'Real words spoken:' Fringe Festival play tells the stories of immigrant women

We Are Not the Others is one of 50 plays coming to the Hamilton Fringe Festival in July.

Hamilton Fringe Festival will feature 50 productions, opens July 20

We Are Not the Others stars Rashaana Cumberbatch, Sima Sepehri, Heath V. Salazar and Angela Sun. The play is one of 50 at the Hamilton Fringe Festival in July. (Bessie Cheng)

A 12-year-old girl moves to Hamilton with her family, and it's a terrifying place.

She's new to Canada. She doesn't know English. In her former country, she wore a uniform to school, and now she doesn't know what to wear.

This is one of the stories of Hamilton's immigrant women in the new play We Are Not the Others — one of 50 plays coming to the Hamilton Fringe Festival in July.

In We Are Not the Others, playwright Izad Etemadi teams up with Mirna Carranza, a McMaster University professor of social work who conducted dozens of interviews with immigrant women.

The play intersperses monologues with group scenes, telling emotional and memorable stories of their experiences in Canada.

"I tried really hard to stay true to the words of the participants," said Etemadi, whose previous Fringe plays include Love with Leila and Borderland. The latter is about being gay in Iran.

It's so full of joy, and a really nice opening story. But it also becomes so deep and painful.-  Izad Etemadi

"I had to edit a few things, just for the full arc, but most of the words are real words spoken."

Etemadi and Carranza first met when he mediated a panel about Syrian refugees at the Immigrants Working Centre.

They sat next to each other at lunch and Carranza told him about some of the 100 interviews she'd conducted.

Etemadi took 30 of her interviews and condensed them. One of those stories was the 12-year-old girl.

As she learns English and adapts, he said, "she notices how her parents are struggling, and the very silent sacrifices a child has to make as an immigrant.

"It's so full of joy, and a really nice opening story. But it also becomes so deep and painful."

Another story deals with leaving dying parents behind. The women's native countries aren't identified, he said, to avoid identifying the storytellers.

The play premiered in November at the Art Gallery of Hamilton Annex. Donald Trump was elected that week.

"It was very interesting to see how the tone of our piece changed," he said.

For immigrants, "making art has become a political statement," he said. "Just existing and telling our stories has become political."

Tommy Douglas as a boxer

The play stars Rashaana Cumberbatch, Heath V Salazar, Sima Sepehri and Angela Sun.

This is the 14th season for the unjuried festival, which runs from July 20 to 30.

This year's festival offerings range from God Sees Dog, a queer coming-of-age parody featuring Charlie Brown of Peanuts, to Gilda, a tribute to Gilda Radner by Kansas City playwright Helena Cosentino.

In This Corner: Eight Rounds with Tommy Douglas, has the father of Medicare as a boxer. "If you knock him down, he just gets back up again," the description reads. ("Warning: Audience participation," it says.) Langston Hughes versus Joe McCarthy, meanwhile, incorporates "dance, music and powerful images of the era." 

The festival happens throughout Hamilton at venues such as the Theatre Aquarius, Mills Hardware and the Staircase Café Theatre.

The kick off event for the festival will be July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Alexander Centre, 160 King St. E.

We Are Not the Others

Venue: Mills Hardware, 95 King St. E.

  • July 21: 8:30 p.m.
  • July 23: 3 p.m.
  • July 24: 6 p.m.
  • July 26: 8 p.m.
  • July 28: 6 p.m.
  • July 29: 8:30 p.m.
  • July 30: 3:30 p.m.

Tickets: $10 (plus a $5 Fringe backer button)

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC