Weaving 700 pages of transcribed interviews of undocumented teens into a compelling story is a daunting task for a writer, but something in the words sparked Gary Soto’s interest — hope.
That hope is paramount in the playwright's latest work, “In and Out of Shadows,” opening Saturday in a production presented by the Marsh Youth Theater.
In the ambitious undertaking, some two dozen young actors of varied ethnic backgrounds shed light on what it’s like to be an undocumented youth in Richmond or Pinole.
But the show also is funny, says Emily Klion, program director for the MYT Teen Troupe. She adds, “and just when you are laughing, the playwright kind of hits you with a one-two punch.”
The youths’ discomfort comes in the form of fear — of being deported, being separated from undocumented parents, or having nobody care for them.
“We wanted people to see that undocumented teenagers were just exactly the same as every other teenager with the same hopes and dreams,” Klion says. “But that they are constantly coming in and out of the shadows.”
She adds: “These kids are dreamers — they dream big and they are not deterred by their status. They are very optimistic.”
Rich details in the show come from teens affected by Assembly Bill 540, which allows certain undocumented students to attend college in California and pay in-state tuition at public institutions.
“They all had incredible aspirations,” Klion says. "I was looking at all these kids who, at that point, couldn't even get a job at Starbucks because they weren't allowed to work. And I saw so clearly that these were smart and had a tremendous contribution to make to American society — and that if we let them stay and let them do what they want to do, we would actually have a much stronger America.”