Homefront Confronts Current Issues Through the Lens of WWI

By Taylor Steinbeck 

Homefront, the Young Conservatory show opening at The Strand Theater next week, centers on three young people seeking refuge from war in a land that is unfamiliar and unwelcoming: the United States of America. Though the parallels are obvious, the year is not 2017 and the characters are not Syrian—this is World War I and these are German refugees. “We are living in a populist age where the forces of xenophobia and nationalism are rising,” says director Domenique Lozano. “This work speaks directly to that.” 
Artwork for the 2017 Young Conservatory production of Homefront.

Originally commissioned for the YC, Homefront is a moving musical written by Craig Slaight with music and lyrics from Creighton Irons, which tackles the consequences of the hate war breeds. The story follows Emma Kolemeier and her two siblings who flee from a war-torn Germany to find relief in rural Illinois. Respite proves to be only temporary though when the US enters the war against Germany and the family begins to be persecuted by their peers.

Just as Muslim Americans face discrimination for the actions of extremist groups like ISIS today, German Americans and German immigrants were held responsible for the Nazis’ crimes against humanity, and thus targeted during WWI. “The play relates the Germans to how Muslims are being treated today,” says Lozano, “Back then, people were being hung, tarred and feathered, denied civil rights. All of this stuff was happening.”

As Emma comes of age amongst the mayhem of war, she must reconstruct her conception of home and work to somehow unite her seemingly conflicting identities. Can she ever be American if she has German roots? Is she still German if she fled from her homeland? Where is home now? Answering questions like these was made even more difficult for immigrants from the pressure of the US government. “The president at the time, President Woodrow Wilson, was saying, ‘Do not trust these people,’” says Lozano. “‘There are only Germans or Americans. You cannot be both German and American.’”

This powerful musical asks us to look at war through the eyes of the young people it affects, and recognize that their futures are irreparably altered by the tragedy they grow up around. Ruthlessly relevant, Homefront is a challenging piece of theater not to be missed.

Homefront runs August 8­–19 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Click here to purchase tickets.

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