Arts & Leisure

Sandglass’s Babylon Holds a Mirror to Refugee Crisis

On Friday and Saturday evening, Bates welcomed the Sandglass Theater Company from Putney, Vermont to campus. The theater group performed their piece Babylon, Journeys of Refugees in the Gannett Theater in Pettigrew Hall. The piece was incredibly moving: it gave the audience an intimate understanding of the actors and actresses of the company as well as what it is like to be a refugee coming to America. Among the cast was Bates alum Kela K. Ching ‘18.

The artistic rendition began with a game of trivia to introduce the audience to the cast members. Through the game, we learned intimate facts ranging from who in the cast has a masters degree to whose family had at one point been on food stamps. Opening with such a personal and intimate look at the cast allowed the audience to create a strong connection between themselves and the theater group members. From that connection, the cast transitioned into creating a relationship between themselves and the characters shown in the play.

    The performance of Babylon itself focused on the stories of four separate refugee stories: a single man, man with his young daughter, a single woman, and a young man, all of whom were attempting to leave their homeland to seek asylum in America. Through the use of puppets and the hand painted machines called crankies, we saw heartbreak as a young boy from El Salvador and the single man from Saudi Arabia with a masters degree in computer science are denied access into the United States. We also saw relief as the man and his young daughter, as well as the single woman, are accepted into the country.

    The use of multiple mediums of performance allowed the audience to form a stronger relationship with the characters in the play. Handmade puppets allowed the audience to see the journeys many of them faced and the wear and tear that their bodies, just like those of the puppets, experienced. Crankies are long, illustrated scrolls, wound onto two spools that are loaded into a box with a viewing screen. They are hand-cranked while the story is told and as a result, the audience better understands the landscape of the places many refugees are attempting to escape from and the environments in which many refugees live when attempting to seek asylum in America. Alongside the hand created mediums, the actors and actresses featured kept the audience captivated for the entirety of the play. After the show, the theater group sat down with the audience and answered questions about why they chose to create the piece and what inspirationed its inception. The group worked with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, where they were able to meet with refugees and hear their stories. One of the actresses recalled sitting in a resettled woman refugee’s home and hearing about how she escaped her country after state sponsored violence allowed for a situation in which a man came into her home and shot at her and her family. The actress expressed her surprise at how easily the woman was able to accept new people into her home, and even call the actress ‘daughter’, after experiencing such a horrific event.     Although the stories told in the play were fictional, each was created through intense research by the group in order to ensure they portrayed an experience not uncommon for most refugees. The piece was incredibly moving to watch and allowed for a greater understanding of a topic so passionately debated in our current political climate