For 20 years, actor-write Dan Hoyle has dedicated his career to creating theatre from journalism. “I develop relationships with people in their communities, earn their trust, and listen to their deep story,” he says. Then, honing characters based on the people he meets, he tells their stories through monologues “that recreate the emotional experience I had in learning about their lives.”
In 2016, Hoyle was an artist in residence at Columbia University in search of an idea for another solo show. He met a man named Jarrett and his story for what is now Border People sparked. “I wanted to profile those who live on or across borders both geographical and cultural, by necessity or choice,” Hoyle says. Through conversations with immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and border crossers of all kinds, Hoyle crafted and performs 11 monologues to capture the story of the human spirit and elevate many who are overlooked and suppressed today.
The show plays its final performance February 22 at A.R.T/New York Theatres, but will tour New York City’s boroughs March 3–14. “I believe there is power in bringing real stories to our stages, and in having the person who was once asking the questions embody the people who provided the answers,” says Hoyle. “To me it’s an act of radical empathy and deep cross-cultural connection that we need more of in this world.”
Here, Hoyle offers a sneak peek at stories that shaped his true-theatre performance.
Jarrett from New Jersey
“I met Jarrett, a brilliant African-American chess master from a upper-middle class New Jersey suburb, living in the housing projects in the South Bronx a couple blocks from where we had lived for several years. He was a master code-switcher, dressed in Jordans and a sweater vest, honoring and playing with his complex identity. He was a true cultural border crosser, multi-faceted, full of complexities and overlapping narratives.”
Refugees from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq
“I read about Refugee Safe Houses along the Northern border and into Canada, so I went there. I met a young, iPhone scrolling Afghani refugee, fleeing the Taliban, waiting to enter Canada, still sporting the haircut from his American high school prom. I connected with a stateless Palestinian refugee, who had been persecuted by the Islamic Police in Saudi Arabia for not praying enough, so he fled to California. Then, feeling the tectonic changes of Trump’s election, he fled to Canada with his family. I went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, refugee capital of America, and met an Iraqi woman who had struggled to be accepted in Boston but found a home in Lancaster. Though her hijab marked her as different, she joked that it was all relative in Amish country, because at least she had a cell phone and refrigerator.”
Immigrants on the Southern Border
“I went to the Southern Border and into Mexico and met a man my age who found his sexuality, and love, in the U.S., but was deported back to Mexico where he can’t return to his family who still don’t know he’s gay. I got pulled over by a Border Patrol agent in Southern Arizona. After the routine checks, it turned out this man is an aspiring entertainer himself and picked my brain for performance tips. I hung out with deported veterans in Ciudad Juarez, guys who had served in the American military, but had never gotten full American citizenship. After being discharged, they were convicted of low-level drug crimes, sometimes related to PTSD from their service, and were deported to Mexico—a country most of them hadn’t lived in since they were babies.”