The inspiration behind this story comes from me watching a news story about the family separations at the US border. It was this news clip that broke my heart:
It's hard to listen to the children crying. I have so many feelings around this, but the foremost one is a sense of hopeless fury.
Separating a child from her parents is abuse. We know that. It infuriates me. I remember thinking ‘when will they ever learn? How could they do this again? It’s like something out of a Dickens novel'. Why can't they just unite this girl with her aunt?
Then I thought of Oliver Twist, the child lost in corrupt and heartless system, trying to find a home, a family. From the poor houses on the London streets in the 1870s, to the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop, the Doukhobor childen in BC taken from their families in the 1950s - it's all one sad, infuriating cycle of power and abuse.
What if Oliver Twist in 1870's London could become Olivia Ortiz in 2017 USA?
The Lost Child & The Hero's Journey
At the same time, I was following a story about a man in Texas who was on trial for aiding refugees, facing twenty years in prison for leaving water for people in the desert as part of a volunteer group he was in.
Here's that inspiration:
I'm not a politically powerful person, and most times I feel overwhelmed and feel I can't do much about it. But the story was really gripping me. I started to think about what it means to be a writer and storyteller, and started to obsess about characters, ideas, images. Patterns.
What if the lost child story trying to connect with her aunt could intertwine with a hero’s journey about people in a social justice movement?
How could that be told? Could a story make a difference?
And of course, we need a love story ...
That's where the "West Side Story" angle comes in. What if Olivia's aunt (Isabel) falls in love with an activist she meets as she tries to navigate the system? What if she gets more inspired and involved, and starts to understand and live into her own power as she tries to find her niece?
West Side Story, itself inspired by Romeo and Juliet, is about a couple falling in love in a time of community tension and divided families. So that theme works its way into the story too (along with a bit of "Les Miz" as there's a birth of a movement storyline here too.)
As a storyteller, I want to weave in interesting characters, raise the stakes, allow the audience to feel rising tensions, to create a story with complexity and depth. A story with emotion, with music that ties it all together and creates a moving experience for the audience.
So that's how it all started. With a feeling of helpless fury. With reading about a group of inspiring activists who put themselves on the line, and an obsessive thought that maybe I could write a story that might make a difference.
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