As an immigrant, Margie McDonald is appalled by the treatment of families who are trying illegally to cross the border from Mexico to the United States to seek asylum.
“I have never been so aware that I am an immigrant until just two years ago with the feeling that I am not welcome in this country because I am an immigrant now,” said McDonald, a Canadian citizen who has been living in America for about two decades.
“I have been to several events, and then I was invited to protest an immigration facility, and I decided I couldn’t do that because I am an immigrant,” McDonald said. “I am more vulnerable. I feel like I really can’t get out there and protest too much because I am not a citizen.”
Instead of getting out a picket sign and heading for the nearest Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainment center, McDonald is choosing to protest via art.
“This is a quieter form of protest,” she said.
This past weekend saw the premiere of Frozen Borders, a performative exploration in imagery, poetry and emotion of the immigration issue at the southern border. The performance, presented by Port Townsend’s Key City Public Theatre, kicked off Feb. 2 with an additional show Feb. 3.
The performance was a collaboration between McDonald and Seattle poet Daemond Arrindell.
Arrindell has performed and facilitated workshops in poetry venues, prisons, high schools and colleges across the country.
During the show, Arrindell was enclosed on stage inside a chain-link cage, a visual representation of the facilities in which migrant families are placed when they illegally cross the border looking for asylum.
McDonald said she was inspired to create the show while working with immigrant children during a program by Centrum at Fort Worden.
“Daemond does spoken word with the children, and he really gets them to talk about their fears,” McDonald said. “As the years went along, we see they have more and more fears, and that is really where the discussion is coming from. How insecure these children are, and how they are afraid their family can be sent away from them at any time.”
It is that fear McDonald said she tried to capture on stage with the use of the chain-link fence and other imagery.
“I am trying to capture the whole idea of capture,” McDonald said. “I want to put the poet in a fence because that is where the children are, inside the chain-link fence. And then, since these walls are such a lovely black, I wanted to use chalk because that is something that is reminiscent of childhood. The alphabet in the back represents the children and where they stay in the detention centers. Their towels are marked by a letter of the alphabet.”
McDonald said she hopes the performance will help inspire others to act.
“We need to stop separating the families and traumatizing those children,” she said. “Just as simple as that. That is where my sympathy lies, with those children, because I just can’t imagine the damage we are doing and what is going to happen when those children grow up, and how we are going to feel about this whole thing.”
Frozen Borders is the inaugural production of a new series, named Artist Colab at the theater.
“This is a new initiative that we’ve created here,” said Denise Winter, KCPT artistic director. “The idea is to find artists who work in different fields than theater, and create unique collaborations between artists, starting with an invitation to a particular artist whose work I am familiar with.”
January is an ideal month because the stage is not being used for regular season performances, Winter said.
“We give them this as a laboratory space to create collaborations that will result in some kind of public presentation,” Winter said. “There is no requirement that it necessarily be a staged production in the traditional sense, but something that they envision that will bring the public in to share in their work. This is going to be an annual collaboration, and I am really hoping that it brings people to the theater that are coming for a different type of experience, and that artists find out about us and see us as a venue for their work.”
McDonald hopes the one-hour production proves popular enough for a repeat performance in the future.
“If there is enough interest in our first two shows, we will do it again,” she said.