It’s opening night of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play, and Interplayers artistic director Reed McColm sits in his office prior to curtain call. As the reverential verses of “Silent Night,” sung by a choir of Gonzaga students, float in through the half-open door, he contemplates having to leave his theater, his friends and what he has come to consider his country.
Just one month ago, that prospect would have been almost unthinkable. Although McColm is a Canadian citizen, during the past 32 years he has grown content — by his own admission, perhaps even complacent — with his life in America. He pays his taxes here. He has a social security number. Much to his amusement, he even received a ballot in the mail for the last general election. His visa, he thought, had put him “on a path to citizenship.”
But McColm was mistaken, and on a recent trip back to his birthplace of Edmonton, Alberta, he was detained at the airport before his return flight.
“I was told that my work visa was out of compliance and I was denied entry into the United States,” he explains. “Five days later, after much negotiation and wrangling and panic, I was temporarily allowed back into the country to resolve my issues.”
Those issues are more complex than the standard immigration forms will allow; but then, McColm’s life so far has been anything but routine. He first arrived in the United States in 1980 as part of a Mormon mission. Later, he graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree. During and after his schooling, he wrote for films and TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Growing Pains. He acted. He directed. He moved between cities and states. In 2008, at age 47, he took up his current position at Interplayers Theater.
At each new stage of personal and professional development he was supposed to obtain a suitable visa. But somewhere along the way, his circumstances fell out of line with the visa stipulations.
“I’ve been here on a work visa since 1995 — so for 17 years — that was only supposed to be good for six,” he says. “Now, I have renewed it in the past, but this time when I went to renew it, it was disallowed. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and Homeland Security has tightened a lot of immigration laws since 9/11. Difficult things have become even more difficult.”
With the help of a lawyer who specializes in immigration law as it relates to the entertainment industry, McColm and the Interplayers board of directors are trying to bring about a tidy, and ideally rapid, resolution to the matter, despite the hefty legal fees. The theater is looking to sponsor McColm in his application for a valid visa that will culminate in his naturalization. In the meantime, he will continue in his role remotely from Edmonton.
“That I have to go away midseason is heartbreaking for me,” says McColm. “I’m embarrassed and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m doing this to the subscribers, to these people I love, to this community. I wanted to be a source of strength to them, rather than needing them so much. But it is what it is, and I’m grateful for all the support that I’ve had.
“It’s ironic, in my opinion, that we’re doing It’s a Wonderful Life right now. I feel like I’m in the first act, and I’m waiting for the second act where somebody can teach me that ‘no man is a failure who has friends.’ I’m clinging to that right now,” he says.