Megan Wells to present ‘Maura’s Eyes: A Tale of Immigration and Ellis Island’ at Deane Center

WELLSBORO — National award-winning writer, actress and storyteller Megan Wells of La Grange, Illinois, is presenting “Maura’s Eyes: A Tale of Immigration and Ellis Island” at 7 p.m. on Aug. 17 in the Coolidge Theatre at the Deane Center for the Performing Arts, 104 Main Street.

Wells has been a storyteller for 25 years.

“It began in 1992,” Wells said. “My friend Thom was in the late stages of living with AIDS. One night, Thom had a powerful dream, a vision that changed his life and later helped him face death. I told the story of his dream until an acquaintance encouraged me to attend the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.”

At Jonesborough, Wells signed up for the storytelling open mic opportunity and told Thom’s story. Inspired by the response, she began to tell stories professionally. Today, Wells has two file cabinets full of material and a repertoire of 186 stories she tells. “”Maura’s Eyes” is one of them.

Wells brings to life the intimate experience of Maura’s journey from Ireland to America. “Maura Walsh is based on a compilation of narratives that I found in first person collections, journals and books. I crocheted them together with the true story of my lace-making, Irish grandmother,” she explained.

A school commissioned Wells to develop a program on immigration. “As a full-time touring storyteller, I create stories for all audiences,” Wells said. To do that, I research facts, first person accounts and any legends or folklore in order to find an emotional arc of some kind; if you can find a personal connection, so much the better. The story about an immigrant was in the back of my mind cooking in my imagination.”

At the same time, Wells was helping her mother who was in the end stage of her life. While she was cleaning, Wells found several yards of beautiful lace. “‘Where did you get this?” she asked her mother. “Your Grandma Flora made that,” her mother responded. “In a flash, I remembered growing up with Grandma Flora’s crochet. She would sit in her chair with a slender silver hook and crochet these delicate doilies. Grandma had Parkinson’s disease. Her hands shook except when she crocheted. Her muscles would behave because she was so focused.

“When my mother gave me Grandma’s Irish lace the whole story came together for me,” said Wells. “I had been learning about immigrants coming to Ellis Island. Now, I had a strong connection to my own personal Irish heritage and began a journey into my maternal ancestry.”

For her immigration story, Wells established Maura as the granddaughter of a tenant farmer who is living with her grandparents, parents and siblings in Kenmare, County Cork, Ireland. In 1906, Maura’s father immigrates to Chicago to work on the Ship Canal. After two years he sends for his wife and children.

In 1908, at the peak of immigration when an average of one million immigrants were entering the United States each year, Maura, her brother Colin, sister Rose and their mother boarded a ship heading for Ellis Island. Maura is 12 years old. “I chose that age because at 12, you are considered an adult and can be separated from your parents,” Wells said. Her portrayal of Maura teaches and touches the heart.

For tickets or more information, call 570-724-6220 or visit deanecenter.com.

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