‘Checkered Floors’ Auburn woman’s show gets personal about early Somali resettlement in Lewiston-Auburn

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AUBURN — “Checkered Floors” is much more than a stage performance.

When Cheryl Hamilton brings her solo show to the UU Theater at the First Universalist Church of Auburn on May 20-22, it will be Lewiston-Auburn’s first look at her personal experiences when early Somali resettlement in the Twin Cities rocked the communities with controversy. It’s also her story of a private fight to overcome sexual assault, and her realization that one of the refugees she was attempting to help would also be an essential element in her road to recovery.

“What I love about performing this show is the conversation it sparks, whether it’s about solo performance as an art form, immigration or surviving trauma,” Hamilton said.

“I know the lines in the show, but I never know what the audience will share afterwards during the talk-back,” she said. “For example, in Baltimore, a man shared how he never considered how his relationship with his daughter would change if she were assaulted, whereas in Brunswick most recently a woman discussed her experience hosting refugee children in her home.”

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“An older gentleman at the Portland performance told me, ‘You need to bring this show to Lewiston-Auburn,’ ” Hamilton said.

“No performance is ever the same,” she added. “I’m interested to see what topics connect with L-A audiences.”

Hamilton, an Auburn native, has presented her show at locations around the country. Her first Maine performances were in Portland, Brunswick and Sanford this past January — the same month, in 2003, that the Many and One rally was held in Lewiston. That Jan. 11 event drew several thousand residents out in the cold to denounce the arrival of a national hate group protesting the Somali resettlement in Maine.

Hamilton, who was the greeter at the door for the rally, was refugee resettlement director at that time, which was not long after her graduation from college. As a national refugee consultant, Hamilton spent the past six years delivering workshops across the country on refugee-related topics, but “Checkered Floors” is her first venture into playwriting.

Hamilton said part of her incentive for developing the play came from the distress she felt when she saw Lewiston portrayed negatively in national news.

“For years, I have shared the lessons from Lewiston from a professional perspective, but I’ve always felt compelled to share my personal story because the world refugee crisis affects us all,” she said.

“Checkered Floors” premiered in New York City at the One Woman Standing Festival in 2008.

Hamilton said she tried to put all of her experiences into a book, but the theatrical presentation evolved with encouragement from and collaboration with Loyola University Professor James Bunzli, who directed “Checkered Floors” and is also an experienced solo performer.

Toby Haber, who is producing the Lewiston-Auburn premiere at the UU Theater, said the show “deals with many of the issues we are concerned about — immigration, sexual assault and social justice. Cheryl’s show is a natural fit with our mission.”

The Three-One Cafe, a Somali restaurant on Lisbon Street, will cater an optional preshow dinner featuring chicken, rice and vegetable dishes with African spices.

“Checkered Floors” is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, May 20-21 (dinner at 6:30 p.m. and show at 8 p.m.) and Sunday, May 22 (lunch at 11:30 a.m. and show at 1 p.m.).

The First Universalist Church of Auburn is at 169 Pleasant St. (entrance on Spring Street). Tickets are $10 for the show, $20 for both dinner and show. Community groups such as the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, Safe Voices, NASAP, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and the International Craft Collective are also partners for the event.

For more information, visit www.checkeredfloors.com or call 783-0461. Advance reservations are recommended for the dinner. For reservations, email baywest@roadrunner.com.

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