Former refugees act as 'Brokers Without Borders' in Akron Gum-Dip Theatre production

Actors stand together on stage
Gum-Dip Theatre's ensemble for "Brokers Without Borders" includes Hsa Win (left), Sam Byake (center) and Neema Bal (right). [Carrie Wise / Ideastream Public Media]
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From lining up translators to helping family members navigate medical care, young immigrants often face challenges beyond taking care of their own lives. The latest production from Akron’s Gum Dip-Theatre spotlights what it is like to act as a bridge between different cultures. 

“You become a broker,” said Sam Byake, one of the members of the ensemble. “But there is no border, there is no boundary.”

The production “Brokers Without Borders” details various ways former refugees act as cultural brokers for their family and neighbors, particularly when they have a stronger command of the English language.

For instance, Byake demonstrates in the show the toll it can take on a person to carry others’ burdens by wearing a backpack people keep adding their “stuff” to until it becomes too much for her to stand.

Sam Byake runs away from her fellow ensemble members in "Brokers Without Borders" during a rehearsal at the Balch Street Theatre.

Sam Byake runs away from her fellow ensemble members in "Brokers Without Borders" during a rehearsal at the Balch Street Theatre. [Carrie Wise / Ideastream Public Media]

At the same time, Byake said, she feels a duty to others as a former refugee now living in the U.S. When she was in middle school, Byake and her family left the Congo seeking safety and asylum in Uganda before she moved here in 2019.

“Upon arrival I was like, ‘I shouldn’t only sit and relax because I'm in America,’” she said. “People are struggling.”

The three-person ensemble devised the play together, sharing their common struggles as well as their own cultures.

“There is so much trauma and there is so much, like, to heal. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate in every state in our life,” said Neema Bal, a former refugee from Nepal, ensemble member and Gum-Dip’s managing director.

The Gum-Dip name comes from Firestone’s tire-making process where the tire cords would be dipped in rubber gum to prevent blows outs, according to Katie Beck, Gum Dip’s founder and artistic director. It’s symbolic of the work the theater aims to do.

“The idea is becoming that adhesive or strengthening the community,” Beck said.

Actors perform together onstage in Akron

Gum-Dip Theatre's ensemble for "Brokers Without Borders" includes Hsa Win (center), Sam Byake (left) and Neema Bal (right). [Carrie Wise / Ideastream Public Media] 

Gum-Dip is one a few Akron theater groups now in residence at the Balch Street Theatre, taking the reins from another longtime theater group, New World Performance Lab, which ended its run in Akron during the pandemic.

“Being able to be in a place where there has been a lot of magic that has already happened, we can really feel that kind of affecting and inspiring our work now in the theater,” Beck said.

One inspiring part of this production for Neema Bal is a line he says in the play that his fellow actor Sam Byake’s mother always told her, which translates to “everything will be alright.”

“I'm using this line as a mantra now,” he said.

“Brokers Without Borders” is on stage in Akron for the next two weekends.

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