Hannah Haisman (seated) rehearses a scene for ‘Live Thy Neighbor.’
The cast of ‘Live Thy Neighbor.’
Hannah Haisman, who starred in many Vinton-Shellsburg High School musicals, plays and speech events, will play the role of Tina, a Bosnian girl adjusting to life in the U.S., in a play entitled “Live Thy Neighbor.” It will be Haisman’s first stage performance as a UNI student.
The playwright is UNI graduate student and oral communications professor Milica (Millie) Njezic, who came to the U.S. from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While Njezic says she, like many Bosnians/Serbians, has a story about growing up there that is “interesting and rough in some aspects,” the play is not about the difficulties of life there, but rather, the challenges people living in Iowa face in relating to neighbors who come from other cultures .
“I had to touch on the war within the play because that is truthfully what influenced my part of the world,” says Njezic, “but the focus of this play is to tell the story of how Bosnians do neighboring. We are a people of love and that shaped us as neighbors – we visit each other, we have coffee every day with each other, we help each other, we talk to each other all the time. There’s no distance between us, or at least we try to erase it.”
The neighbor, says Njezic, “is family.”
The play focuses on cultural differences Njezic has observed while living in Iowa.
“The characters are complex, neither purely good nor bad, sometimes oblivious, many times caring, sometimes ethnocentric and nationalistic, other times pacifist and loving,” she says. “Just like the rest of America – including the homogeneous small towns – but also with our unique cultural attributes.”
Njezic uses the word “neighboring” in a way that most Americans have not: As a verb.
“Since I moved to the U.S. to pursue my BA and now my MA degree, I have been bothered by the differences in neighboring,” explains Njezic. “Who are my neighbors? How do we do neighboring? Who do we allow to be our neighbor? In Bosnia, I was surrounded by complex and intimate neighbor relations. In Iowa, I often felt like there was a distance between us, the international students, and them, the locals. As someone who makes sense of the world through communication, I find neighboring to be a unique and performative relationship and the lack of research on this concept a challenge. ‘Live Thy Neighbor’ is meant to explore the concept of neighboring from the realities of my own life, my neighbors in the war affected Bosnia and Serbia, and through the stories of Bosnian immigrants from Waterloo.”
One purpose of the play is to begin a conversation about culture and learning from others.
“As someone who is deeply shaped by different cultures, languages, and experiences – my knowledge is always informed by others. Hence, the greater purpose of this project is to share what I learned and start a dialogue with the community. The more idealistic purpose of this play is to have each and every single one of the audience members to take a moment, reflect, turn to their neighbor, and Live Thy Neighbor,” Njezic says, adding that she hopes that the play will offer the people from the Vinton area the opportunity to allow Haisman to become a “liaison to bring my culture closer to yours.”
Haisman’s character, Tina, tries to help her roommates navigate the dilemmas of life in the U.S.
“Hannah’s character is a loving, caring, and intelligent young woman who grows even more by the end of the play,” explains Njezic. “She helps Millie and Andrea, her best friends and roommates, to figure out several dilemmas. Hannah truly brings out the complexity of this character – initial shyness, concern, intelligence, pragmatism. Ever since day one, Hannah has been such a great person to work with and someone who takes directions well, and applies them to the stage. She is also one of my former students, so I have witnessed her talent and the natural inclination for performance early on in our Oral Communication class. This play is definitely more beautiful and valuable because we have her in our cast.”
Haisman says the play will be “something special” because of the personal experience Njezic brings to the stage.
“This play is actually a series of poetic performances that explore what it means to be a neighbor in a time of crisis. All of the stories are real things that happened in Millie’s life and things she went through coming to America from a different country with different customs.
Now a UNI freshman, VS alum Hannah Haisman will perform in her first play this weekend.
Hannah Haisman, left, with others, rehearses for the play.
There were things that came out during the reading in our audition that I had no idea had ever happened to her,” she says. “It’s a touching play about neighboring in a time of crisis. You get to see what it was like for her to transition from a semi unhealthy collectivist culture to not even knowing her neighbor’s names in Cedar Falls.”
About her role in the play, Haisman explains who Tina is, as well as what she’s learned from Njezic’s story.
“Tina is one of Millie’s best friends. She was also from Bosnia and is helping Millie figure out this whole neighboring thing and what they can learn from their past,” she says. “It’s still crazy for me to watch the play and think that all of this actually happened to her. She had a terrible neighbor in Bosnia that treated her and her mom horribly.”
After four years of acting in high school, Haisman is thrilled to be back on the stage in her freshman year at UNI.
“I’m so excited to perform in my first play at UNI. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to keep on doing what I love,” she says.