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Syracuse Stage Director Ping Chong

Another tale from the Salt City at Syracuse Stage:

Ping Chong always likes to begin rehearsals with a pot-luck supper. Chong is the creator/director of "Tales from the Salt City," the theater piece that opens at Syracuse Stage next week.

"All the participants bring something from their own culture," Chong said in a recent interview. "It's a way to start building bridges."

But then in all ways, "Tales from the Salt City" is unlike a traditional play. The people on stage are not actors, but real people telling their own stories. The experience common to them -- even in the case of one who has lived in Syracuse all his life -- is that they were born in one culture and live in another.

"'Tales reflects the changing demographics of the community," Chong said, "We're all insular, but in the end we come to realize that all humanity is the same. All islands connect under water."

"Tales from the Salt City" is one of an ongoing series of place-specific oral-history theater works that Chong has created in communities around the country. Participants have included native Americans, people with disabilities and children who had witnessed warfare, civil disorder, or domestic violence. Cong's next project, in Philadelphia, will focus on teenagers, drugs and violence. All are people whose voices aren't usually heard. "It's about social justice," Chong said.

The seven participants in "Tales from the Salt City" come from as far away as Cambodia and as nearby as the Onondaga Nation. A first-generation American himself, Chong knows from personal experience what it means to have a foot in two cultures. When he was growing up in New York City, almost all the kids in his school were from Chinese families. It was a real shock when he went to high school where he was the only one. He's always had a feeling for otherness.

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