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Emerson serves as backdrop for new asylum seeker drama

By: Geralyn Wichers

Posted: 05/21/2018 10:45 PM

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Asylum seekers Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed collaborated with One Trunk Theatre to write Boundary Avenue. Five dollars from each ticket sold will go towards establishing them in their new lives in Winnipeg.

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Asylum seekers Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed collaborated with One Trunk Theatre to write Boundary Avenue. Five dollars from each ticket sold will go towards establishing them in their new lives in Winnipeg.

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It was almost by fluke that Andraea Sartison spent a night on the Emerson border.

The winter of 2016-2017 saw a surge of asylum seekers illegally crossing the Emerson border. One February day, the Winnipeg-based theatre artist was in Steinbach with photojournalist Caroline Wintoniw. Wintoniw got a call asking her to go to Emerson to photograph asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Sartison tagged along.

"It was just shocking," Sartison said. She was struck by the frigid weather, the snowy landscape the seekers crossed and the worldwide media presence.

Sartison said she found herself caught between the storylines of people desperate to get to safety, and of the journalists broadcasting that desperation around the world. In that uncomfortable place, she was inspired.

The fruit of that inspiration premieres on stage May 23.

Boundary Avenue is a documentary-style play produced by One Trunk Theatre. It tells the story of refugee Hamza as he makes his way from Ghana to Canada, and of photojournalist William who is eager for a story.

Hamza’s story is based on the experiences of Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed, asylum seekers who gained media attention after they crossed the Emerson border on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve in 2016. Both men lost their hands to frostbite.

"We didn’t imagine it," Sartison said of the play. Though Hamza is a fictional character, his story is based on interviews.

Iyal and Mohammed partnered with Sartison and company and spent hours discussing their stories in depth.

Many of the characters in the play are based on real people, and much of the text of the story was actually said in interviews, Sartison said.

She, Wintoniw and theatre artist Liam Zarrillo also conducted workshops with refugees. They asked people to bring objects that they’d brought from their home countries and tell them the stories of these objects. They weaved these story threads into Boundary Avenue.

The cast brings their own experiences. Many of the actors and designers involved came to Winnipeg from other countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, India and Bangladesh, Sartison said.

"That’s been very amazing," Sartison said, explaining that they’re not just a group from Winnipeg trying to interpret an array of cultural experiences. "We have people in the room that can actually speak to that."

Boundary Avenue is directed by Debbie Patterson and runs from May 23 to 27 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Five dollars from each ticket sold will go to supporting Razak Iyal and Seidu Mohammed as they begin new lives in Winnipeg.

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