Deferred Action represents several of DTC’s core values: our belief in the power of collaboration with other arts organizations, our commitment to producing new work, our belief in equity, diversity and inclusion on our stage and throughout our company, and our desire to spark a meaningful dialogue in our community.
The journey for this particular play began on December 19, 2009, when I attended a play, Crystal City 1969, at the Latino Cultural Center. Two months earlier Dallas Theater Center had moved into its new home at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and I was eager to get to know artists with whom DTC could collaborate at the Wyly Theatre in future seasons. I wasn’t familiar with Cara Mía’s work, but what I experienced on that evening had a significant impact on me. The play tackled a vital moment of political history with passion and insight. The writing and directing was smart, highly theatrical and filled with fresh aesthetic ideas. The company of actors was deeply invested in their roles and were performing in a unified acting style. The themes were topical. The audience response was intense. I walked out of the theater wanting to learn from the theater’s artistic director, David Lozano, how he had created such an amazing production.
In the ensuing months, David and I agreed to create a collaborative project that would bring together our two theaters’ acting companies. At DTC our productions typically begin with a script, written by a singular playwright, which is then interpreted by actors, directors and designers in production; but at Cara Mía, David often starts with an idea or theme, and then works collaboratively with his acting company to create a play as an ensemble. This typically involves improvisation, creating visual images with bodies, responding to music and discovering characters through physical exploration. Eager for DTC’s Brierley Resident Acting Company to have the opportunity to work in this way, we decided that David would create and direct an original play through a collaborative process involving actors from both companies equally.
Then we turned our attention to the question of what theme we wanted to explore. It was clear to both of us, less than a year into President Obama’s first year in office, that the issue of comprehensive immigration reform was a hot button topic throughout the country. Republicans and democrats alike – from John McCain and George W. Bush to Teddy Kennedy and Barak Obama – agreed that reform was necessary and the broad outlines of an agreement seemed to be widely understood, including a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented people who lived and worked in the United States. Much of the focus was on the experience of “Dreamers,” young adults who had been brought to the country as children and raised as Americans. For most Dreamers, the United States is the only country they have ever known; it is as much their home as it is for those of us who are second, third or fourth generation Americans. They have attended public schools, worked after-school and summer jobs, studied at college, paid taxes and contributed fully as citizens – except they do not have legal citizenship. Rather, they are considered “illegal” by many in the only country they have ever called home.
David and I decided to create a play focused on the experiences of DREAMers. So, over the course of several years, our two acting companies came together for a week at a time to learn about and discuss the plight of DREAMers in North Texas, improvise characters, scenes and dramatic situations, and generate ideas for an original play. Over time the idea of a documentary-style play changed into an original, fully scripted story. Inspired by images and characters created by the actors, David discovered the bones of a fictional story he wanted to tell, and he wanted a collaborator to co-write the play with him. He suggested Lee Trull.
Lee has been an essential artist during my tenure at DTC. As a founding member of our acting company, he played many memorable roles, including in Cabaret, Arsenic and Old Lace, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Over time, he has developed into a talented director and playwright, and is now DTC’s Director of New Play Development. David felt that he Lee would be able to bring complimentary skills and insights to craft the plot, characters and dialogue. It has turned out to be a great match.
As David and Lee wrote, my one concern was that if Congress passed immigration reform into law, the play they were creating would no longer be topical and audiences wouldn’t be interested. It seemed almost certain that Republicans and Democrats would come together to create legislation to address the vital problems facing the DREAMers, their families and their fellow immigrants.
Boy was I wrong.
In Congress, for more than a decade, nothing has happened. Despite running on a platform of immigration reform and then controlling the presidency, House and Senate for two years, the Democrats took no effective action on immigration. Later, after the President won a resounding re-election in 2012, largely attributed to strong support from Latino Americans, it seemed as if the Republican party would partner with the President to quickly move a reform bill through Congress. But again, action was deferred, as both parties discovered that it was in their own political self-interest to avoid solving the problem and to keep stoking the fires of resentment. The American political system had ground to a standstill. Legislative change seemed impossible. So the President took unilateral action, declaring that DREAMers would no longer face deportation if they registered for “deferred action.” Unable to provide permanent legal protection, the President used his executive authority to provide temporary respite, though a future President can change this policy at will.
Deferred Action is a fictional play about the American political system, following two young DREAMers who hope to build a life together in the only country they have ever known. When presidential politics intervene – led by a colorful, renegade candidate who makes immigration the central issue in his controversial campaign – the DREAMers’ lives are forever changed. Though envisioned before the rise of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and other anti-establishment candidates in our current presidential race, the play nonetheless evokes our current political climate, even while turning it on its head through the surprising revelations in the plot.
We hope that Deferred Action will spark a lively conversation amongst our audience of all backgrounds, experiences and beliefs – a dialogue about working within the system vs. taking on the system from the outside; about why and how some issues are associated with one party rather than the other; about how both parties gain when immigration reform is delayed, though their constituencies continue to suffer; about what works and what is broken in our current political system; and about the choices you would be willing to make to provide security and dignity for yourself and your family.
We’ve been privileged at DTC to spend several years working alongside our friends and colleagues at Cara Mía to create this play. During this time we’ve spent countless hours at the Latino Cultural Center and the Wyly Theatre engaged in meaningful conversations, supporting each other’s work, building new relationships, and learning from each other. I’m proud to share the results of this journey with you tonight.
I look forward to seeing you in the lobby.