After tackling the topic of human connection in the digital age with “Each and Every Thing,” Oakland-based playwright Dan Hoyle is moving on to another timely topic: borders and immigration. In his next one-man show, “Border People,” Hoyle will tell the stories of those who live on or across borders both physical and cultural.
In 2016, after President Donald Trump’s election, Hoyle became interested in borders and how they play in to the everyday lives of Americans. The first character Hoyle conceived for the show was inspired by a man he met in New York who had grown up in an upper-middle-class suburb in New Jersey and had moved to the Bronx.
“He had to code-switch every day between his upbringing and where he’s living now. He had to split the difference. He crosses a lot of different cultures in his life and (as) who he is. It struck me as a really perfect start for this show,” Hoyle said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I became interested in the borders we cross and don’t cross — why and what do they mean, when are they useful and when are they not?”
In addition to speaking with individuals in the South Bronx, Hoyle also conducted interviews with people living across the United States’ southern border with Mexico as well as past the northern border into Canada. Through these interviews, Hoyle created 11 characters — each largely based off of one person he interviewed — and wrote monologues for each. Together, these individual speeches make up “Border People.”
Unlike in his past solo shows, Hoyle does not appear as himself in his most recent script. Instead, he decided to keep the focus on the 11 characters and their stories. The monologues are not quite verbatim, as Hoyle shaped them to fit the theater, but they maintain the sincerity of the interviews they came from.
“It was liberating to take out my voice. The stories (of these individuals) are so strong and interesting … so raw and poignant. You don’t really need my commentary. And I kind of wanted to give audiences that same exhilaration and intensity that I felt when I was talking to (these) people,” Hoyle said.
In addition to aiming to bring attention to the complexities of these individuals in general, Hoyle voiced his efforts to highlight the narratives of immigrant characters. Such people’s stories, he said, make up the core of the show’s message.
“So much of what the show is saying is to look at all these different stories of people who are thoroughly American, especially refugees. They love America and embody the ideology of the American ideal more than anyone I’ve encountered,” Hoyle said of the immigrants with whom he spoke for the project.
As for the tone of the piece, Hoyle insisted that the humor is very apparent, despite some of the deeply moving and difficult stories he encountered. Hoyle felt compelled to include the tough stories because of the emotional impact they had on him and that which he hopes they will have on future audiences.
One of these stories is that of a gay man who lived undocumented in the United States for many years, a period during which he came out publicly as gay and fell in love. Upon being deported, he had to face his family members, who were unaware of sexuality.
“He (was) like, ‘They don’t know I’m gay and that I have HIV. I have to go back to the person I was before, and I don’t want that,’ ” Hoyle said, recounting the conversation he had with this man. “That struck me because we all have ways in which we recreate ourselves and, for the most part, we’re allowed to do that. But he had to go back to a previous version of himself due to something that had nothing to do with anything — he had crossed over a lot of borders, and he had to cross back.”
Looking at immigration and talk of borders in the news, Hoyle pointed toward the dehumanization he feels often happens with the individual lives that make up the mass of immigrants in news articles. Hoyle hopes “Border People” will bring focus to audience members on the specific individuals who make up the bigger conversation in the United States of immigration and borders.
“The thing that I keep coming back to is that the stories (in “Border People”) shatter talking points. The specificity of people’s stories do that,” Hoyle said. “It’s a really big question of where we draw the line, how we decide who gets to come in (to the United States). But I think (these) stories just show people that … these are real lives — real, complex lives.”
“Border People” is playing at The Marsh in San Francisco from Jan. 11 through Feb. 23.