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Shelter: Young Asylum Seekers Inspire New Theatrical Production

Shelter: Young Asylum Seekers Inspire New Theatrical Production
Photo Credit: Rafael Hernandez

February 2, Valencia CA—In the wake of reports on deportations of Central American asylum seekers, Shelter channels the voices of the people behind the news. Presented by CalArts Center for New Performance, this new work of theater illuminates the lives of unaccompanied Central American youths who have made the hazardous journey to the U.S. and now must navigate the shelter and deportation systems. 

A project of Duende CalArts, Shelter “goes after the heart of displacement by delving into the human crisis of immigration,” said American Theatre magazine. 

Written and conceived by writer, performer and CalArts faculty member Marissa Chibas, Shelter is directed by celebrated Mexico City-based director Martin Acostaand choreographed by CalArts alumnus Fernando Belo. “We are looking at the crisis though the lens of theater—which due to its physical and poetic nature inspires conversation in ways that traditional news can’t,” Chibas said. “Shelter is based on extensive interviews that tell the stories of undocumented youth and those of their teachers, lawyers and caseworkers—giving voice to the multiple perspectives of those involved. Their stories convey the human consequences, not simply the facts.”

Chibas and Acosta created two versions of the bilingual production. The first is a “site-responsive version” which premieres outdoors in East Los Angeles’ Lincoln Park. There, the story will unfold in and around a 20 foot shipping container, evoking the experience of traveling on la bestia, the notorious train that conveys immigrants to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

In the populist theatrical tradition of the Federal Theater Project and El Teatro Campesino, a second “mobile-theater  version” of Shelter can be easily performed in sites such as theaters, community centers, conference rooms and parks. 

In order to facilitate dialogue, Shelter stakeholders have created engagement and learning curricula for those directly affected by these issues, such as child refugees, as well as for affected communities. Leading up to the April premiere, the  Shelter team will conduct a series of workshops and events. A theater-based workshop for students of the Los Angeles’ School of History and Dramatic Arts (SoHDA) is scheduled for Saturday, February 20.  On Friday, March 18, a “mobile-theater  version” of the production will be staged at the Los Angeles headquarters of CARECEN, the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the country. 

Issues of immigration, sanctuary and deportation are among the most pressing facing the nation and the world today. By giving voice to those enmeshed in the ongoing crisis, coverage of Shelter can be linked to breaking news over the coming months.  According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, “in 2014, roughly 69,000 kids from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras flooded the U.S.-Mexico border, traveling alone at great personal peril.”  The Washington Post reported that in October and November 2015, more than 10,500 unaccompanied young people crossed from Mexico into the U.S. 

Established by Chibas in 2009, Duende CalArts brings prominent Latino(a) and Latin American artists from the performance community to develop adventurous projects at CalArts Center for New Performance

CalArts Center for New Performance is a participant in the Global Connections–IN the LAB program, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the professional not-for-profit American theatre. Shelter is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

The production is supported, in part, by the Office of Los Angeles City Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo. 

More Information:

Where: Lincoln Park, N. Mission Rd. (at Alta St.), Los Angeles, California 90031

: Admission is FREE

When: Preview: Thursday, April 7 at 7:30 pm
Opening: Friday, April 8 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 9 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, April 10 at 2 pm
Thursday, April 14 at 7:30 pm
Friday, April 15 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 16 at 7:30 pm 
Closing: Sunday, April 17 at 2 pm

Vox, The paradox at the heart of Central American refugee policy
Washington Post, Unaccompanied children crossing southern border in greater numbers again
Pew Charitable Trusts, Q&A: Unaccompanied Children from Central America, One Year Later
Migration Policy Institute, Trends in Unaccompanied Child and Family Migration from Central America
American Theatre, Chibas, Acosta and Shelter are included in the article: Sowing Theatrical Seeds Across the U.S./Mexico Border

CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP), the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), was established to provide a unique artist- and project-driven framework for the development and realization of original theater, music, dance, media and interdisciplinary projects. Extending the progressive work carried out at CalArts into a direct dialogue with professional communities at the local, national and international levels, CNP offers an alternative model to support emerging directions in the performing arts.

California Institute of the Arts has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines and cultural traditions.