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Land of Plenty: How Did You Come to Be Here?

Land of Plenty poster
Poster for Land of Plenty: How Did You Come to Be Here?

On Fri., Nov. 11 and Sat., Nov. 12 at 7:30 pm in the Marshall Performing Arts Center, UMD’s Diversity Commission presents Land of Plenty: How Did You Come to Be Here?, a collaboration of campus and community actors, artists, and musicians. A discussion will follow each performance. Tickets to the production are available at the UMD Multicultural Center, UMD Kirby Info Desk, At Sara’s Table, online at Brown Paper Tickets, or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

The show was written by Sara Thomsen. She was encouraged to create the production after The Echoes of Peace Choir, a community choir Thomsen founded in 2002, did a performance entitled Pastures of Plenty last spring. Pastures of Plenty explored the theme of immigration. Land of Plenty continues that exploration and wrestles with the realities of the United States as both a land of opportunity and welcome, and also a land of inequality, exclusion, and forced relocation.

In the Land of Plenty, which is directed by UMD Theater Professor Tom Isbell, Thomsen weaves the stories of her European ancestor’s immigrations with the stories of other people at the same time in history. “I started thinking about my own family’s immigration past." Her Norwegian ancestors came to the U.S. in 1862. "Then I began looking into what was happening here in the U.S. at the same time,” she said. In 1862, following the Dakota War, the Dakota people were forcibly removed from their land. “In order for my people to settle on what was billed as low-cost land, others had to pay a very high price,” she stated. Thomsen uncovered other parallel stories: “At the same time that my English ancestor made his journey to the U.S., Harriet Tubman was making her journey out of slavery."

An exhibition entitled “Mosaic: How
Did We Come to Be Here?” featuring artworks by UMD students and faculty will be displayed in the lobby of the Marshall Performing Art Center from
6-7:30 pm each evening. Doors for the performance open at 7 pm.

The group, Simultaneous, will perform a piece entitled "Past, Present, and Future" which was written by David Comer, former director of the African American Student Program. Comer, Daniel Oyinloye, and Jean Lohese started Simultaneous as UMD students. Daniel Oyinloye has since graduated and is now UMD's African American Student Programs coordinator. Sandra Gbeintor, a freshman at UMD, is the newest addition to the group.

Oyinloye said that "Past, Present, and Future" takes "a poetic approach about the African American journey though history." He explains that, "The Past and Present are about how we have perceived ourselves and how we have been perceived, its about the forgotten culture. With the Future, there is the reassurance and the knowledge – both – that the future has endless possibilities." He hopes that Land of Plenty will help educate people. "It's important to know that education is not just tests and books. Listening to people's stories brings it home."

Thomsen understands that talking about issues such as race relations and white privilege are not easy for some people. She hopes that by presenting these issues using poetry and music, the lessons will “go into the heart, instead of just the head.” She will be very pleased if people “come away from the show with a greater awareness, even an appreciation and a curiosity, about their own story and other people’s stories.”

Tom Isbell has enjoyed directing the project. "The script raises a lot of questions and doesn't give a lot of pat answers. It's a mixture of challenging text and amazing songs," he said. Isbell has found the process personally enriching as well. "I'm hearing so many other stories. It makes you reevaluate your own. You become aware of similarities in our stories and things that are different."

In addition to Thomsen and Oyinloye, a diverse group of artists will perform in Land of Plenty. They include Juli (Jake) Cáceres, UMD Foreign Languages and Literatures Department.; Michael Laughing Fox Charette, Native American flute player and poet; Ryan Frane, UMD director of Jazz Studies; Sarah M. Greer, an improvisational artist and voice instructor, Minneapolis Community & Technical College; Lyz Jaakola, songwriter and music faculty, Fond Du Lac Tribal & Community College; Elias Mokole, baritone, UMD music faculty; and The Echoes of Peace Choir. Actors include UMD theatre students and local community members.

For more information about the How Did You Come to Be Here? campus initiative, visit the Diversity Commission website or contact Joie Acheson Lee.

In addition to support from the UMD Diversity Commission, this event is sponsored by the following: School of Fine Arts, Office of Cultural Diversity, Commission on Women, College of Liberal Arts, Swenson College of Science and Engineering, Office of Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Office of Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, College of Education and Human Services Professions, Labovitz School of Business and Economics, and Human Resources and Equal Opportunity. Broader community: The Echoes of Peace Choir.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, Oct. 2011


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UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,

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