Three years ago, The Water Carriers was commissioned by Butler University, with the desire to create a project utilizing African Physical Theatre. According to the playwright, Michael Williams:
“African Physical Theatre is a form of storytelling that prioritizes the use of performers' bodies, using voice, dance, mime, humor, song and puppetry. The idea for the play crystallized when I re-visited two old African epic stories - the Mali legend of Sunjata and Credo Mutwa's retelling of The Tree of Life, an old Ndebele story - and found in these two narratives an abundance of dramatic moments which illustrated tenets of African Physical Theatre. The merging of these two legends - one from the North and the other from the South of Africa - has given rise to a new story, told by present-day characters in The Water Carriers.”
“The characters are a diverse group of refugees who are leaving Africa illegally, stowed away in a shipment container, bound for who-knows-where. I wanted to contextualize the legends and look at contemporary social issues that affect many of the inhabitants of the African continent. The refugees are accompanied by their ancestors (who encourage the re-telling of the legends and also participate in its narration) which is a fundamental belief of many African societies. Aside from being a useful theatrical device, it also is one of the pillars of story-telling in Africa... ‘or so my great-grandfather told me.’”According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of displaced people is at its highest ever -- surpassing even post-World War II numbers, when the world was struggling to come to terms with the most devastating event in history. The total at the end of 2015 reached 65.3 million -- or one out of every 113 people on Earth. Historically, the US has both welcomed and deterred the immigration of refugees. In 1913, fleeing genocide and national schism in Greece, my grandfather arrived in a small town in Massachusetts. Soon after, he fought for the US in WWI. Wounded three times, he later died of the shrapnel that plagued his body – but not before seeing the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 which restricted immigration of Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians, Greeks, and Eastern European Jews. The law also severely restricted the immigration of Africans and outright banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.