By Katrina Schell, Performing Arts Division Head.
International Arrivals, the LCA spring show, just took place last weekend, and it is not what many were expecting. Attendance was high both Friday and Saturday, and many can attest that the show did not disappoint and was well worth the admission cost. Although it was very long, clocking in at just over two and a half hours, every moment was filled to the brim with action, humor, or emotion, sometimes all three combined. A special shoutout to all the actors that put in the time to make the show such an experience, the student playwrights that contributed their time to develop it, and, last but not least, those that were brave enough to share their stories.
As the lights faded in, we were introduced to an airplane hangar with two rows of chairs filled with hopeful, hopeless, and apathetic travelers alike. All of them had one thing in common, the calling of “A New World.” Wherever they were going, whatever their stories were, they were all in the same place if only just for a moment. These travelers, patiently (and sometimes impatiently) waiting for their plane had no idea what they were getting into.
The first act was mostly comprised of personal stories, contrasted with the second act that still contained stories, but ones posed more as a dialogue than a monologue. Although the stories only had a few minutes to make themselves heard, the actors successfully communicated the action and emotion behind every experience. A story that stood out was one in which a girl gets lost in a foreign country, and is finally able to find someone that speaks English. He helps her find the hotel, selflessly donating hours of his time to a complete stranger. When she inquires as to why he helped her, he replies that his English teacher would be so proud that he maintained a conversation with a real American for hours.
Stories with lessons like these truly stood out, and made the experience- which I expected to be alike to a humorous night show- extremely memorable. Real humans realized the importance of friendship, kindness, and discovered the struggles millions are faced with every day. The audience was shown what we take for granted, and was asked to consider how well off we are compared to the world we ignore. All of this was completed by the final performance of act one, a song from Come From Away in which a short girl is told she cannot be a pilot because of her gender and her height. Throughout the song, we are shown the determination of the powerless, the joy of success, and the pain of abrupt loss. After such a strong conclusion, the audience was given a short intermission to gather their thoughts.
Although the first act was powerful and thought-provoking, the second act brought up an important dialogue that was not fully addressed through the first set of stories. Dorm life is a large part of the LCA community, but it often feels like there is a lack of understanding or empathy from domestic students towards international students. Living apart poses a considerable breach of culture between the two sets of students, and the lack of experience translates into a lack of empathy. I do not mean this in a judgmental or convicting way, I am merely stating that it is hard to know another’s experience without walking in their shoes.
How did International Arrivals address this issue? A large portion of the second act was dedicated as a conversation between international students and the audience about all the issues they go through (the food, mispronouncing names, false assumptions, etc.). All these problems were addressed as one actor reminded us that we needed to be “carefully taught” to hate the people different than us. As that song was being performed, a divide could almost be felt throughout the room, a separation between “us and them,” even though it was a meaningless divide.
However, as the conversation progressed, a deeper understanding was reached. The tone changed from anger to hope, an attempt to articulate what the international students wanted heard. As the divide lifted, that same actor reminded us that we need to be carefully taught to love others as human beings. It was as if that conversation, and our attentiveness to it, was a teaching experience, showing us that the divides we place down in life are meaningless. We are all human beings, and our physical characteristics and differences are not what divide us.
What should we take away from International Arrivals? I know that our actors, along with our playwrights, learned that hard work does pay off. The spring show is one that did not exist a few months ago, and creating a performance from scratch takes more work than usual. Hats off to all those that put in the hard work to make the night so memorable. More lessons related, a big take away is the importance of hearing stories. After hearing what our community has gone through, the audience collectively and as a group of individuals gained empathy. Since it is impossible to live through another’s experience, hearing stories is the only way we learn how they feel and what they have gone through. Whether or not you saw the show, I would suggest that you listen to the stories of those around you. They may say something you might not have thought of, and you just might learn something about them and yourself.