Ellis Island: The Dream of America is a work which combines elements of theatrical performance and orchestral performance with projected images in a unique way. Its texts are real words of real American immigrants from the Ellis Island Oral History Project. The work is conceived for performance in the concert hall, and it is generally presented by orchestras, often in collaboration with local theatrical groups.
The duration of the work is approximately 45 minutes. Its instrumentation is:
The rental package for Ellis Island: The Dream of America includes conductor score and orchestral parts, scripts for the actors, and rehearsal tracks for the actors (orchestral tracks only, without voice-overs). The original set of accompanying visuals (2002), in Apple Keynote format, remains available as part of the rental package; however, the original visuals are only for the work’s Prologue and Epilogue. A new, greatly expanded and more elaborate full-length set of visuals (2017), in QLab format, is available for rental directly from Pacific Symphony.
The cost of the rental package varies, depending on the operating budget of the presenting orchestra, the number and type of performances, and size of the performance venue. Discounted rental fees are offered for repeat performances and educational performances. For a rental quote, contact Bill Holab Music.
The work may be performed with seven actors (four female, three male)—one to read each of the seven immigrant stories; or with two actors (one female, one male) who read four and three stories each, respectively. Professional actors are not required, but obviously desirable if possible. Ellis Island: The Dream of America has been performed with actors of greatly varying backgrounds and skills: from Emmy- and Tony-winning actors, to Equity Actors from regional theater companies, to college/university theater majors, to community theater actors. It has been performed successfully in all these contexts. For the work to be performed convincingly with two actors, it is necessary that the different immigrants’ stories be delivered with contrasting accents and manners of presentation, so highly skilled professional actors are recommended for the two-actor version. For the more standard seven-actor version, the actors’ skill levels need not be as high.
There are no specific requirements for dress or costumes. The work has been performed with actors in period costume suggesting American immigrants from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s—the time period in which the immigrants featured in the piece emigrated—and this has been very successful, increasing the theatrical element of the work. This has been further enhanced with props such as period suitcases. However, the work has also been performed successfully with the actors in contemporary attire; in black; and with simple “generic” outfits accented with items such as hats, shawls, etc., to provide differentiation from one immigrant to another.
It is not necessary, but the employment of accents, if done well, can add a convincing quality to the readings. Intelligibility of the texts is much more important than “authentic” or “thick” accents.
Is it necessary for an orchestra to engage a theatrical director in order to perform Ellis Island: The Dream of America?
It is not necessary, but recommended where possible. Often, orchestras that have presented Ellis Island: The Dream of America have collaborated with local theater companies, and engaged a single person to serve as casting director, theatrical director, costume advisor, and lighting advisor (and sometimes actor for one of the immigrant stories as well). These directors have contributed valuable theatrical experience and vision to productions of the work, and the work has been a catalyst for many successful collaborative experiences.
Re: Original visuals (2002)
The projected images in Ellis Island: The Dream of America are powerful historic photographs from the archives of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which visually help to tell the story of the Ellis Island immigration experience. The images are projected only during the work’s Prologue (six minutes) and Epilogue (two minutes). There are approximately 85 photographs used. These are coordinated with the music through an image operator running the sequence in Apple’s Keynote software from a Mac laptop, assisted by thumbnail images of each photograph placed in the conductor score.
Re: Updated visuals (2017)
For Pacific Symphony’s 2017 performances of Ellis Island: The Dream of America which were recorded for PBS’ Great Performances series, that orchestra commissioned a completely new full-length (45 minutes) set of visuals, which are significantly more elaborate and powerful than the original visuals. These visuals include a few hundred historic photographs, many of which are animated in various ways, used to accompany the work’s Prologue and Interludes; a series of abstract images specifically created to accompany the seven individual immigrant stories; and a closing sequence focusing on the Statue of Liberty to accompany the Epilogue. These visuals are in QLab format (Mac OS), and are available for rental directly from Pacific Symphony. More information is available from Bill Holab Music.
Ellis Island: The Dream of America has fairly basic technical requirements for sound and projection. The actors’ voices must be amplified in rehearsal and performance, and a professional sound mixer must monitor the level of the actors’ voices against the orchestra. Wireless/body microphones are preferred, but not required. The actors and conductor will require sound monitors on stage in order to hear themselves properly.
For Pacific Symphony’s 2017 performances of Ellis Island: The Dream of America which were recorded for PBS’ Great Performances series, that orchestra commissioned a completely new full-length (45 minutes) set of accompanying projected visuals, which are significantly more elaborate and powerful than the original set of visuals. These new visuals are in QLab format (Mac OS), and are available for rental directly from Pacific Symphony. More information, including technical specs, is available from Bill Holab Music.
Are there specific lighting requirements or lighting suggestions for Ellis Island: The Dream of America?
No. However, the creative use of lighting to reinforce structural divisions of the work, and to enhance its theatrical dimension, is strongly encouraged. Typically, lighting changes have been made from the work’s Prologue (in which the projected images must be seen clearly) to its monologues (in which the actors must be emphasized) to its interludes (in which the orchestra is featured), at a minimum. Often, specific moments in the work’s stories have been emphasized with lighting as well. These decisions are left to the director, if one is engaged.
The music of Ellis Island: The Dream of America is of only moderate technical difficulty. In addition to the many professional orchestras that have performed it, the work has been performed successfully by college orchestras and community orchestras.
Yes. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have enjoyed and learned from educational performances of Ellis Island: The Dream of America in cities such as Fort Worth, Buffalo, Des Moines, Hartford, Kalamazoo, and Richmond, among others. Because American immigration is often an important subject in the history/social studies curriculum in upper elementary, middle, and high school, and because Ellis Island: The Dream of America tells real immigration stories in a unique way with oral histories and a symphony orchestra, it consistently has been perceived as an outstanding program and learning opportunity by teachers and orchestra education directors. (Note: There are a few instances of off-color language in one of the immigrants’ stories, and for educational performances, substitutes have been made for the “colorful” adjectives.)
Is there, or can there be, a dance component to a performance of Ellis Island: The Dream of America?
For a performance of Ellis Island: The Dream of America at TCU in Fort Worth in 2004, featuring performers from the TCU College of Fine Arts, choreography was created for the work’s six interludes. This was very successful and effective in performance, and a welcome additional element to the work. If skilled dancers/choreographer(s) are available for future performances of the work, this element is welcomed and encouraged.
Yes. A recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra and an all-star cast of actors was released by Naxos in 2005, and was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. This recording is available on Amazon.com and from classical record retailers throughout North America.
A version of Ellis Island which uses double woodwinds (instead of triple) has been created, and the string complement may be reduced, and one percussionist omitted, as well. Brass at 188.8.131.52, harp and keyboard are still required. This reduced instrumentation is not the recommended version, but it has been performed successfully, and a set of parts is available for rental.
Yes. If you are an orchestra representative considering performing Ellis Island: The Dream of America, please contact Bill Holab Music to request a perusal score. Please include as much information as possible about the possible performance(s).
Can permission be obtained for arrangement and performance of excerpts from Ellis Island for concert band or marching band?
Yes. Please contact Bill Holab Music with your request, and include as much information as possible: length of proposed arrangement, number, type and dates of performances, and arranger’s name(s) if possible.