America has always been seen as a country built upon the backs of immigrants. Almost everyone in this country has their own stories and experiences about immigrating to America, whether that be their own or their ancestors’. Rowing to America: The Immigrant Project, directed by Kathryn Ervin, will capture some of the diverse stories about immigrating to America.
Rowing to America: The Immigrant Project is a production made up of nine one-act plays, all written by different authors, that showcase different perspectives about immigration. These one-acts vary in time period and origins of the main characters. One play is about a Japanese woman who struggles to learn English, another is about a Cherokee family that has been moved off of their land, there is a play from the Irish migration time period, and there are many more diverse stories to be seen from this production.
“I really like this show because it offers so many different views. One of the things our actors have said in previous conversations about shows is that they like a challenge, so everybody in the cast is playing at least two different roles. They have to come up with different physical lives, vocal lives, and sets of intentions for their characters and that’s really exciting,” said Director Ervin.
Ervin, who earned her master’s degree in directing, has directed a lot of the musicals for CSUSB in the past. With this production’s structure of nine short plays, Ervin and her team have taken a different approach to the rehearsal process than what they have usually done for previous productions.
“Typically, in a musical, you’re working on the whole show,” explained Ervin. “This production is a series of short pieces, so we’ve been rehearsing the short pieces and then we try to figure out how we’re transporting the audience from one play to another, using costumes, set pieces, and lighting.”
Riley Johnson, who plays Sister in “Rowing to America” and Lomeli in “Homeland,” expressed that “the most difficult part of the show is that the cast moves the set, as opposed to the tech crew. There’s a moving platform on the stage and it can be a bit of a hassle to move.”
Johnson shared that learning the blocking has been different due to show putting the audience in the round, rather than the typical proscenium style seating that most people are used to seeing in a theater.
Kristi Papailler, a new faculty member for the Theater Arts Department, has been working closely with Ervin to choreograph the movement for the show. She helped the actors as a vocal coach to try to get the different accents and dialects of the characters in the show.
“The characters are from different places, so we’ve done a lot of work on trying to get accents so that it sounds real. To the audience, we hope that they will get a flavor of where the characters are supposed to be from,” added Ervin.
Megan Dykstra, who plays Maire in “The Apron” and Observer in “Slave Coffle w/ Observer,” shared that “dialect training was very interesting, especially since we generally don’t have the same dialect in the same place. The actors have to switch, which is kind of difficult, but it got easier the more we did it.”
“I don’t think any of us have had dialect training before,” said Rocio Villalvazo, who plays Peig in “The Apron” and Eda in “Oh Wild West Wind.” Villalvazo explains that dialect training involved listening to the dialect that each actor needed for their characters and analyzing the different ways they use consonants and vowels.
“With dialects, it’s very verbal. It’s different parts of the mouth. Do you hit the consonants hard or soft? Do you hit the vowels hard or soft? What letters do you leave off? And we also have to do that while still projecting and conveying what we want to. Adding that on is a lot harder than you think,” said Makenna Dykstra, who plays Girl in “Rowing to America” and Dawn in “Oh Wild West Wind.”
After months of intensive rehearsal, Rowing to America: The Immigrant Project will be opening this Friday, March 6, and will last until March 15. The cast shared their favorite parts about being part of the production.
Christopher Joseph (CJ) Wright, who will be seen in “Slave Coffle w/ Observer” and “Homeland,” said, “It’s been quite exciting. I’ve been in rehearsals, before but none of them have drove me in the night and this is my first time being in the main theater.”
“My favorite part about the show is being able to work with all of these wonderful people,” said Temictli Cisneros, who is in plays Manuel in “Dead Bolivians on a Raft,” Red from “Oh Wild West Wind,” and Ali in “Famous Ali.” “We all like to have a lot of fun and we’ve learned a lot of things together that have helped us improve not only as one person, but as a whole group of actors.”
Director Ervin is excited to present her team’s hard work at the Ronald E. Barnes theater. She hopes that those who see the show not only enjoy the show but also learn from the immigration stories and experiences of others.
“I hope this show reminds people that immigration is not just monolithic. There are lots of ways and reasons people come to this country. They’re not all bad and they’re not all good. They are all different and challenging. I’m excited to have people think about that, talk about that, and chew that after they leave,” concluded Ervin.