Academic journal article TheatreForum

Allegiance and the Construction of a New American Musical

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Allegiance and the Construction of a New American Musical

Article excerpt

Sitting in the house, it is hard not to notice the constant haze that permeates the scenes unfolding onstage, a haze that lingers in the beams of light shining from above and immediately situates the spectators in the world of the play. This is an inhospitable place. This is a place that makes even breathing difficult for the characters as each inhalation seemingly fills their lungs with the dust that is blown off of the plains and is constantly hanging in the air. The setting is the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming, which from 1942 to 1945 served as one of the facilities where Japanese Americans were incarcerated against their will after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on 10 February 1942. Overnight, loyal American citizens and non-citizens were classified as possible threats to the US simply because they were of Japanese descent. Over 120,000 individuals, primarily from the West Coast, soon found themselves being taken from their homes and put into holding facilities before they were shipped out to internment camps across the United States. This is the world brought on stage in Allegiance: A New American Musical.

The development process for Allegiance began not with a playwright crafting a fictionalized account of a historical moment, but rather with the actual historical experience of George Takei, who spent over four years of his youth incarcerated in internment camps. Takei and his family were removed from their home in Los Angeles when he was just four years old by soldiers with fixed bayonets and taken to the Santa Anita Racetrack, where they were held until the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, where they would eventually be sent, could be built. [Photo 2] Takei recalled in a personal interview that they "were told we were going to spend the next few months in a horse stall, a smelly horse stall. And for my parents, particularly my mother, talked about it- the time-it was the most degrading and humiliating experience to take her children, and... They had to leave behind their homes, their possessions, their jobs, and the lives they had built, have all five of us in a narrow, smelly horse stall." Stripped of their rights, forced to leave behind their homes, their possessions, their jobs, and the lives they had built, they were put into holding pens like animals before being forced into the internment camps. [Photo 1]

After spending a few months living in the horse stall at the racetrack, Takei and his family were sent to the camp in Arkansas, and while these facilities were officially designated as "relocation centers," they were in reality concentration camps, whose inmates were surrounded by barbed wire fences and found themselves under constant surveillance from soldiers manning guard towers with machine guns. Takei's memory of the surveillance comes from a child's point of view: "the searchlights followed us as we made the runs to the latrine; my parents were very intimidated by it, but I thought it was nice they lit my way." The camp at Rohwer eventually had a population of 8,475 internees, 2,447 of which were school-age children like Takei, a staggering twenty-eight percent of the camp's total population ("Homefront Experience") . These children spent a large portion of their formative years and their education living in a world without privacy, where they were constantly devalued and alienated because of their race, even though they were born in the United States, had generally never been to Japan, and in many cases did not even speak Japanese.

While they were at the Rohwer camp, Takei's parents and the other internees were given the infamous loyalty questionnaire. In February 1943, the US government decided "to require that all adult Japanese Americans in the camps register their national loyalty through completion of either Selective Service Form 304A, titled 'Statement of United States Citizenship of Japanese Ancestry,' or (for Nisei women [those born in the United States] and for Issei [those born in Japan]) the 'Application for Leave Clearance'" (Roxworthy 150). …

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