'Stardust' reveals stirring tales from Katrina survivors

Hurricane Katrina gives credence to the notion that fact is far more harrowing than fiction. The devastating effect of the storm and its subsequent aftermath upon the Gulf Coast, in particular New Orleans, left an indelible mark as the greatest natural disaster in our nation’s history.

Although two years have since passed, Katrina is hardly a distant memory. In “Stardust and Empty Wagons,” Ellen Gavin, artistic director of San Francisco’s Brava Theater Center, weaves together the stories of Katrina survivors now living in the Bay Area in celebration of not only their fortitude, but also the rich cultural history of their home soil, New Orleans.

Through Nov. 25, 10 actors are portraying the true-life tales from the Katrina diaspora with live music courtesy of New Orleans’ hottest outfit, the Hot 8 Brass Band, which was featured in Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke.”

The multidisciplinary production, which was funded in part by the Rockefeller Multi-Arts Production Fund, recounts the stories of young and old survivors — the eldest at 105 and the youngest at 9 — and looks at the bayou’s legendary cuisine, music and cultural influence.

“The people that we interviewed are such an interesting bunch. They’re beautiful people, generous, kind-hearted and are storytellers by nature,” Gavin says. “Their stories definitely come to life here.”

“There is something that happens in a theater performance that doesn’t happen in a movie, which is a flat medium,” she says. “Theater is live, and if the performers are doing their job well, [they] can really move an audience, really touch them.”

“Stardust and Empty Wagons” is essentially the result of an oral-history project conducted by Gavin, videographer Pam Gaddies and Katrina survivor CC Campbell Rock. In response to Katrina, the Brava Theater Center conducted a benefit in September 2005 and raised $10,000. With the support from the California Humanities Council, Gavin and company set forth to document the stories of Bay Area-based survivors, which resulted in 23 interviews and more than 700 pages of transcription.

This August, Gavin spent a week in New Orleans to conduct additional research for the show and, of course, to simply take in the region; her experience resulted in a 22-page journal online at www.brava.org.

“It was such an incredible experience,” she says. “I had never been to New Orleans before and it really opened my eyes. Everything about it is such a cultural treasure: the architecture, the music, and the people are all so vital to our country’s history.”

IF YOU GO

Stardust and Empty Wagons: Stories from the Katrina Diaspora

Where: Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday; closes Nov. 25

Tickets: $20 to $30

Contact: (415) 647-2822 or www.brava.org

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