Lawrence Toppman

‘Magic Kite’ tells special immigrant story

A kite soars above you, as high as string and ingenuity can send it, while you remain planted on the ground. It’s a link between heaven and Earth, imagination and physical reality, freedom and fixedness.

That’s why it was a perfect symbol for Charlotte artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner in her Papalote Project, where children of deported immigrants expressed feelings about separation. And why she created Tito, whose enchanted kite reconnects him spiritually with his dad in Mexico in a series of 22 paintings. It’s also why José Cruz González wrote “The Magic Kite,” a play with live actors and puppets that used those paintings for inspiration. The show has toured schools and comes to ImaginOn April 22 for a world premiere production by Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. (CTC has done his “Salt and Pepper” and “Tomás and the Library Lady.”)

Let them tell you about it in their own words.

‘Torn apart’

Torres-Weiner: “I saw families separating, being torn apart by a broken immigration system. So I started an art workshop at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for children and asked them to draw whatever image mattered most to them.

“They drew pictures of parents being arrested, being attacked, with their hands behind them, and family members weeping. I thought at first I would attach these to kites and send them up in the air, but the children added so many ribbons and so much glitter they would not fly. Levine Museum of the New South put them up in 2013, and you can still see some in the ‘¡NUEVOlution!’ exhibit.”

‘What’s the story here?’

González: “A lot of my work starts visually. ‘Salt and Pepper’ began with me looking out a hotel window, seeing snow and thinking of letters falling from the sky. So I looked at Rosalia’s paintings and asked, ‘What’s the story here?’ Over a year and a half, working with Rosalia, (Children’s Theatre’s) Mark Sutton and Adam Burke, we found it.

“One big question in creating was ‘How do you tell a story about “the other” when you may not have that representation onstage? What if the characters are Latino but performed by a mixed company?’ That’s how we ended up creating the piece with puppets.”

A kite is an escape

Torres-Weiner: “The story of Tito started with a painting of a very little boy being tossed in the air by his father. And it goes through to the final image where the sky is full of kites, and they’re telling all the children’s stories. The idea is that there may be a huge border between people, but love connects us.

“The kite is meaningful to me, because it goes back to my childhood. I remember making kites at a festival in Mexico to forget about my own father for a while, because he wasn’t supportive of our family. Kites were an escape for me.”

‘I know (this) world’

González: “I know the working-class, migrant farm worker world. I have had family members struggle with the question (of immigration). My grandfather was a young man in this country; he’d volunteered to fight in World War II, he and my grandmother took in my mother when she was a widow, and I didn’t realize he was still undocumented in the 1970s.

“You have to leave an audience with hope, though the story is heartbreaking because they may not see each other again. (Tito and his family) fly to see the father (on the kite); they can’t cross the border, and he can’t see them, but they feel each other’s presence.”

‘People don’t see these things’

González: “I have worked with this theme before. One of my first plays for Theater for Young Audiences was ‘The Highest Heaven.’ It takes place in the 1930s and focuses on a Mexican family who were picked up, thrown in boxcars and dumped off in Mexico. That’s American history.”

Torres-Weiner: “José and I have similar backgrounds, which helped us create something we both understood. And Adam had the guts to tell this story, which does not have a happy ending. I think that’s important, because people don’t see these things in their own lives and don’t know about them. So much of our community lives in a bubble.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘The Magic Kite’

When: 7:30 p.m. April 22, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. April 23, 2 p.m. April 24, 3 p.m. April 30, 2 p.m. May 1.

Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

Tickets: $12-$20.

Details: 704-330-6534 or ctcharlotte.org.

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