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Thespians vs. homeland security

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7 Stages Theatre saw a nerve-racking example of life imitating art recently when two of the Serbian actors coming here to help stage a play that examines emigration issues were not allowed to leave Yugoslavia because of visa problems.

7 Stages has been working on Maps of Forbidden Remembrance, a co-production with the Dah Theatre of Belgrade, for more than a year and had scheduled the world premiere for Oct. 17. But it wasn't until Sept. 20 that the Little Five Points theater learned that two of the four Dah actors cast for the play were stranded in the Yugoslavian capital because of a clerical error.

Del Hamilton, 7 Stages' artistic director, says the four had applied back in May for the "P2" work visas required of foreign artists and musicians coming to perform in the U.S., even though most estimates place the visa processing time at about three months.

When the group hadn't received its visas after four months or so, Hamilton persuaded Congressman John Lewis to intervene in nudging the Serbians' visa applications closer to the top of the stack.

When the visas were finally approved, however, it was revealed that a clerk in the Immigration and Naturalization office in Texas had misspelled the names of two of the actors. Thus, they couldn't be allowed on the plane.

As of Monday, Hamilton says, the problem "seems to be ironed out," but the two actors had to delay their departure another day or so because they were waiting on paperwork from the U.S. Embassy, whose computers were down.

Hamilton says the visa snafu will not affect the opening date of the play, but has cost the cast a week of rehearsal time. After the 7 Stages run ends Oct. 20, the Dah actors will embark on a performance tour of Southern colleges.

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