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Raising voices from around the world

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By Megan Tackett
Sopris Sun Staff

The stories that will be shared on Nov. 30 at The Temporary may come from all over the world, but they all share the same common denominator: inherently human experiences.

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Immigrant Voices, a premier spoken-word performance, is the result of a first-time collaboration between Writ Large, English in Action and The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW). It features seven speakers — Bernardina Bañuelos, Samuel Bernal, and Estela Garcia from Mexico, Miguel Carballo from El Salvador, Nicholas Vesey from the United Kingdom, Shinta Damayanti from Indonesia and Kristina Mace from Hungary — telling their individual stories. For most of them, it will be their first time on stage. There are no scripts, though there have been weekly rehearsals.

“I haven’t been in the rehearsals,” said Lara Beaulieu, executive director of English in Action. “What I’ve heard is that people have gone from being a little bit nervous to really coming out of their shells and being really excited.”

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English in Action is a nonprofit dedicated to teaching English to adults in the Roaring Fork Valley. Four of the Immigrant Voices performers started their journeys as English in Action students (one of whom, Damayanti, is now on staff), and Bernal serves on the organization’s board of directors.

While the organization focuses on making English accessible, its work doesn’t stop with language proficiency, Beaulieu said.

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“Once [someone has] begun to develop those language skills, how can we support people in becoming more involved in the community and sharing their voices and experiences?” she said of the organization’s vision. “In some ways, it’s the next step of language development. So this is event was a way that we came up with in the last year to really begin to share the stories of immigrants in our community.”

The partnership among the organizations to bring the stories that comprise Immigrants Voices to life has sparked enthusiasm across entities.

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“This specific partnership is … really exciting and timely,” Ryan Honey, TACAW executive director, said. “We want to be a resource for the entire community and we feel like poetry, spoken word [and] storytelling are really important pieces of the performing arts package of programming,” he said about The Temporary’s lineup. “Having English in Action be such a big part of it is a great opportunity to make inroads with the Latino community, so they can feel they have their voices heard and their experiences expressed,” adding that a recent Tacos and Salsa Night was such a hit that there will be another on Dec. 9.

Everyone involved is intending to ensure the Immigrant Voices will become a repeat performance, as well.

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“This is important; I really have goosebumps in thinking that if we do this regularly enough, there will be feedback and response and more integration of our community,” said Ayla Howe, founder of Writ Large, which also curates the show.

Howe works with the speakers during rehearsals to embrace a confidence that allows a more relaxed use and cadence with the language. This often means practicing sharing their stories in front of one another, “trying to feel the story rather than memorize the story,” she said.

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“Everyone in the audience wants you to play big because that gives them permission to play big in their lives too,” Howe said of her work with the performers. “And when the storytellers see the eyes of the audience… it is a magnificent community event.” Sometimes those eyes aren’t dry, she added. When Damayanti sings the traditional Indonesian lullabies with which she grew up, “everyone in this group weeps.”

“Can you imagine the courage? To find the words in a language that isn’t your own to tell something really meaningful,” Howe said. “I’m in awe. I feel privileged to watch them search for the words… to play with different things and share more and more about themselves.”

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While everyone involved certainly hopes for future performances, don’t expect any unannounced encores. “We’re now booking several months in advance,” Honey said about The Temporary. “We’ve already said that we’d like to do more of these, but we can’t simply just throw one on the next night, cause we’ve got stuff coming in. What Alya does is terrific. What English in Action does is terrific. We just want to do as much of it as we can.”  

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Next Steps

What: Immigrant Voices

When: Nov. 30. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for refreshments; the show begins at

7 p.m.

Where: The Temporary at Willits.

How much: Tickets are $10.

More info: