Poet Laureate of Iowa Mary Swander, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Dennis Chamberlin and ACT Kennedy Center award-winner Matt Foss collaborated to create “Vang,” a drama about immigrant farmers in the United States. The production will be presented in the DeWitt Theatre Arts Center on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 pm. The event is sponsored by the Orange City Arts Council.
A Hmong farmer of Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Dennis Chamberlin.
“Vang,” which translates into “garden” or “farm” in Hmong, follows the journeys of Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese and Dutch immigrants to America. Swander and Chamberlin documented recent Iowa immigrant farmers and strung their words together to form a verbatim play that captures the immigrants’ struggles, survival skills and intense desires to return to the land.
The immigrant farmers in this production came from four continents, speaking over six different languages, with multiple experiences of the world. Some of these immigrants came to the U.S. as refugees from war-torn parts of the world. Others came fleeing poverty in their homelands. Still others came with money, invited to join agri-business ventures. But all of these immigrants had grown up on farms and wanted to once again assume the livelihood that had formed the foundation of their cultural roots.
The play features Matt Foss, a 2002 graduate of Northwestern College and theatre instructor at Iowa State, and Annie Feenstra, an Iowa State University theatre student from Sioux City. The two take on the parts of all eight immigrants. Dennis Chamberlin’s photos of the immigrants are projected on the walls of the theatre, bringing both artistic grace and reality to the performance.
With the aid of a grant issued by Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, Swander, Chamberlin and Foss hope to tour the play not only throughout Iowa, but across the U.S. and on to Europe.
Advance tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students, available at Dove Bookstore, Orange City Arts Council and Northwestern's theatre department. At the door, tickets are $7 and $5. For more information, contact the Orange City Arts Council, 712-707-6514 or ocArts@orangecityiowa.com.
Article about Vang in the Des Moines Register
Article about Vang in the Sioux City Journal