Immigration continuously hits the front pages of newspapers and serves as a main focus of current political policy. One place where the conversation about immigration is less common, however, is exactly where ISU Theatre is planning on taking it: to the stage.
“Iowa Odyssey (or How We Got to Here)” is the last play of ISU Theatre's season and focuses on immigration through the stories of Iowa State students and the journey that led them to Ames. “Iowa Odyssey" has been almost entirely researched, written and developed by students who are a part of the Iowa State community.
Amanda Petefish-Schrag, assistant professor of theatre and the project facilitator, has been a part of “Iowa Odyssey” since the beginning.
“The goal of the project is really to focus on stories of immigration and how we think of immigration," Petefish-Schrag said. "We want to see how the individual stories of how we all got here impact the community we are and the community we could become.”
Petefish-Schrag said the project came to be after conversations about immigration repeatedly came up in the world around her.
“The project came out of doing some thinking about the current conversations that are happening across the country about immigration,” Petefish-Schrag said. “We wanted to question who gets to write the narrative, who has the power to tell stories and how theater can help provide a voice to more personal stories about the way immigration has impacted the lives of Iowans.”
For Petefish-Schrag and the students involved in this project, the goal was to build the community they want to be a part of within the department while also contributing to the community they one day hope to see beyond the project. With this goal in mind, the group quickly realized they would have to become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
“We have learned to become comfortable with the fact that we don't have resolution or easy answers to a lot of the questions that this project has brought up,” Petefish-Schrag said. “The stories that people are getting vulnerable enough to share are stories about personal experience that are a really intimate part of their own lives. Those are simultaneously some of the most uncomfortable but also the most meaningful experiences we’ve had as a group.”
Jillian Kurovski, senior in animal ecology, will be sharing her experience as a transracial adoptee.
“The biggest [challenge] for me was writing the adoptee piece,” Kurovski said. “It was difficult because the emotions were so raw. It was one of the first times that I had really opened up about my feelings on it too, so it was a new experience and a new emotional journey.”
Kurovski said though sometimes uncomfortable, the conversations the production has started are extremely valuable to the larger dialogue about immigration in America.
“I absolutely one hundred percent think that this show is important for people to see,” Kurovski said. “It covers broad immigration topics but also specific stories. To see that presented and represented is so important for those people who wrote these pieces and did the research for them, but also for the public to hear our messages and hear how our stories are being conveyed.”
Petefish-Schrag said she hopes the theatrical format of “Iowa Odyssey" will serve as a safe place in a world where some may feel they are unable to share their stories.
Above all else, Petefish-Schrag wants people to realize the stories in “Iowa Odyssey” pertain to topics that directly impact Iowa State students.
“I think people should see this show because it’s theatre that is about us,” Petefish-Schrag said. “This is about Ames, Iowa, and you get to hear people sharing stories about maybe the person who you’ve been with in class or who you sit by on the bus.”
Performances of "Iowa Odyssey" are April 26, 27, May 3, 4 at 7:30 p.m., April 28 at 1 p.m., May 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets available through Iowa State Center Ticket Office, any Ticketmaster, or the Fisher Theater box office prior to performances. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students.