“Root Map” transcends Mohawk, US, Canada borders to connect cultures

ITHACA, N.Y. –  A new play about borders has found an unusual way to transcend them: by integrating local experiences in each new place it is performed. When it travels Aug. 26 to Akwesasne, the Mohawk Nation territory divided by the U.S. – Canada border, the script will incorporate stories of local Mohawk people, some of whom will join the cast.

“Root Map,” an international collaboration between Cornell University and Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, interweaves stories from different cultures to explore the similarities people experience when encountering borders.

Root Map had its inaugural performance Jan. 27 in Kolkata, India, followed by performances in Ithaca, New York, and El Paso, Texas. In each city, local actors join the production, contributing new material to the script that reflects their experiences with borders.

“The script is dynamic,” explains Abraham Francis, a member of the Mohawk Nation and a Cornell University graduate student. “In the Akwesasne production, our community, our elders and our youth, the people who hold these stories of pain and struggle with the border, will be expressed in relationship to those other stories in ‘Root Map,’ and the script will be modified to situate it within Akwesasne.”

Several intensive theater workshops with the local cast will be held at Akwesasne in August to gather material for the script and to familiarize the local actors with the production.

All the stories in “Root Map” are firsthand or from family members, said Rosalie Purvis, a doctoral student at Cornell, who served as primary writer of the play. During the initial writing process, which included the entire cast, “we kept finding more and more commonalities in the tropes and images even though our experiences were in different landscapes and cultures,” she said.

Because the play incorporates nine languages, the music is an important component of the production. Originally written in Kolkata, the music will be reinterpreted by musicians in Akwesasne for the production.

“Our goal for the play is for it to supersede language,” Purvis said, noting that meaning is communicated through music, gesture and emotion.

“In migration, we’re all exposed to languages we don’t understand, so the audience will encounter words they don’t understand. That’s an important part of the experience.”

 

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

 

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