Genesis of the Project
As a first-generation Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas, I have sought to define what it means to have another country so close to my consciousness in most of my plays. As a boy, I used to see border-crossers pacing past my house at night, moving like ghosts toward their safe havens. I recall the Border Patrol cruisers rumbling slowly by. I have strong memories of an old couple in our kitchen late on a cold sleeting night while my parents tried to find their contacts in El Norte. All my life, I’ve felt these phantoms of the Rio Bravo circling my imagination and it’s time to give them voice.
In GHOSTS OF THE RIVER, I depict “ghost” stories of the border in a series of vignettes. The stories of refugees trying to flee the ravages of war in the Mexican Revolution. The stories of families abandoned by their “coyotes” and preyed upon by bandits on the other side. The stories of Border Patrol agents who toil against the tide of immigration, some torn between their compassion and the strictures of their code.
Shadowlight is the ideal company for this telling. It is a kind of meta-media which bridges the gap between cinema and theatre, myth and history, truth and fantasy, so effortlessly with its interplay of light and shadow, and that makes it attractive to poetic structures such as mine. It works with a huge canvas on which one can draw and swim in a river as vast and ancient as the Rio Grande, and panoramic vistas of history reaching all the way back to the Mexican Revolution can be accommodated on this space. Political dimensions cannot be avoided, either, as narcotic smuggling and illegal immigration fall under the heading of Homeland Security. But also my personal relationship to this River, its own watermark on me, must be intimately explored on this canvas, and I intend to limn on its surface my own portrait as the son of a wetback, the son of a new American.
Ghosts of the River is a new multidisciplinary shadow theatre work that tackles the highly charged and complex subject of the US/Mexico border by illuminating the lives of the people on both sides of the divide.
Several years after working together on 7 Visions, playwright Octavio Solis approached shadow master Larry Reed with an idea of using his experience growing up on the US side of the Rio Grande to explore immigration issues. He envisioned it as a series of ghost stories and that he would use different voices and styles to create a Twilight zone like evening. Both he and Larry knew instinctively that the “ghosts” in his stories lend themselves to ShadowLight’s unique shadow world and that it would give them an opportunity to use the power of shadows to move these issues, which have had a deep impact on the SF Bay Area, out of the divisive realm of politics and into empathy and compassion. Since then, Octavio has conducted extensive research on the subject and interviews with residents, immigrants (legal or otherwise)their families, law enforcement officers and immigration lawyers in El Paso. Using these voices as inspirations, Octavio created a collection of five stories, of heartaches, dreams and lives lost in the murky water of the Rio.
Ghosts of the River will feature ShadowLight’s hallmark shadow casting method, which combines the Balinese Traditional shadow theatre technique, the scale of film, and the immediacy of live performance. Performed behind and in front of a large (30' x 15') screen, Ghosts of the River tells the tales of extraordinary journeys utilizing silhouettes of puppets, masked-actors, and cutout sets, as well as projections and live music. Ghosts of the River will be performed in English and Spanish.