Playwright Eugenia Woods interviewed hundreds of immigrants to give the community “a direct voice” in her work.

Patrick Baum

Eugenia Woods does not seek solitude when she writes a play.

She talks to people. Conducts surveys. Asks questions. Listens to answers.

That’s how her well-reviewed play “Famished,” which opened two years ago in Portland, Oregon, came about.

And it’s how her newest play, “The Migration Project,” was created.

Taproot Productions stages the play over the next two weekends. While it is fully staged, this is a workshop production, says Woods. She anticipates more polish before it receives its premiere.

We talked to Woods about her how the play came about:

About that process: “I’ve been interested in community engagement for several years,” says Woods. “Famished” was developed through interviews with Portland residents. “That was so fulfilling that I committed to pursue this way in making theater. It gives the community a direct voice into making the work, and gives them a stake in live theater in their community.”

Why migration as the subject: We are having “the highest migration in human history. My father emigrated from Greece in the ’40s. I’m first generation and I experienced firsthand how to integrate oneself in a new culture, the compromises you have to make.

“I’ve lived in several cities and began to really ponder, when I went to Portland, the question of home and how we define home. Having always considered Tucson my home of choice, and especially after moving back here, I thought this was a perfect place to develop this work, given the immigration issues we deal with every day.”

How information was gathered: Interviews with refugees, surveys and public art events at the Tucson Museum of Art and elsewhere all gave Woods the insights and issues she needed for the play. Participants were asked what their motivations were for migrating to the states, and what they were looking for in a home. Information gathering took more than a year.

“Easily 300 contributed stories or images,” says Woods. “We have well over 1,000 pages” of interviews.

The shape of the play: “This is not a play in a traditional sense,” says Woods. Using Hopi myths and migration history, Woods has developed a suite of stories around five characters: A Hopi woman who has left the reservation and is working as a cleaning person; an undocumented Mexican immigrant; a Chinese immigrant, a composite character representing Egypt, Iraq, Congo and Ethiopia., and a transgender immigrant from Zimbabwe.

This production: The stories will be told through language, videos and dance, courtesy of Zuzi Dance Company. “There will be no script carrying,” says Woods. “It works just like a full production and has strong production values.”

What she hopes audiences take from it: “Empathy, and a connection of the commonalities that we all experience. Through that, to have a sense of openness concerning how to meet people in our community who have recently migrated. … To really think about what they bring to our community that makes it so much richer.”

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@tucson.com or 573-4128.