"Everyone has two villages," says Vit Horejs, founder/director of Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT), "one in the old country and one here." That's the idea behind Once There Was a Village, CAMT's new ethno-opera with puppets and found objects. The music, composed by Frank London, is performed by the Hungry March Band and reflects the musical heritage of immigrant and counterculture groups over four centuries in New York City's East Village.
The play follows generational cycles of immigrant waves through the centuries, during which a tenement "village" rises out of the tidal marsh just north of New Amsterdam. Native Americans who find food and refuge in the swamp are displaced (or worse) by Dutch settlers, whose farms are swallowed in turn by shipyards, ironworks, tobacco factories, sweatshops and tenements. Newcomers escaping the nightmares of pogroms, famine and war bring their dreams to this slice of the New World, another frontier village that in its own time is burned and ripped apart by cultural conflict.
The piece looks upon immigration to the East Village of New York as it would have been seen by the late Yuri Kapralov, an "elder statesman" of the East Village counterculture. Kapralov came to the U.S. as a WWII refugee from the Caucasus Mountains. He was an East Village artist with a steady outflow of abstract paintings, sculptures and constructions made of found materials. However, he is better known today for his books; most notably, his chronicle of the Tompkins Square area in the late '60s, Once There Was a Village, for which this play is named.