NEW HAVEN - "Stories of New America" an original play about refugees resettling in New Haven, will premiere at the fourth annual celebration of World Refugee Day hosted by IRIS—Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services from 5 to 9 p.m. June 22, at Henry R. Luce Hall on the Yale University campus.
In addition to Stories, this year's World Refugee Day program also features master Guinean dancer Aly "Tatchol" Camara and members of his company, Kouffin Kanecke, who will open the celebration with a community drum circle and African dance on the outside lawn. Inside, a special exhibition, Carry-Ons, showcases portraits of refugees now living in New Haven by photographer Andrew Hogan. Hogan's photos show the refugees with objects that they brought with them to the U.S.
Fourteen regional visual artists—including Susan Clinard, Marjoree Wolf, Hank Paper, Blinn Jacobs, Mary Lester, and Edith Borax-Morrison—donated work to the silent auction to help provide housing, food, and medicine for refugee clients of IRIS. Works by refugee artists will also be displayed.
Stories of a New America
In January 2010, Collective Consciousness Theatre (CCT) began its collaboration with IRIS, a non-profit agency in New Haven that serves refugees, persecuted people from around the world. Stories of a New America is the result of that collaboration. Over a one-year period, CCT artists conducted theater workshops and interviewed over fifty refugees at IRIS. The script's dialogue is drawn verbatim from those interviews and was woven together by playwrights Aaron Jafferis and Madeleine Ardito, both CCT company members. On June 22, a cast of professional actors and refugees will perform the play at 6:00 and 8:00 PM.
"We are thrilled to partner with Collective Consciousness Theatre and the other dynamic artists and performers for this year's World Refugee Day celebration," says Chris George, Executive Director of IRIS. "After experiencing war and other atrocities, the refugees at IRIS were buoyed by the opportunity to share their resettlement stories with CCT. Stories of a New America came about because of their honesty and because a dedicated group of artists worked hard to realize our dream of a co-production. The result is a one-of-a-kind theater experience of which we are all proud."
IRIS currently serves refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. Refugees are men, women, and children who have been persecuted in their countries of origin on the basis of race, religious belief, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion. They are invited by the U.S. government to resettle in this country.
World Refugee Day ticket sales and event sponsorships will be shared between IRIS and CCT to support the work of both non-profit organizations.
IRIS—Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services is a federally recognized refugee resettlement agency that provides case management, housing services, health care coordination, and employment services to refugees and other displaced people. Through its legal services clinic, citizenship preparation program, food pantry, and after school program, IRIS serves refugees, asylees, and the larger immigrant community.
Collective Consciousness Theatre is a multicultural theatre company dedicated to examining social issues through theatre, with a larger goal of promoting positive social change. CCT is best known for its work with young people, particularly New Haven's inner city public school students. CCT approaches its work with utmost seriousness because the company knows—and has witnessed many times—the power of theatre to change minds, open hearts, and unlock doors.
Aly "Tatchol" Camara, master of Guinean dance, is a native of Dansy, a small village in Guinea, West Africa. As a young child, he began learning folklore, traditional dancing, and drumming as part of everyday life in his village. He enjoyed an international career as a professional dancer and in 1995 became the principal dance instructor for Connecticut's New Haven School of African Dance and Drum. He continues to teach in the area's public and private school systems, at regional workshops, and at Yale University. For more information visit http://www.guineadance.com/ or the company's Facebook page.
Each year, the United Nations designates World Refugee Day to raise public consciousness about the refugee experience. Currently there are an estimated 15 million refugees worldwide. The United States invites approximately 70,000 refugees annually to come to this country; each year, IRIS resettles 150-200 of these. Refugees must complete a rigorous screening process to be granted legal "refugee status" by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Aly Tatchol Camara performs at 5:00 PM. Stories of a New America at 6:00 and 8:00 PM (two performances). Visual art, food, and additional music throughout the evening, 5:00-9:00 PM.
Tickets to the June 22 World Refugee Day celebration are $20 (suggested donation), available at the door at Henry R. Luce Hall, 34 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven. Seating for Stories of a New America is limited. For reservations, call IRIS at (203) 562-2095.
Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed.