatre & tour of High Schools)
Border Crossings takes firsthand look at immigrant experience
El Hispanic News
by Paul Weideman
Voices of the voiceless
The Asian Reporter
by Miae Kim
Straddling Two Worlds
By Nancy Mayer
“Nakt: Stories From the Holocaust”
The process that Barbara Kite takes the young actors through is impressive. Barbara Kite did an astounding job with the teens, teaching them and guiding them through every facet of the play project, from researching, interviewing, promoting, and producing to performing! She is highly skilled at working with young people and is also highly skilled in the performance arts – a rare combination! I have been a theatergoer for over 25 years and never have I been so moved by a piece of art. This play should be seen by a wider audience, as was the sentiment of vocal audience members at the last show!
The experience as expressed by the NAKT actors at the end of their performance during Talk Back was deep, meaningful and priceless. It was evident that the young adults were invested completely in this project and were very proud of the results. Teens do not have enough outlets like this to express themselves and to contribute to the larger community in real and important ways. That is a real tragedy. If we only had more brilliant and caring adults like Barbara Kite in our young people’s lives!
I experienced her process on several levels: first, as a parent. My 18-year-old son, Hank Cattell, was involved in the evolution of this project for 5 months. It was interesting to watch him research, interview survivors and struggle with putting his part of the play together. He spoke to me about what an honor it was to record the survivor’s personal history – an awesome task for anyone and an important one for our culture. He is very proud of the work he contributed and has said that the experience will stay with him his entire lifetime.
Second, I experienced it as an audience member. I was moved to tears so many times during their performance – the realness was disarming. The truth that the survivors shared is a gift to the young actors and the rest of us too young to know the depth of this horrific event in real human terms. After my five family members and I saw this play we talked late into the night about what we might have done in the survivor’s situation. We discussed what we are doing today about current situations in the world. We also spoke about what we could do on a daily basis to fight negative biases of all kinds – racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, classism. Speaking out and taking action were what we came up with to fight discrimination. The play gave birth to that conversation and had a ripple effect on my family.
If you have an opportunity to fund this event, to have your teens participate in this event or support this event in any way the rewards will be long lasting and invaluable. It has been for my family. Barbara Kite has created a tremendous process and may as many people as possible see this play, read this script and learn about the courage and determination of the survivors. Furthermore, may many new young actors continue to go through this process with Barbara Kite so they too can experience this life-enriching event. Their experience will cascade positively through our community for years to come.
From: Mary Schutten
Memory fuels Holocaust Play
By: Stephen Blair
Issue date: 5/29/2001
“The stories must be told and retold until the killing stops.” – from “Nakt: Stories from the Holocaust”
For many high school students, the end of the school year is a time to blow off homework and daydream about the pleasures of summer vacation.
For the nine students in Barbara Kite’s Professional Acting for Young Adults workshop, the academic year is closing on a more serious note. Since late January, the young actors from Grant, Lincoln, Wilson and Pacific Crest high schools have been delving into survivors’ memories of World War II in preparation for a show called “Nakt: Stories from the Holocaust.”
Funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, the performance consists of stories, poetry, music and choreographed body movement. “Nakt,” which means “naked” in German, opens at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center on Thursday.
On a recent Tuesday evening, the students gathered in a Pearl District studio to rehearse. As they meditated and stretched before running through the script, Barbara Kite provided them with an unlikely pep rally. “It’s all about failing,” she told them.
Though the words sounded dispiriting, it soon became apparent that they were meant to provide a source of power. Kite, a compassionate and somewhat irreverent director, was asking the actors to take risks without worrying about the quality of the results. In Kite’s method, acting is an ongoing process of trial and error. “It’s about trying things that are scary,” she said.
Since the project’s inception four months ago, Kite has pushed her students to venture outside their comfort zones to develop the play. Devoting over 10 hours a week to the project, the students watched “Shoah,” a lengthy documentary about the Holocaust, and read work by Viktor E. Frankl and other writers.
In addition to this research, Kite required each student to interview a World War II survivor before writing his or her portion of “Nakt.”
After the rehearsal, Kite and her students gathered to discuss their progress. While Kite applauded the students’ grasp of the pain in the material, she asked that they try to balance the grueling content of “Nakt” with some levity.
“I feel like you have the subtext going,” she said, “but don’t give in to the sadness so much. Find humor somewhere. Think of it as relief.”
Jocelyn Edelstein, a Grant High School senior who has been working with Kite for four years, discussed the challenges of incorporating playful touches into an emotionally harrowing play.
While working on it, she said: “I felt sad, and I was having nightmares. I struck a balance when Barbara encouraged me to find happiness in my character.” By integrating some light touches into her performance, Edelstein said, she has learned to channel her sadness about the Holocaust into a new found appreciation for her family and friends. “I feel super grateful for the things that I’m lucky to have,” she said.
Kali Eichen, also a senior at Grant, is quick to acknowledge that Kite’s program is demanding. “Barbara asks a lot from us,” she said. Asked what started her studying with Kite, Eichen said: “I had taken theater classes at Grant that went nowhere. I wanted to learn more professional techniques, and Barbara’s class seemed right.”
Though Eichen called her involvement in “Nakt” an experience that she would repeat “anytime, anywhere,” she conceded that parts of the process were stressful.
“I was really scared before my first interview,” she said. But her nervousness was assuaged by Alegre Tevet, the Greek woman who was the subject of that interview. “She was the sweetest woman,” Eichen said. “She had done a lot of public speaking, so she was very forthcoming.”
Eichen also interviewed Judith Meller, originally from Czechoslovakia, who was selected for – and ultimately spared – medical experimentation by Dr. Josef Mengele during her internment in the Auschwitz concentration camp. After they completed the interviews, Eichen and the other actors sat down to write “Nakt.” Kite estimated that about half of the play consists of true stories from the survivors, while the rest showcases original writing by the students.
Though “Nakt” has shaped up as a powerful, well-acted production, Kite emphasized that it doesn’t matter whether it emerges as a great work of art.
“This is not a professional piece,” she said. “But it is the most important theatrical experience the students have had so far.”
“Nakt: Stories from the Holocaust” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday and on June 3, 6 and 7 at Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave. Tickets are $5.
Play Recreates WWII’s Victims, Survivors
Summary: Portland students write, act and produce the series of monologues and scenes about the Holocaust
By: Annie Chuang
Issue Date: 6/04/01
When Alexa Dreyer signed on to research, write and act in a play about the Holocaust along with eight other teens, she absorbed every book on the subject she could find. But all the historical facts she learned seemed impersonal.
“I felt as if it were hopeless to put the project together and relate it to my life,” said Dreyer, 19.
Then she interviewed Hillsboro resident Alter Wiener, a concentration camp survivor who lost his entire family in the Holocaust of World War II.
“He was not what I expected. Instead of a bitter man, he’s the most loving, kind, sweet man I had ever met,” Dreyer said. “Suddenly my writer’s block went away, and everything I had put in my head just came out.”
In the acting class that created “Nakt: Stories From the Holocaust,” Dreyer and the other teens struggled with how to bring to life events that happened long before they were born.
The play debuted last week and continues through Thursday at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center.
Acting teacher Barbara Kite, whose mother is a survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany, directed and coordinated the play after receiving a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant.
The play is a series of scenes and monologues, all written by the performers. Many of the pieces are taken verbatim from interviews, said participant Hank Cattell, 18, a Lincoln High School senior.
All of the participants attend Portland high schools except for Dreyer, who is a first-year student at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus.
“The nine of us were doing everything,” including script writing, editing and handling the logistics of the production, said Cattell, who is publicity director for the show.
“I don’t consider myself a writer, so it was very difficult,” he said. “It got very emotional at times. To take all these things in, it hurts.”
Cattell said the play evolved a great deal during the six months they worked on it.
At first, students were most interested in shock value, but they eventually realized they wanted to send a message — hence the play’s refrain, “The stories must be told and retold until the killing stops.”
“The hardest part for me is that it’s still happening,” he said. “The Hutus and Tutsis are killing each other. Look at what is happening inBorneo. The Holocaust isn’t a thing of the past.”
Other participants in “Nakt” include: Julie Davis, Jocelyn Edelstein, Kali Eichen, Jessica O’Connor, Danielle Ross, Shaun Macneary and Jim Thorson.
BORDER CROSSINGS Takes Firsthand Look at Immigrant Experience
High school students write and perform thought-provoking theatre
Issue Date: 6/02/99
El Hispanic News
The loud, brave voices of this country’s immigrants will be heard this Sunday, June 6 at the Artists Repertory Theatre in downtown Portland. Border Crossings, a courageous, honest work written and performed by local high school students, explores the multitudinous voices of immigrants that are often left obscured by language and cultural barriers.
The work is a culmination of an effort by a dedicated group of high school actors, members of the Professional Acting for Young Adults Workshop, under the guidance of professional actor and theatre director Barbara Kite. A grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council helped make the innovative work possible.
The students, who attend Grant and Lincoln High Schools, wrote the script after months of interviews with immigrants hailing from diverse backgrounds. “What you had to do was find out what that person was about,” said actor Jasper Patterson, 16, of the interviewing process.
The immigrants were contacted primarily through local ESL programs, and from interviews, the students worked collaboratively to write a script. “We spent a lot of time sifting through (information),” said actor Zeke Spier, 18. Actress Oriana Lewton-Leopold, a senior at Lincoln High School, added, “We got a lot of freedom to edit.”
According to the students, Barbara Kite, the workshop’s director and an immigrant herself, was the projects’ impetus, offering invaluable suggestions and feedback. Kite envisioned the entire process as a learning experience: “(The students) learned a lot. It helps them as human beings to be in contact with voices that need to be heard.”
The final production of Border Crossings, consisting of short scenes and monologues, avoids a clean, simple synthesis of the immigrant experience. One scene ends with the lament of an Ethiopian immigrant, “I have a bitter taste in my mouth and I hate this country,” while the next one opens with the reverent reflections of a Vietnamese immigrant: “America is freedom.America has choices and opportunity everywhere”.
The experience of Hispanic immigrants is readily noticeable in the production. “Cuba Was…” gives vent to a Cuban immigrant’s frustrations with this country’s hypocrisy. “I Miss You Mama” is a tender recollection by a Mexican immigrant of Christmas at home, when there was “the unity of people, cherishing love and light and faith together.”
The script is powerful and jolting, challenging the audience to confront their society’s attitudes towards immigration. The actors, many of whom aspire to theatrical careers, deftly guide their audience through the strong imagery and complex emotions that immigrants conveyed during the interviews.
“We are conduits,” says Kris Wallsmith, a graduating senior at Grant High School, about the actors’ portrayal of the alienation, bitterness, nostalgia and wonder experienced by immigrants. “We wanted to tell and rethink (the immigrant experience) and we did that,” adds Spier.
Border Crossings will be performed at Artists Repertory Theatre on Sunday, June 6 at 8:00 p.m.
Voices of the voiceless: A play for immigrants
By: Miae Kim
Issue Date: 6/22/99 -6/28/99
The Asian Reporter
There was no polite dialogue to please the audience at Border Crossings: The Voices of Immigrant Teenagers, presented by The Acting Workshop for Young Professionals at Artists Repertory Theatre last month. There were only honest voices of immigrants.
Border Crossings gave voice to voiceless immigrants from different countries and different opinions. The characters were Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Islamic, German, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and African teenagers.
The truth and reality of immigrants came from the voices of eight teenage actors and actresses. For four months, these teenagers did the interviewing, writing, editing, directing and publicity for the performance.
WHY IMMIGRANT ISSUES?
Why immigrants’ issues as a theme? “Because I am an immigrant,” Kite said. Her parents are Polish. They were living in Sweden after the war, and her mother was in a concentration camp. They came to Canada when she was five.
At such a young age, she had to struggle between two worlds. The language problem was one of the many obstacles. She had to speak Polish at home and English at school. But probably the biggest problem she faced was the discrimination against immigrants.
“I was called a dirty DP (displaced person),” said Kite.
Her pain and struggle as an immigrant, however, did not stop her from growing as a warm-hearted human being, actress, director, and acting coach. It made her reach out to people who are isolated and suffering.
“What matters to me is that which makes the audience understand that we are not alone, that we are all human beings, that we are all on the same journey.”
At Border Crossings, you could feel her philosophy about the theatre in each scene. Kite even allowed the theatre to use her own experience as an immigrant in the scene of the INS interview. She’d recently had an interview to obtain American citizenship.
An immigration officer asks an Almost Citizen, “Are you now and/or have you ever been a member of, or in any way connected or associated with, the Communist Party?” Almost Citizen asks, “Are you still asking that question?” The INS officer looks at her disapprovingly and makes a note of her question. Almost Citizen asks if she can see the note, but the INS officer refuses and just repeats the question. The Almost Citizen finally answers the immigration officer with expected, “No”.
“That’s scary,” Kite recalled. “Imagine people who are dependent on being American citizens because they don’t want to go back. How would they feel in these interviews?”
“I HAD A DREAM”
The scene of ‘I Had A Dream’ paints a picture of a lost soul in despair in a foreign country.
“I was lost in a world I couldn’t understand…they would nod, they would smile, their lips would move, but no sound would come out. I was deaf. They would turn around and walk away from me to their own lives…I did not exist. This entire land of people was so willing to leave me alone. I woke up screaming.”
Sometimes, an immigrant feels this – total isolation.
Another heart-breaking scene was ‘I Miss You, Mama’. Jocelyn, a Mexican girl monologizes: “I still believe in you,America. What hurt me most was living without my family. Just me and my sister with an American family, an American culture. My parents care so much about me that they sacrificed a family so that their children could have a better life. But I realize now how precious my culture was.”
In the scene “All You Can Eat,”Nam from Vietnam talks about how America has become a reality from the rosy dreamland when she arrived here. To her,America is a place where she has to work very hard to support her family.America is where she takes one ten-minute break in five hours of work.
However, to Zeke from Romania, a communist country, America is freedom to make money and buy a car. To him, America is “the Garden of Eden” where “These beautiful fat white people bask.”
In the scene “Catching Fish”, Jasper from China advises the audience “to come to terms with who you are very quickly,” not to lose yourself, and to hold on to some part of your culture “with our nails.”
Jasper Patterson, a Grant High School student, age 16, said doing this theater production had meaning for him. He has done a lot of theater before, but prior performances did not really say anything to him.
“Doing this helped me figure out what theatre is about, that it is really giving messages to people and having them understand something.”
Jocelyn Edelstein, 15, said the play changed her perspectives. “I feel like I can relate so much more to the rest of the world and teenagers.”
To Kris Wallsmith, 18, the play was an opportunity to make new immigrants friends. “I met a lot of people at Grant and I said hi to all. Out of nowhere, I went to a prom last night and I met someone there I had interviewed.”
Straddling Two Worlds
By: Nancy Mayer
Issue Date: 6/1/99
A high school student waved his hand from the audience to get the attention of a cast of actors on-stage. He had a simple question.
“How could you know enough about discrimination to write a play about it?” he asked the actors after their recent performance of “Border Crossings” at Franklin High School in Northeast Portland.
“Sure, we’re a bunch of white kids,” replied Jasper Patterson, shrugging his shoulders. “But we spent a lot of time with immigrant teens to understand how they felt. ”
“Border Crossings” is a series of dialogues about immigration. The eight teen-age actors, all members of actress Barbara Kite’s Professional Acting Workshop, interviewed Islamic, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and African teenagers in Oregon.
With a $1,800 grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and stories culled from the dreams and hope of the people interviewed, the teenagers created “Border Crossings” to tell others how it feels to be uprooted from one culture and assimilated into another.
The play also allowed the eight young actors to demonstrate how theater can help people understand each other.
Three of the actors spoke about how they are crossing their own borders.
Teenager Jocelyn Edelstein, for one feels caught between childhood and adulthood.
Fellow actress Sabra Choi, a second generation Chinese American, knows how it feels to be assimilated into the mainstream culture.
And as a bright student, Zeke Spier knows he could go to college and become an engineer, but he wonders if he might take a chance and instead cross the border between amateur acting and the professional stage.