On the eve of the 1954 closing of Ellis Island, two teenagers, an Italian-American and an Irish-American, sneak inside the main building to see it for themselves. They meet an older man, now a janitor after serving as an inspector on the island since the early 1900s. The teens are drawn into his stories from the past and his memories come alive with an ensemble of people from all nationalities and backgrounds. Some of the immigrants are already famous, some will become famous and many, many others are “famous” only within their own families. But they all share one thing: they are on the path of their "pursuit of happiness." A timely play with music that celebrates America as a country of immigrants. About 50 minutes.
With Playwright Nora Louise Syran
Q: What inspired you to write this play?
A: My lovely theater group of 2017. I had actors from France, America, Germany, England, Ireland, Lebanon, Italy, Turkey and Kazakhstan all studying in the American Option of a French International school! I began immersing myself in the real stories of the people who passed through Ellis Island and started piecing a play together for them. It was pure joy.
Q: What's your favorite part or line in the play? Why?
A: I think my favorite moment is when Khalil Gibran asks his mother Kamileh Gibran which is more important, "my life of or yours" and she answers, "Mine...You are my life." These are the words of Khalil Gibran, but I wanted his mother and his mother's homeland to be a source of inspiration to him.
Q: Where did the characters come from? Are they based on people you know?
A: They are based on real stories of the very real people who came through Ellis Island. The Canadian Frank Woodhall, for example, really was the most famous person in New York for the day s/he arrived in New York. But other characters are drawn from my own life as well.
Q: What did you try to achieve with this play?
A: I wanted to bring attention to the courage it takes to leave one's homeland and start a new life somewhere completely foreign to you. It's not a decision I imagine anyone takes lightly. Even today. While I wanted to highlight the hardship, I also wanted to explore our collective capacity for hope.
Q: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
A: "The thing I admire most about America is its relentless capacity for reinvention. Yours is the land of Jazz, Space Exploration, Martin Luther King, the teenager, Twain and Salinger, Rhythm and Blues, stand up comedy, era-defining journalism, New York and Los Angeles. Diversity, pluralism THE cultural melting pot. These are dark times and I'm not wishing to ignore or dismiss the very serious problems, but the United States is an inspirational country for many around the world. Hang onto that." --History Teacher, Danny Brent (UK)