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Community theater group tells Cambodian survival tales

Submitted on Fri, 12/28/2007 – 18:13.

Story by Jason Porterfield

An oral history project undertaken by members of the Albany Park Theatre Project will soon find a new audience. The community theater group plans to help educate the public about the horrors of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot’s reign from the stage.

On Jan. 6 and 10, the group will present a“Voices of the Killing Fields,” in which cast members recount survivors’ stories of atrocities committed under Pol Pot’s rule that took place between 1975 to 1979 and claimed approximately 2 million lives.

Performances take place at the Laura Wiley Memorial Theater in Eugene Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., and are accompanied by live traditional Cambodian music.

“We’ve wanted to do something like this for years,” said David Feiner, co-founder and artistic director of the Albany Park Theatre Project. “This neighborhood has such rich diversity and so many opportunities to learn about other parts of the world that sometimes we skip right over them.”

The group began interviewing Cambodian refugees -some of whom live in the Northwest Side neighborhood -in 2006. Many interviews were conducted with the help of the neighborhood’s Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, located at 2831 W. Lawrence Ave. Museum volunteers were happy to help with the project, Feiner said.

Feiner and his wife, the late Laura Wiley, founded the Albany Park Theater Project in 1997. Ensemble members are teenagers, typically high school students from the neighborhood.

Feiner and Wiley wanted to engage youth in their community, through performances and post-performance discussions. The group’s plays and performance pieces are all original, created from stories gathered from community members.

To staff members at the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, the group is well on its way to succeeding with “Voices from the Killing Fields.”

“They’ve found a new way to tell the story of what happened, and that is from the stage,” said Leon Lim, the museum’s chairman. “We have been working to tell the world about the Cambodian genocide for decades. This group listened and decided to try telling it to even more people through their art.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 241,025 Cambodian-Americans living in the United States. Chicago is home to about 3,000 Cambodian-Americans. The majority arrived during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, in the aftermath of the genocide under dictator Pol Pot’s regime.

Cambodian Association of Illinois, which is tied to the museum, has helped many of these refugees adjust to American life since its founding in 1976 in Uptown. The organization moved to Albany Park after buying its current building in 1999. The museum opened in 2004.

“We’re here to help Cambodians adjust to life in the United States,” said Liz Keo, program director for the Cambodian Association. “Most of our services are educational, like English classes and computer classes. We also offer counseling for post-traumatic stress, which is very common among survivors. Now we have the museum to help us teach people about Cambodian life and history.”

Tickets for “Voices from the Killing Fields”or any other Albany Park Theater Project are $15 per person, or $5 for students and can be purchased online or via telephone at 773-866-0875.

Art & Entertainment Northwest Side Public
albany park cambodian association of illinois killing fields

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