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Sandglass Theater showcases struggle of refugees through puppetry

Conversations about refugees have reached phones, social media, news networks and now, even puppets. Vermont-based Sandglass Theater employed the latter in their show, “Babylon: Journeys of Refugees,” which played at the Puppet Showplace Theater at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre Thursday, Jan. 24, to Saturday, Jan. 26.

Sandglass Theater performed a puppet show titled “Babylon: Journey of Refugees” presented by Puppet Showplace Theater at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre. COURTESY OF KIQE BOSCH

According to a study guide of the show by Sandglass Theater, the name of the production comes from the the ancient city of Babylon in present-day Iraq. The Babylon Exile refers to the forced detention of Jews in the Kingdom of Babylonia just after the year 600 BCE.

The study guide said the name “Babylon” is a metaphor for the destruction and destabilization of a refugee’s homeland and tries to address the living situation of refugees.

Susie Hernandez, 31, a Suffolk alumna, attended the show Friday. With a bilingual background, she said she volunteers to help asylum seekers adapt to the United States.

Hernandez said the show used “a lot of kind and respectful expressions” while telling stories.

Roxanna Myhrum, artistic director of Puppet Showplace Theater, said a workshop hosted by Eric Bass, a co-founding artistic director of Sandglass Theater, and his daughter, Shoshanna Bass, inspired her to invite “Babylon” to Suffolk University.

The workshop focused on gathering community stories and being truthful in performance while straying from any cultural appropriation, according to Myhrum.

“As a presenter of the work, one of the things we wanted to do was to connect back to the refugees in Boston,” Myhrum said.

After the show, a conversation was held as part of the Ford Hall Forum Public Discussion Series. The show’s director and ensemble performers were joined by Suffolk faculty members Iani del Rosario Moreno, Ragini Shah and Rev. Amy Fisher.

Myhrum said the post-show conversation was a way to bring expertise from other fields to the topic of refugees. Accordingly, she said they hope that audience members channel the energy stemming from the performance to follow-up actions.

During the talk, the audience shared diverse understandings of a character named Gretel, a German war ghost. Gretel holds an important role in helping white audiences empathize with refugees from Africa, Muslim countries and Central America, according to the study guide.

Ines Zelles Bass, a co-founding artistic director of Sandglass, said during the conversation that Gretel’s character was based on her aunt — who went through a similar kind of hardship fleeing from what used to be part of Russia to the west.

“[Gretel] was incredibly compelling and real to me because she’s relevant,” Ines said. “She’s my aunt. I also found things about my mother I didn’t know, her bravery on the way fleeing from the East to the West.”

The Puppet Showplace Theater arranged two other community conversations to follow the show’s other two productions. The topics of these conversations included “Immigrant and Refugee Stories in Boston” and “Refugee Health in Boston.”

“Babylon” ran as part of the 45th season of “Puppets at Night,” a series hosted by the Puppet Showplace Theater.

According to their website, the target audience of the series is adults and teenagers, and the theme of this year, “Puppets for the People!,” seeks to present works that engage in human communities and inspire action.

“If we can just listen, even if it doesn’t necessarily move us to action or change the policy or whatever, but it’s the first step towards anything,” Shoshana said. “And I think it’s the most essential step.”

Myhrum said the series is a way to “build bridges” between people and among communities.

“Just listen to people’s experiences,” Hernandez said. “You know, listen to potentially some traumatizing experiences [immigrants] may have gone through to get here. Listen to their aspirations and dreams. Maybe seek ways in which you can support — maybe the only way you can support is just keep listening.”


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mislabeled the Puppet Showplace Theater at Suffolk University’s Modern Theatre as Suffolk University’s Puppet Showcase Theater. An updated version reflects this correction.

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