Sandglass Theater in Putney, who patterned with USCRI last year to promote refugee stories, is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts National Theater Project for its newest theater piece, Babylon: Journeys of Refugees.
One of only eight productions from the entire country to be selected, Babylon is a powerful and evocative work that tells the story of today’s refugees: their sense of home, their arduous journeys, and the challenges of resettlement.
Performed by puppets and actors with moving panoramas known as crankies, Babylon weaves together the stories of people recently resettled from Syria, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and Burundi.
Babylon was conceived by Eric Bass and his wife Ines Zeller Bass, co-artistic directors of Sandglass Theater. The production was co-directed by Eric, along with a longstanding friend of Sandglass, Roberto Solomon, director and producer of El Salvadoran theater who, since 2003, has held the reins at the Luis Poma Theater, the first private theater in the country.
Sandglass is now working with USCRI Vermont in Burlington to understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges that refugees face. With the help of USCRI Vermont, Sandglass interviewed nine “new Americans” (compiling 15 hours of recorded interviews) to gain firsthand insight into their plight, trauma, and the challenges of resettlement.
“One of our plans for Babylon is to tour the piece in places in the country where there have been issues around immigration,” Bass says. “We hope to work with local agencies of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants as well as progressive arts centers in these towns.”
Bass believes the NTP grant will give Sandglass time to organize such a tour, and the subsidy will make it more possible to bring Babylon to places the timely piece may not have been able to go without it.
“The generous grant from NTP helps make such a tour possible,” Bass adds. “Quite frankly, many of these arts organizations simply don’t have the funds to afford bringing this show. Don’t misunderstand me, Sandglass has very low rates for touring. But Babylon takes a large company to put on, and with travelling and lodging, things begin to add up.”
Local audiences will have a chance to see the latest version of the work when it is performed as part of Sandglass’s 10th International Puppets in the Green Mountains festival, during which Babylon will be performed on Sept. 20 and 21, at 8 p.m. each night, at the New England Youth Theatre at 100 Flat Street in Brattleboro.
This year’s Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival, titled “Opening the Doors,” which runs from Sept. 19 to 23, features companies from Wales, Taiwan, Canada, and around the U.S. It will build directly upon the themes introduced during the last festival in 2015, “Walking to the Borders,” which focused on issues of immigration and humanization.
With performances for all ages as well as shows specifically for adults, this year’s Puppets in the Green Mountains highlights stories of access and inclusion, from a stirring performance by a mixed ability cast that takes a timely look at marginalization in today’s societies to Babylon and its dive into the complicated issues of the global refugee crisis.
For tickets to Babylon, as well as all productions of this year’s festival, visit puppetsinthegreenmountains.com.
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