Hello, my name is Nicole and I’m working on the Dream Act Union as a student research assistant. I’ll be updating the discussion section of the website with interviews and excerpts by team members of the Dream Act Union and various artists about our play Dream Acts and the DREAM Act itself. My first interview is with Chiori Miyagawa who is one of the five playwrights working on Dream Acts.
Chiori Miyagawa is a Japan-born playwright based in NYC. The following interview comes from an intended Skype interview that due to technical difficulties turned into a pleasant phone conversation where I had the opportunity to discuss the progress of Dream Acts with Chiori and how she became involved in the theater community.
Nicole: Since the performances at HERE will be the play’s first encounter with a public audience, what do you hope to learn about the play? How will it inform the next step of the project?
Chiori: The DREAM Act is a life changing legislation — and the play is trying to inform people about it, rather than trying to change their mind. I would like to find out if theatre can do that through storytelling because the DREAM Act is a relatively unknown issue. There have been successful plays about political issues—wars, abortions, gay marriage, etc– that are already well known but the DREAM Act has not received the attention it deserves. The bill will affect the most helpless population of this country. They don’t have a country, and it’s a very scary thing not to have a country to back you up. I’m wondering if an issue that’s not a big media topic can gain support from people through a theatre event.
What I wish to learn for the next step is the most effective way of having a conversation about this issue after the performance. I hope we will learn how to create a panel discussion or interactive event. At HERE we have a time limit, so we can’t plan a post-show event.. What we’re trying to do is to reserve a slot for one panel discussion, which is a separate event. Eventually we would like to have a performance of the play followed by a conversation, and I would like to involve an expert who can answer questions about the state of the DREAM Act or immigrant issues in general.
Nicole: Reading how you never felt like an outsider among the theater community I’m curious to know how you got involved with theatre and playwriting. Was it something you knew you’d be interested from the start?
Chiori: Theater was something new to me that I discovered in grad school. I grew up in a small town surrounded by vast rural area and mountains and no theater, so I didn’t have an early exposure to seeing theater. I read a lot. My parents were worried about my reading habits and tried to prevent me from reading for hours and hours. I read Shakespeare in Japanese. In the U.S,I did photography as an undergrad and decided to pursue visual arts. I took some set design classes at Brooklyn College and quickly realized that I didn’t have a talent in visual arts. Then I was invited to join a new MFA program in dramaturgy. It all seemed like a coincidence that I found theatre and its amazing community of people.
Nicole: Through the play what do you want to convey to your target audience about the Dream Act?
Chiori: We’re not overly ambitious. I think the people who will come to see our project are our friends and colleagues .Many of them will be theater artists who are registered voters, so we’re going to start small and try to raise awareness about the DREAM Act in this particular population of our peers. What we’re counting on is that the live performance will have some impact, as opposed to reading about the issue.
There is a movement by young people called the Dreamers.They are the youth who came to the United States before they were 16 to be with their families. The DREAM Act was conceived for these undocumented youth. . No politician will be moved on anything based on opinions of people who do not vote. Those of us who do vote should join forces with the Dreamers. The right to vote is the only tangible weapon we have to express our opinions to our government. Our target audience is registered voters who can use that power of one vote to influence Representatives or Senators
Nicole: How would you characterize the final vision of DREAM Acts as a theatrical event? I know the Dream Act project is interested in planning panel discussions and educational events related to the DREAM Act, how would these additional events complement your play as part of a larger program?
Chiori: I think I’ve been talking about that in a roundabout kind of way. I don’t have the answer, but I wish to learn, in addition to how people react to the play, what the audience would be interested in discussing. It would be great if the audience is not all made up of the choir. Most of the people who will come will be sympathetic. I don’t think we will have anti-immigrant population in the theater. I don’t know how that population could ever be reached through theater. Maybe it’s not possible. However, in the final version, I would like to see occasions where the play is performed to a mixed audience, by that I mean people who have different opinions about immigration and have a discussion about the differences.
The good thing about doing theatre is that I don’t have to have all the answers. The more people who have ideas get involved, the more effective it will be in the future. The final version will be something I can’t think of right now on my own, but as I talk to more and more people, I will gain new ideas, and I hope new people will play different roles in the project. That’s what I like about theatre. There isn’t a specific goal I’m aiming to achieve, but I’m hoping that through this first presentation, I will meet even more people who may want to take this on with new approaches that are not mine. . In the end, I would like the performance and conversation to happen without me; meaning, maybe some people will write their own Dream Acts, in Arizona or somewhere else. I don’t have to be attached to the project forever. I just want to get the conversation started.
Nicole: The DREAM Act stands for development, relief, and education for alien minors but on the topic of dreams, what is one dream you have that you would like to share with readers?
Chiori: This last question is really interesting. One dream…I don’t know, that’s also a difficult question because I have to chose carefully if it’s just one. I think that one dream I have right now is for President Obama to have the second term. I know it’s not my life dream, but it’s my dream for next November and the next four years. That’s what I want most. I haven’t been 100% happy with every decision he has made, but he has kept a lot of his promises. I think the first term is difficult because of the second election, and frankly, the House and Senate are trying to bring him down. That seems to be their political goal. In the next four years, he’s the person who can change the state of the nation and influence the world most. That’s a big impact as opposed to playing to 65 people per performance. I’m connecting what I was talking about before, about my tiny power, one vote.I’m going to cast it again for President Obama. I hope to have four more years during which I can feel comfortable about the choice I made to become American.