When Ellen Struve started writing a play with a focus on immigration, it wasn’t quite the hot topic it is today.

Now, as “The Dairy Maid-Right” premieres Friday at the Shelterbelt Theatre, people are talking about the issue all the time, Struve said.

She began writing the play in 2014, and it’s set in 2016 at a diner in a small Nebraska town. Two recent high school grads become aware of the problems facing a young migrant, and the experience forces them to think about citizenship, compassion and family as they get involved.

“Attitudes and policies on immigration kept changing as I wrote the play,” Struve said. “I think it is useful to take some time for thoughtful reflection and for empathy. Theater offers both of those experiences.”

Struve is drafting a new play set in the summer of this year. She’ll share the script, “The Dairy Maid-Wrong,” in a reading at 1 p.m. Aug. 4 at the theater.

“I think having a place to come together to think and talk about these issues is more important than ever,” she said.

The playwright collaborated with Amy Lane, an assistant theater professor at Creighton University, as she refined her drafts of the script. She needed college-age students to read it for her, Lane said, and that fit well with a new class Lane was starting: Theater for Social Justice. Lane is directing the show at the Shelterbelt with a cast featuring Leah Cardenas, Morgan Dobersek, Manny Oñate, Ted Lane and Dennis Stessman.

The play closes out the 25th season at the Shelterbelt, and it will be the last show at the theater’s longtime home near 33rd and California Streets. The building they rent has been sold and they’re moving out in August, though they don’t yet have a new space.

In addition to the new play reading, the theater is planning several special events in connection with this world premiere.

» Saturday: Post-show talk with Struve, Lane and the cast.

» July 28: Paper-cutting workshop with artist Linda Garcia at 2 p.m. It’s free, but registration is requested at boxoffice@shelterbelt.org.

» July 21: Preshow music with Lucia Francisco and family, marimba and a post-show panel discussion.

There also are post-show discussions with representatives of community resource groups each Thursday. Names of participants can be found on the Shelterbelt Facebook page.

 Betsie Freeman

Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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