Because You Are Here

December 6, 7, and 8, 2018 @ 8pm and December 8 @ 2pm.
Spanish interpretation & childcare were available at the 2pm matinee performance.
Talk back with cast & community collaborators followed.

Whitman College Harper Joy Theatre, Walla Walla, WA

Ideated & facilitated with Jessica Cerullo
Written by: Jessica Cerullo, Emma Cooper, Francisco Esquivel, Madeline (Maddy) Gold, Erina Horikawa, Tia Kramer, Evan Marks, Donovan Olsen, Sabina Rogers, Dani Schlenker, Mira Skladany
Production was comprised of interviews with 10 Walla Walla community members who co-authored this show with us: Amanda, Ana, Fernando, Leon, Luis Mendez, Luna, Mariela Rosas, Paco, Sandy Garcia, Ursula Volwiler.
Performed by: Emma Cooper, Francisco Esquivel, Madeline (Maddy) Gold, Erina Horikawa, Polly Officer, Donovan Olsen,  Sabina Rogers, Matthew Schetina, Dani Schlenker, Mira Skladany

Because You Are Here is a performance based on interviews with immigrant and first generation members of the Walla Walla community. Typically a theatre production will begin with a script written by a playwright. Devised theater inverts this classic hierarchy and instead this work was written by the members of the cast with input from all our community partners.

Because You Are Here embodies questions and experiences of migration that are shaping our nation and our small community of Walla Walla—an agricultural community with a thriving wine and food production industry that has relied heavily on migrant labor for decades. We asked our neighbors to share their moments of exclusion and belonging, invisibility and courage. We then invited those interviewees to contribute as collaborators, editors, observers and creators in the theatre-making process.

After each performance, audience members were invited onto the stage to listen to a story phone line, HEAR HERE WALLA WALLA, which we created in tandem with the performance as another means to in order to share excerpts from the featured interviews. The audience was also invited to talk with representatives from the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition, a community organization focused on ensuring the rights of immigrants through education, access to legal counseling and moral and social support services. After the Saturday matinee performance, the cast and a few interviewees who were willing to be identified joined the public for a discussion about the making of the work and the impact of the work on their individual and civic lives.

Because You Are Here is a devised theater play that Director Jessica Cerullo and I conceived in early 2018. We co-authored the performance with 8 students in the Fall 2018 Devised Theatre and Social Practices Course at Whitman College as well as 11 community members and leaders who joined in the process. In addition to co-teaching the course with Jessica Cerullo and working closely with her and three Senior students on solidifying our final script, I also served a social choreographer and community liaison. I did initial research, conducted a community assessment interviewing more than 35 community members to learn about the impact of national immigration policy on our intimate town, I paired interviewer and interviewees, and I served as an engagement and ethics advisor for the project as a whole.

Voice Actors were utilized (in some instances) to re-record interview segments: Ynez Vargas, Larry Miller, Carlos Vargas Salgado & Madeline (Maddy) Gold
Spanish translation: Ynez Vargas & Larry Miller
Hear Here Walla Walla sound designer & technologist Eric John Olson
Hear Here Walla Walla
listening booth
designed by David Schulz, Tia Kramer and Jessica Cerullo with core concept work by Eric John Olson & Tia Kramer.

Directed by Jessica Cerullo
Social Choreographer Tia Kramer
Music Direction and Composition Gary Grundei
Costume Design Eliza Van De Rostyne
Scenic Design the Ensemble
Scenic Consultant Nathan Tomsheck
Sound Design and op Evan Marks
Light Design Kevin Walker
Light Board operator Radko Bachvaroff
Stage Hand & Dresser Gaby Chaparro Ceniceros D
Stage Manager Grace Sanwald

Video recording of the production (Saturday evening performance) by Tristan Rupert. Edited by Sarah Koenigsberg.

Because You Are Here is a project co-created by the Whitman College Department of Theater and Dance's Devised Theater course in collaboration with members of the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition as well as immigrants in our community. This work is sponsored by the Whitman College Innovation in Teaching and Learning fund and the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, diversifying the curriculum through community engagement.

To learn more about this project and it’s partner project, Hear Here Walla Walla, peruse the following articles:

Acting And Activism: Whitman College Play Explores Community Impact Of Immigration by T.J. Tranchell,
Northwest Public Broadcasting
Turning Curiosity Into Action by Afrika Brown, Whitman College
Tia Kramer on Process, You, and Being There, Interview by Maddy Gold, Harper Joy Theatre Blog
’Hear Here, Walla Walla’ worthy of attention by Paul Kwon, published in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin

Photographs by Jonathan Vanderweit and Cindy Gold ©2018