Photo by Sheryl Sinkow

ITHACA, N.Y. — Opening this week, Ithaca College Theatre’s production of Anon(ymous) is a timely reminder of the current refugee crisis. Based on Naomi Iizuka’s play, it shares the story of Homer’s Odyssey transported to the modern world.

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Iizuka, daughter of an American Latina attorney and a Japanese banker, imagined the story’s main voyager as a Southeast Asian refugee called Anon. Separated from his mother by a shipwreck after fleeing their war-torn native land, Anon has to grow up quickly in the hopes of finding her in foreign America, according to Jordy Diaz, who plays the protagonist.

The fact that Anon(ymous) is first and foremost a story about the refugee experience came into focus for guest director Jen Wineman as the Syrian refugee crisis began to dominate the news.

“The image of hordes of women and children huddled together on a boat to escape a war torn country figures prominently in the play,” Wineman said.

Every night when she was listening to NPR news on her way home from rehearsal, she heard stories of refugees who were making dangerous, often fatal ocean crossings. She felt that the play “was able to humanize” those world events very powerfully.

Anon(ymous) is ultimately a story about hope,” Wineman noted, “and there is no emotion more human than that.”

Working on this show also made the actors more aware of these current events. Diaz said that the first week of rehearsal was a “wake-up call” as he grew to understand the play’s connections to recent global events.

“It’s embarrassing to admit that for the longest time, I turned a blind eye to the news and politics surrounding us in our day-to-day lives, but our first week of rehearsal was entirely tablework and a lot of these issues — the Syrian refugee crisis, the 2015 presidential election — all of that came up as hot topics of debate that, in some ways, were relevant to the play,” Diaz said.

The co-founder of a New York-based theater company called Studio 42, Wineman employed a directing style that empowered the actors to infuse their own ideas and experiences into the production. She specializes in Devised Theater. According to John Walton’s tips for devised theater on The Guardian, “‘Devising’ is a process in which the whole creative team develops a show collaboratively” and where “everyone is involved in the creative process.” 

Photo by Sheryl Sinkow

Both Diaz and Celena Morgan, who plays Anon’s mother, praised Wineman’s ability to create an environment that allowed the actors to express their own ideas.

“There’s a really warm, relaxed energy to her that fills the room and makes you feel so welcomed in. She makes it very clear that we’re all artists with something unique to bring to the table and she does a great job of establishing a positive, collaborative environment,” Diaz said.

Wineman also encouraged the actors to draw from imaginations what they could not have on the set, whose design recalls a refugee camp.

“We created storms, boats, trains, etc. using our bodies and only a few props given to us. These images came from us in the rehearsal room. It really got our creative juices flowing,” Morgan said.

Wineman shared some special acting techniques with the actors. Morgan talked about learning what Wineman calls ‘bakackacting’ (pronounced: Bah-kack-ting) – “using your whole body so every section of audience members can see how you are reacting to a moment in the play.”

Wineman’s passion for Devised Theater affects the choice of the plays she directs, which usually challenge the sense of time and space, and require performers to use their imagination.

“I like plays that experiment with the fluidity of time and space, which create their own rules. I like plays that invite me as a director to explore visually and physically, that invite a huge imagination and a strong sense of theatricality. I like plays that have to be plays, which employ methods of storytelling that could only exist in the theater. I like funny plays, and I appreciate plays that have a sense of magic,” Wineman said.

Upon her first reading of Anon(ymous), it was clear this was the play for her, because “it has it all.”

Performances will run in the Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center at 8 p.m. on December 1, 3, 4 and 5, as well as at 2 p.m. on December 5 and 6. “Anon(ymous)” is suitable for school-aged children.cal

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