Long Wharf Theatre and IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) Partner on the first Newcomer Play Project

NEW HAVEN – Long Wharf Theatre and IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) are partnering on the first Newcomer Play Project, entitled The American Unicorn.

The performance will take place Friday, June 8 at 7 pm. Tickets are $20 and are available at longwharf.org or by calling 203-787-4282. The Newcomer Play Project is sponsored by the International Association of New Haven, and travel grants for program development research were sponsored by Theatre Communications Group.

Seven unlikely heroes overcome unspeakable odds, defeat and evade monsters to come seek their own unicorn here in New Haven. Join our ensemble on their search for hope—for a unicorn in America. This fable is based on the true stories of refugees resettled in New Haven by IRIS. “The play presents different stories in an interesting way, showing the refugees’ experience on their journey from feeling at home in their native countries to feeling at home in America,” said Mohamad Chaghlil, a Syrian refugee resettled in New Haven and one of the performers in the program.

The play is written and performed by Azhar Ahmed (Sudan), Lames Ahmed (Sudan), Joseph Kazadi (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Mohamad Chaghlil (Syria), Yar Jan Ahmadzai (Afghanistan/Pakistan), Balquis Ahmadzai (Afghanistan/Pakistan), Ruben Kwigwasa (South Africa), and devised with Elizabeth Nearing and Aurelia Clunie. The dramaturg is Madeline Charne.

“Our goal is to connect the stories on our stage with the stories of the lives of people in New Haven. What better way than to put their stories directly on our stage?” said Elizabeth Nearing, community engagement manager.

Will Kneerim, IRIS’s employment and education services director, was thrilled at the prospect of their clients creating theatre. “IRIS refugee clients bring an incredible diversity of experience and culture to New Haven. And we knew that an in-depth Long Wharf project would open the lucky participants to a new world of expression and connection that’s not readily available to recent immigrants who are busy learning a language and paying the bills. As expected, the refugees who’ve participated have had their outlook on what’s possible in New Haven forever expanded. All of us at IRIS have been excited by the collaboration. It’ll be such fun seeing ‘American Unicorn’, but we know it’s the entire process that’s made such an impact,” he said.

The Newcomer Play Project was inspired by the theatre’s Elder Play Project. Senior citizens from Tower One/Tower East work with Long Wharf teaching artists to write and perform theatrical pieces inspired by productions they see at the theatre. Their 2018 performance, supported by The Daryl and Steven Roth Foundation, Theatre Forward, and Jim Vlock & Gail Brekke Vlock, will be on June 10th at the theatre, free of charge. Using this successful model as a guide, Nearing believed that helping New Haven’s immigrant community have a voice could create empathy and understanding.

The devising process began back in the fall with a series of workshops. After the initial workshops, Nearing and Clunie guided a series of conversations and improvisations that led to the creation of a piece of theatre that reflected the participants’ life experiences. The result is a piece of devised theatre that is kinetic, magical, and completely and uniquely the participants’. “We want to work with people to build something together,” Nearing said.

Tickets are available at 203-787-4282 or by visiting longwharf.org.