Company One production of ‘Downtown Crossing’ explores undocumented life in Boston
“Downtown Crossing,” a world premiere theater performance written by David Valdes and produced by Company One Theatre hits the virtual stage on Oct. 22. Streaming live (and for free) for five performances, the play explores the experience of undocumented immigrants in Boston.
Audience members will watch seven undocumented characters cross paths on the Orange Line during Marathon Monday. Bonded by their challenging experiences (and a mutual frustration with the MBTA) these characters share their stories with each other and with the audience. The production is launched in partnership with Northeastern University and Boston Public Library, with support from the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University.
Though much of the movement written into the play has been compromised due to the online format, the personal nature of the stories makes them ideal for an up-close and personal streaming experience.
“It certainly gives us an immediacy and an intimacy that sometimes the theater can’t, just by the nature of bringing our eyes closer to faces and closer to some of those smaller, almost imperceptible reactions,” says director Summer L. Williams, Company One’s co-founder and associate artistic director. When an actor is looking through the screen right at you in what feels like a one-on-one exchange, the emotional engagement is very different from far away figures on a stage.
Playwright Valdes comes from a family of Cuban immigrants. He became a confidante for his undocumented students at Tufts to speak to about their experiences. This inspired him to write the show. One of the things that surprised him most was the breadth of backgrounds in the Boston immigrant population. He represents that in “Downtown Crossing” by illustrating characters from all over the world.
“The narratives that we get in media so often about undocumented immigrants focus on the Mexican experience. But the Boston population of undocumented immigrants is actually very diverse,” says Valdes. “We have Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Central American and Caribbean populations. Our other big undocumented population in Boston is Irish. People don’t even think about that narrative as part of the undocumented experience.”
In fact, Valdes says, many people don’t even think of Boston as a “border” because it’s bordered by water — but the port city takes in many immigrants, including Valdes’ own family when they came to the United States.
It’s not only the characters that come from far and wide for this play, but the actors too. The cast includes local Boston actors, Northeastern students and other actors nationwide from San Francisco to Puerto Rico. This is another bonus of working in an online space; there are no geographic boundaries on creative talent. Artists who might otherwise never have met can create work together.
Company One is known for incorporating activist actions into their productions. In this piece, the team felt it was crucial to give the audience the chance to participate in real change around these issues. “It’s important that we recognize and amplify stories about people that are struggling with some of the laws in this country,” says Williams. The action opportunities will come in several different forms, from educational talks with local immigration-centric nonprofit organizations to ‘hours of action’ before performances when audience members will be led in active actions to support undocumented immigrants.
These are heavy topics and heartwrenching experiences, but Williams says hope is one of the most important takeaways of the piece. She says, “Despair is very much centered in that conversation … This provides something that we as audiences need right now, a good dose of joy.”