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Theatre professor's play inspired by deadly incident on Mexican border


In May of 2001, José Casas remembers watching a news broadcast detailing a tragic incident near Yuma, Ariz., where smugglers abandoned 30 Mexicans who were crossing the desert.

Of those 30 people, 14 died of dehydration.

In response, Casas, U-M assistant professor of theatre and drama and award-winning playwright, wrote “14,” a play based on interviews and public accounts of Arizonans and their different attitudes toward the contemporary issues of undocumented immigration at the time.

It will be presented by the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s Department of Theatre & Drama at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at U-M’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. A talkback with the cast and community members will immediately follow. The performance is free to the public, but seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Q: Can you talk about creating “14” and where you were at in your life when you wrote it?

Casas: I originally wrote this play about 15 years ago when I was attending graduate school at Arizona State University. I was inspired by an incident where 14 Mexican nationals died in the desert near Yuma, Arizona. I remember the newscast showing a helicopter aerial view where you could see all of the bodies on the ground—and I remember thinking that those people could be my father or my cousin or one of my friends. My reaction was this play, which is made up of 14 fictionalized monologues that represent different peoples’ perspectives on issues of immigration, race and public policy related to the border.

Q: Can you talk about some of the characters represented in the monologues?

Casas: Each monologue is based on real events and a combination of public records and interviews that I conducted with real people. Some of them are angry and some of them are sad. There’s one about a preacher who puts up water stations in the Arizona desert so that people don’t die. He tells a story about a father who had to identify his daughter’s body by a necklace that she received for her 15th birthday. There’s one about a day laborer at Home Depot who wants to be able to afford to get his daughter a real doll, so he starts talking about Barbies. There’s another about a woman who works as a maid and talks about La Virgen de Guadalupe, which is the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary. Her monologue is completely in Spanish.

Q: How much of the play is presented in Spanish?

Casas: Two of the 14 monologues are completely in Spanish and are not translated at all; it’s actually part of the play. Because when we’re dealing with race in America—specifically the Latino community—language is always going to be a factor. For some people, language represents a fear for them. In Arizona, they’re trying to ban ethnic studies at every level, including speaking Spanish in classrooms. So you cannot represent all angles of this situation unless you include the people that don’t speak English, but are contributing to this country anyway. The hope is that the people who can’t understand Spanish will be able to read other cues and try to figure out what is being said. It also creates a great conversation for the talkback with the cast and audience members after the show as well.

Q: What are some of the challenges in writing this kind of work?

Casas: When you’re doing interview-based theater, finding a diverse group of people willing to talk about the subject matter is always the most difficult part. I tried to make it as complex as possible—to show many different angles of the issue. I never want my work to come across one-sided.

Q: Your play has been performed many times since you first wrote it almost 15 years ago. Has anything changed since then?

Casas: Unfortunately, it seems even more relevant today than it was 15 years ago. In my opinion, the situation has gotten worse. The current administration has created an atmosphere of conflict surrounding the border and immigration, and I personally feel we have a president who is actively endorsing racism. The same problems persisting back then are still not being solved today, which is why I think that presenting and creating artistic work about this subject matter is so important.

Q: Is there anything you’re working on right now?

Casas: I’m an issue-based playwright, so my work is usually about incidents or things that are happening in the world that I’m passionate about responding to. I’m currently working on a play about the Flint water crisis that is going to be produced next year by U-M’s theater program.



14: A Night of Teatro & Conversation

Thursday, February 22 at 7 pm

Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre (Michigan League)

Free - no tickets required

A reception will follow in the Henderson Room located in the Michigan League.

past news

November 2015
October 2014

Anisha Nandi, from The Michigan Daily, sat down with professor Michael Gould to talk about his "Remember Me" show. The video can be seen on the Michigan Daily website.   10/01/2014

July 2014

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Dance, Peter Sparling is a recipient of a Distinguished University Professorship. Effective September 1, Sparling will be a Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor. This appointment is one of the highest honors the University can bestow upon a faculty member.   07/18/2014

Professor Patricia Hall will be presenting her paper, "Alban Berg's 'Guilt' by Association to the Music, Censorship and Meaning in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union conference at the Colburn School in Los Angeles this August.   07/12/2014

April 2014

Prof. Ed Sarath Receives U-M's "Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award" 04/21/2014

Professor Kuster Wins Prestigious OPERA America Grant 04/04/2014

Professor Mukherji to Speak in London this July 04/04/2014

Áine Heneghan, Assistant Professor of Music Theory, will present her research on Schoenberg's Formenlehre at the following conferences, all in 2014: Music Theory Midwest (Appleton, WI), the Eighteenth Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music (Toronto, Canada), EuroMAC (Leuven, Belgium), and the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory (Milwaukee).   04/01/2014

March 2014

U-M UpstART Festival Begins 03/31/2014

A Multimedia Installation on Climate Change 03/28/2014

Wayne Petty, Associate Professor of Music Theory, will read his paper, "Some Multimovement Designs in C. P. E. Bach's Late Keyboard Sonatas" at the Seventh EuroMac conference, which will gather scholars from all music theory societies in Europe in Leuven, Belgium, from 17 to 21 September, 2014.  An adaptation of the paper will be presented to the Society for Music Theory in Milwaukee in the Fall of 2014.   03/26/2014

Walter Everett, Professor of Music Theory, announces the publication of Los Beatles como músicos: De Revolver de la Antología (Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia, 2013), the Spanish translation of his The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology (Oxford University Press, 1999).   03/21/2014

Celebration of Professor George Shirley's 80th Birthday 03/19/2014

Prof. Korsyn presents keynote in The Hague, serves in scholarly appointments 03/14/2014

December 2013

In January 2014 Professor Wayne Petty will read the paper, "Wilhelm Fischer and the Fortspinnung-type Sonata Exposition," at the Seventh International Conference on Music Theory in Tallin and Pärnu, Estonia.  The conference theme is "Musical Form: Mapping the Territories."   12/17/2013

AmeriGrove II, edited by Professor Charles Garrett, is published 12/13/2013

November 2013

Gosman Presents Beethoven Research 11/16/2013

Department of Music Theory Announces Visiting Speakers of 2014 11/16/2013

Everett Launches Beatles Observances 11/16/2013

Interarts professor Holly Hughes presents The Dog and Pony Show (Bring Your Own Pony) in a webcast performance at the Chicago Humanities Festival on Mon., Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Her newest performance work, the piece offers a poetic and comic meditation on midlife crises in the key of canine.   11/01/2013

September 2013

SMTD Welcomes New Faculty 09/27/2013

Ramon Satyendra, associate professor of music theory, has published his essay, "Morphisms of Generalized Interval Systems and PR-Groups" (co-authored with Thomas Fiore and Thomas Noll), in Journal of Mathematics and Music 7/1.   09/20/2013

Alan Gosman Co-authors New Beethoven Book 09/06/2013

July 2013

Professor Ashley Lucas and three Theatre & Drama students are engaged in an intensive exchange program with UniRio in Rio de Janiero, Brazil this summer, where they are blogging about their experiences in UniRio's prison arts program and more.   07/12/2013

June 2013

SMTD Mourns Professor Emeritus Erling Bengtsson 06/10/2013

Holly Hughes, professor of interarts performance in the Department of Theatre & Drama, was profiled in Hyperallergic, an online magazine about art and culture, which included a Q&A with Hughes about her role as one of the "NEA Four."   06/06/2013

Music theory professor Walter Everett's role as an expert on the music of the Beatles was the subject of an article in      06/06/2013

Hall presents in Copenhagen 06/03/2013

May 2013

Robert Hurst, associate professor of jazz and contemporary improvisation, was featured in a Q&A article in on the occasion of the release of his new CD, BOB: a palindrome.   05/01/2013

November 2012
November 2011
February 2010
Current Faculty News
Prof. Ellen Rowe honored as Arthur F. Thurnau Professormore

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Peter Smith

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