CSU, Chico News

CSU, Chico’s Leaders for a Lifetime Group Presents Youth-Written Theater Production on April 1

Date: 03-27-2017

Sean Murphy
Public Affairs

The Hmong culture—rich in history, traditions and folklore—is the backdrop of “Life of String.” That original theater production will be presented by youth academic outreach program Leaders for a Lifetime on April 1 in the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium on the California State University, Chico campus.

The performance explores Hmong love, life, loss and reincarnation as told through drama, comedy, song and dance. The show is appropriate for all ages. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the performance will start at 6 p.m.

Admission is free, but donations of $2 will be accepted and will be used to support Leaders for a Lifetime.

Leaders for a Lifetime is an academic outreach program for high school and university students that also educates the public about Hmong culture through performance activism and community service. The program, open to high school students as well as students attending CSU, Chico and Butte College, partners with CSU, Chico’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

“Life of String” was written entirely by the students.

“The performance is a quickly changing series of skits using comedy, drama, song and dance to tell the story,” said Mary Portis, a CSU, Chico professor emeritus and director of Leaders for a Lifetime. “There is a lot of real educational material, but it’s surrounded by funny stories, so you don’t feel ‘schooled.’”

Leaders for a Lifetime is now in its 20th year, and its past performances have explored topics including life in Laos before the Secret War, the refugee experience in the camps and coming to America, and Hmong marriage, wedding and funeral ceremonies.

Jennifer Yang, a CSU, Chico mentor through Leaders for a Lifetime, said the use of string as part of the storytelling is intentional. In Hmong culture, blessing strings are tied onto wrists as a part of some traditional rituals. That practice is reflected in the performance, as string is tied around the students’ wrists.

“We each are born with limited time on earth, symbolized by the length of string,” said Yang. “But since we experience reincarnation, this string ties all of our past lives together, and ties our souls to our bodies and to our ancestors.”

Portis said that “strings on the wrist are distinctly Hmong, and is an image the leaders felt the potential audience could recognize as Hmong.”

The performance explores topics including the history of the Hmong people, ranging from the Vietnam War and the Secret War to the contemporary times. "Life of String" also provides insight into traditional courting methods and traditional beliefs about evil spirits. Other topics include how orphan stories, which are common in folklore, symbolize the Hmong people without a country.

Melydia Lo, a Chico High School junior and member of Leaders for a Lifetime, said being part of the play has helped pull her out of her comfort zone.

“That feels good because now I know I can do so many things I thought I couldn’t do before,” said Lo. “I wanted to be in this play because I love to educate people about Hmong people and the struggles we have faced.”

For more information about “Life of String,” contact Portis at 530-717-3752.