Exploring migration through drama

dsc05966-kleinI assisted for a few days in the project Exploring Migration: Research and Drama in Schools, which takes monologues based on interviews with undocumented migrants to schools, and develops them with the students into a theatrical performance. It was a brilliant experience, as teaching drama techniques proved to be a perfect tool to discuss migration.

I will take the example of status to illustrate this. Working on the status of your character is a key element in drama: it is essential to realize if your character is dominant and powerful or rather weak and subordinate, and how that affects the interaction with other characters. Through drama exercises, the students first became physically aware of what status is and how you can show status in body language.

Next, we worked in small groups on the monologue that we were going to put into a performance. My group worked on the story of Adnan, a 16 year-old boy who had travelled from Afghanistan to the UK. His story was about the journey that took him 1.5 years, during which he had to run for his life and was smuggled in containers. When he reached the UK, he became an undocumented migrant, constantly fearing to be caught and deported.

We discussed the status of each of the characters in the story, and I asked what status Adnan had. Very high, said the student who was going to play Adnan, because he is very brave and has survived a difficult journey and he is the person sent by his family to help them. No, his status is very low, said another, because he is afraid all the time and he is dependent on other people.

I was amazed. These eleven-year-old kids managed to realize something that took academics a lot of time to wrap their heads around: that refugees go through a lot of hardship, but are not just victims. It was just up to me to connect their thoughts: exactly, Adnan is both brave and scared, both a survivor and a victim of exploitation. We have to take that into account when we play the character of Adnan: we want to show both, because that’s who he is.

By focusing on getting the most out of their performance and their drama skills, the kids had en passant learned that being a refugee is not as unidimensional as some media, politicians, activists or academics try to make us believe. While attempts to talk about migration in a nuanced way often end up in a dead-end street with the words: ‘it’s all very complicated’, they had grasped this complexity in a very concrete way. This sense of nuance will hopefully stay with them as they grow up and engage into hot-headed migration debates.