Posted at on 1/23/18

Everybody’s talking about immigration and deportation. Some people are doing something to enrich the conversation.

For the first time in local history, two high schools are coming together to collaborate on a timely, topical theater production.

It all began with theater teachers Kim Strassburger (Coronado School of the Arts) and Linda Libby (Bayfront Charter High School in Chula Vista). They had worked together before (Strassburger has directed Libby several times), but they’ve never combined their student populations.

Libby knows local actor/playwright Dave Rivas, who serves on the board of Border Angels, a non-profit humanitarian organization that provides life-saving assistance for northbound migrants, by placing bottled water in remote mountain and desert border regions of San Diego and Imperial counties.

Border Angels founder Enrique Morones provided Rivas with thank you letters he had received from both sides of the border – from those who made it across and those who have been deported, from legal and illegal immigrants and their families. There were hundreds of letters; Rivas based his play on six of them. He called his ‘documentary-style’ theater piece “Letters from the Wall/Cartas desde el Muro.”

The purpose, says co-director Strassburger, is “to put a face on these immigrants, to show the humanity of those affected by border, immigration and deportation issues. As the introduction to the play puts it, ‘The wall, what it is, what it does and what it represents, affects so many people.’

“The piece is not explicitly political,” she continues. “Audience members will bring to it and take away from it what they will.”

Don’t expect a dry recitation of personal missives. The production is fully staged, with sets, props and costumes. Different students read different parts from all six letters. Other actors may re-enact the incidents recounted in a given letter.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” says Strassburger, “working with two sets of students from two different schools. It’s a very diverse group. Some of the students’ own families have been affected by the wall. One student in my class, whose mother came across when she was pregnant with him, broke down in tears when the letters were first read.

“In many cases, these stories are the stories of these students. But they will appeal to and affect everyone. We hope the play might make some people think differently about border issues. The purpose of theater is to explore the human condition.”