Michelle and Shellie’s collaboration, continued…
by Michelle Hamff
Excerpt from Outcasts United, by Warren St. John:
“When I think about Clarkston, I sometimes visualize the town as a lifeboat being lowered from a vast, multilevel passenger ship. No one aboard chose this particular vessel. Rather, they were assigned to it – the refugees by resettlement officials they never met, the townspeople by a faraway bureaucratic apparatus that decided, almost haphazardly, to put a sampling of people from all over the world in the modest little boat locals thought they had claimed for themselves. In an instant, the boat was set upon a roiling sea, its passengers left to fend for themselves. Everyone on the boat wanted the same thing: safety. But to get there, they would first have to figure out how to communicate with each other, how to organize themselves, how to allocate their resources, and which direction they should row. I imagine their heads bobbing in and out of view between the troughs and crests of the wind-whipped sea as they begin their journey. And I wonder: What will they do? What would I do in that same situation? And: Will they make it?”
Thoughts after Rehearsal 1:
I am amazed; hard to put into words how relevant and important this particular piece of work is to me personally…I grew up with parents who valued teaching through travel; teaching diversity, tolerance, acceptance and understanding and celebrating people’s differences while always striving to find commonality among people. I have been extremely blessed to have been to the Holy Land, parts of Russia, Egypt, China, and the Caribbean. My eyes were opened each new place I traveled and a love of culture and passion for learning and respecting differences was put in my heart many years ago in college. I put a work together called, “Babel,” in which I got foreign language speakers from the language department to speak and perform. This presented many challenges as we had to really speak slow to understand each other and we would most of the time use our bodies through dancing to communicate…we formed friendships and would eat meals together outside of rehearsal and performance. I wanted to make a statement that different people can come together and make something beautiful in the world. And that is what we did.
Fast forward to Shellie calling me and explaining the opportunity to make a piece inspired by the book and art installation and that UAB students were reading the book and would be discussing it…I got so excited b/c the layers were beginning to be laid….the artistic nuggets were there: Babel from years ago, the amazing stories of the people that make up the book, the artistic vision for the art installation, the students whose lives hopefully will change from reading the book and create more questions and understanding (as it did for me personally the more I read the book), working with a wonderful friend and choreographer, Shellie Chambers, and knowing that this work at its heart is about people coming together to create a piece of art and make a statement of understanding that all people have stories and come from a place….we all have struggles – let’s find the common ground; reach out and find a way to the heart of human connection which make life meaningful – to find a way to understanding and respect.
I think for me too, reading the book is eye-opening and is instilling in me a chance to let others in on this important story to be told about refugees whose one thing in common is soccer. What would happen if we all found common ground with people we didn’t understand and maybe harbored ill-feelings towards? I bet a wonderful change would happen.