CONTAINED will create immersive theatrical performances on decisions, journeys, and arrivals, based on research among migrants from around the world. It is also a research project that explores ways to bring migrant’s experiences in dialogue with public perceptions on migration.
As a kick-off, we launched a taster of this project at the International Migration Institute’s 10th anniversary conference: The Greenhouse. After a day of talking about migration, we let the participants of the conference experience what it feels like to become a migrant – or not. The reactions showed that champagne in a greenhouse can be an excellent metaphor for international migration.
“It looked like so much fun!”
In the corner of the drinks reception after a full day of talking about migration, the participants of the conference were confronted with a champagne party taking place in a colourfully decorated and warmly lit greenhouse. Not only did the people inside the greenhouse seem to have a really good time, there were also several extra bottles of champagne and glasses. In the twenty minutes that followed, the conference participants all went through different stages in which they decided whether or not they wanted to join the champagne party.
“I only went in because I knew someone there”
Minutes went by without anyone interacting with the greenhouse. After a pioneer – me – entered and was warmly welcomed with champagne, other people also joined. Most were young women and (former) colleagues of mine. In migration jargon, this is called chain migration.
“I thought it was not for me”
The overwhelming majority of all conference participants chose not to go into the greenhouse to get champagne, even when they were asked to come. Most people already had a drink, and although it was not champagne, they were also too busy talking to colleagues, or were standing too far away to see what was going on. Other people said afterwards they would have liked to go, but felt too shy, or too old. Despite relative differences in living conditions, only a very small percentage of the world’s population decides to migrate to a wealthier place. Many are held back by a variety of factors, or just don’t have migration on their mind.
“I was attracted by the champagne but I was disappointed by the quality”
As long as the door was open and the atmosphere was welcoming, the greenhouse was slowly filling up with adventurous young people who came and went as they pleased. Even if the space was small, everyone enjoyed the feeling of experiencing something special, and the champagne. But someone said he was disappointed by the champagne, which turned out to be of very cheap quality! For migrants too, things can look shinier from the outside than in reality.
“I think I’m gonna go now”
As the greenhouse was getting full, the reception of new arrivals slowly changed. Two actors trying to get in were refused at the door. One of them managed to bribe her way in by bringing cashew nuts. The other became angry and tried to force his way in. When the door and the window of the greenhouse were closed to keep the unwanted guest out, the warm and cosy greenhouse suddenly became a claustrophobic place. People started leaving the greenhouse. Afterwards, they said they had felt vulnerable, being attacked from outside while inside an unstable construction that gave no protection. A bit like some people in receiving countries are fearing uncontrolled influxes of new migrants.
“You’re getting the point”
After all guests had left the greenhouse, the performance ended with a short choreography of different reactions to new arrivals, followed by an explanatory talk. Being migration researchers, people only needed a few words to get the link between what they had just experienced and migration. With any other audience, people’s own experiences in and around the greenhouse can be a great start of a dialogue on decisions, journeys and impacts of migrants.
The Greenhouse is just one of many possible manifestations of CONTAINED. We are now fundraising for CONTAINED. Watch this space and contained-project.com to stay updated about new developments!
CONTAINED is a cooperation of myself and Anja Meinhardt of the physical theatre company Justice in Motion, together with Remco Heijmans and Steve Hay. Melissa Bori, Jon Ouin and Ophelie Lebrasseur also contributed to The Greenhouse.