ORANGE CITY – Poet Laureate of Iowa Mary Swander, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Dennis Chamberlin, and ACT Kennedy Center award-winner Matt Foss collaborate to create a drama called Vang (meaning “garden” or “farm” in Hmong). The multimedia theatrical production will be presented in Orange City, Sioux City and Storm Lake on May 4 and 5.
The production will be at the Northwestern College DeWitt Theatre in Orange City on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 pm, sponsored by the Orange City Arts Council.
In Sioux City, the show will be presented at the Betty Strong Encounter Center/ Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center May 4 at 2:00 pm.
Then on Sunday, May 5 at 7:00 pm, Vang will be presented at the Estelle Siebens Science Center 126, Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, sponsored by BVU’s Academic & Cultural Events Series and Lakeside Presbyterian Church of Storm Lake.
Swander and Chamberlin documented recent Iowa immigrant farmers, then Swander wound their words together to form a verbatim play that captures the immigrants’ journeys to the States. Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese, and Dutch immigrants all speak of their struggles, survival skills, and their intense desire to return to the land. Chamberlin took stunning photos of the immigrants in their greenhouses, farms, and dairy barns. Foss added his theatrical brilliance to the production, bringing Vang to life on the stage. And Michael Ching, past executive director of the Memphis opera, composed music to underscore the play’s message.
The immigrant farmers in this production came from four continents, speaking over six different languages, with multiple experiences of the world. In their own ways, they adjusted to life in America. Some of these immigrants came to the U.S. as refugees from war-torn parts of the world. Others came fleeing poverty in their homelands. Still others came with money, invited to join agribusiness ventures. Many of these immigrants landed in the U.S. and took the only jobs they could find—in meat-packing plants and auto repair shops. But all of these immigrants had grown up on farms and wanted to once again assume the livelihood that they had known in the past, the work that had formed the foundation of their cultural roots.
The one-hour play features two actors, Matt Foss – a native of Orange City, a graduate of Northwestern College and currently a theatre instructor at Iowa State – and Annie Feenstra – a native of Sioux City and ISU theatre student. The two take on the parts of all eight immigrants. Dennis Chamberlin’s photos of the immigrants are projected on the walls of the theatre, bringing both artistic grace and reality to the performance.
With the aid of a grant from the ISU CEAH, Swander, Chamberlin and Foss hope to tour the play not only throughout Iowa, but across the U.S. and to Europe.
Tickets for the Orange City show are $5 for adults and $3, students, in advance, and $7 and $5 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Northwestern’s Theatre Dept., the Dove Bookstore, and Orange City Arts Council.
There is no admission charge for Sioux City and Storm Lake shows. For more information, contact the Orange City Arts Council, 712-707-6514, ocArts@orangecityiowa.com or see www.orangecityarts.net/. Or contact MPoole@siouxcitylcic.com or Steinfeld@bvu.edu.