Dutch premiere of CONTAINED Project at NvdV

CONTAINED Project is having its Dutch premiere!

During the Nacht van de Vluchteling (Night of the Refugee) in Amsterdam, CONTAINED Project will perform The Extraordinary Queuing Experience in collaboration with BOOST Ringdijk and local actors of refugee-, migrant-, and non-migrant background.

The Nacht van de Vluchteling (Night of the Refugee) is a yearly event organized by Stichting Vluchteling. In the night of 17/18 June, participants walk 40 kilometres on different routes in the Netherlands to raise funds to support refugees worldwide. Walkers on the Amsterdam route will encounter CONTAINED Project, somewhere along the way. The rest remains a secret!

We are now recruiting the team of actors! Go to the website of CONTAINED Project for more information.

Looking back on CONTAINED Project 2016

CONTAINED Project was born and raised in 2016 – what a year it was! After taking a moment to look back, the project is ready to leave home and conquer the world in 2017.

We kicked off in January 2016 with a taster performance at the International Migration Institute‘s 10th anniversary conference. We then developed the first part of our trilogy, Decisions and Journeys, in June, and performed pilot versions at an Oxford Migration Studies Society‘s event at the Pitt Rivers Museum and in the middle of Oxford’s Broad Street during the Oxfordshire Science Festival. In August, the second part of our trilogy, on Movement and Change, took us to Wilderness Festival in Charlbury. In September, we tried our Creative Lab of storytelling and participatory tools for the adult and children visitors of The Story Museum in Oxford. In October, we took our first trip out of Oxfordshire and had the privilege to work with Bruxellois actors to develop our third piece, on arrival and reception, for Nuit Blanche Brussels. In December, we put the trilogy together into one beautiful event at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

After this awesome and dynamic pilot period in 2016, in which we tried lots of different ways to connect performance, experience, research and learning to provoke thoughts and encourage dialogue on migration, we are taking stock of what we learned. A short documentary, an public report and an academic paper are in preparation, so that we can share our lessons learned with you.

Moreover, CONTAINED and CONTAINED Project are ready to engage with the world in 2017. Starting with yet another great weekend of events at The Story Museum on 10-12 February, and many more things to come. Watch this space, or get in touch if you are interested in having a CONTAINED performance in your venue, neighbourhood, organization or school!

For now, we would like to thank all artists and contributors who were part of CONTAINED somewhere along the way in 2016.

(in order of appearance:) Anja Meinhardt and Justice in Motion, Marieke van Houte, Remco Heijmans, Steve Hay, Melissa Bori, Jon Ouin, Ophélie Lebrasseur, Sparrow, Sarah Jane Clarke, Daniella Cromwell, Frederike Otto, Ben Johnston, Joakim Joakim, Federica Infantino, Dominic Heaney, Dan McMahon, Sonja Wie, Simon Dormon, Luke Chadwick-jones, Quentin Lachapele, Suzanne Burlton, Natalie Jane Hind, Brittany Roberts, Mbalou Arnould, François Makanga, Zaï-Moon Râhkov, Natalia Vanderkaeken, Romana Úlehlová, Judith Von Orelli, Peter Dewhurst, Fiona Watson, Zoë Parkinson, Johnny O’Reilly, James McKeogh, Studio Yves – You were amazing this year!

CONTAINED in its exploratory phase

Why do people move? What shapes public opinions about migration? And what can we do to create a dialogue on migration that leads to constructive responses to challenges in society?

Since January I have been working with Anja Meinhardt of Justice in Motion and many other artists in CONTAINED: a multidimensional project that combines performance, academics and creative learning to create dialogues on migration.

CONTAINED creates immersive theatrical performances based on research and migrants’ stories from around the world, but will also be an innovative comparative and ethnographic research project on the dynamics and public perceptions of migration.

The physical and metaphorical centrepiece of CONTAINED is a purpose built transparent shipping container: shipping containers stand for global mobility, the possibilities and constraints of travelling, and for the ‘contained’ness of our lives, in which we try to define and control our and other’s lives.

CONTAINED explores migration in a trilogy of three themes of migration: 1) decisions and journeys; 2) arrival and reception; 3) movements and changes. These three thematic components will be the basis of performance and creative learning tools.

After successfully raising initial funds, currently in its exploratory phase in which we develop and showcase a trilogy of performances. Try-out performances are happening in the summer and autumn of 2016. Read more on the website.

BOUND – physical theatre on human trafficking

justiceinmotion BOUNDI went to see BOUND, a physical theatre performance on human trafficking, which shows the potential of this kind of theatre to move and activate an audience on social issues.

We meet three workers in the shadows of the city: a sex worker, a construction worker and a chamber maid in a hotel. All three came from abroad in search for a better life. But they could not foresee the life they would be living. They are trapped in a repetitive dance of hard and humiliating work that they can’t escape. Through an impressive combination of dance, spoken word, acrobatics and projection, we see their stories unfold.

Initially, it is easiest to feel sympathy for the chamber maid, a slightly naive and funny girl who finds that the great career in the city she was promised, turns out to be a lot less glamourous than she thought. She doesn’t want to complain and tries to create bits of home with the little possibilities she has. But then her optimism breaks and it turns out that even she is capable of betraying others for a chance to get out of her situation.

Then there is the construction worker, a seemingly carefree guy who literally swings between the scaffolding of his job. But then we learn how young he was when he was put in a van and sent off to work in a foreign land, and how much he misses his mother. And we see how he longs for some human contact, but gets punished when he finds it.

The sex worker is perhaps the least easy to identify with. The shock of the sex industry she is tricked into soon makes her numb and emotionless, a coping mechanism to survive the daily routine of humiliation. Trapped in this cycle, she seems a lost case, bound to descent into a vicious cycle of decay. But then she rediscovers friendship, and even a hint of love. We see her hesitantly open up to a spark of hope for a better life. When this hope is crushed by the oppressive system they are in and she is back in her routine of dancing and having sex with anyone who will pay for her, her fate hits me harder than before.

Rather than explaining, BOUND lets the audience see and feel what human trafficking means for the people involved. Losing power over your own time and choices. Becoming a tool in an urban machine, invisible as a human, without seeing a way out. Not only the difficult situation, but also the endless repetition of things makes them lose their dignity, their health, their values. At the same time, we see that each of them has a strong will of holding on to bits of hope, and is capable of friendship and love. In other words, we see that these are still humans that deserve a human life.

I was left with the feeling that if only we could help these people to get out of the oppressive system they were in, they would be capable of rebuilding their life. And that is exactly what the performance was trying to do. In the Q&A afterwards, the actors sat together with people of a charity that helps girls who have been trafficked and want to reintegrate in society. In this way, BOUND not only raised awareness but also offered concrete possibilies to take action against human trafficking, for example by supporting this charity.

Justice in Motion is an up-and-coming theatre company that wants to raise awareness about social injustice through powerful, thought-provoking and visually stunning performances and to inspire debate and action for social change. After having seen BOUND, I am incredibly proud to be collaborating with them to produce CONTAINED, a project that creates theatrical performances on decisions and journeys, arrival and reception, and change and mobility of migration.

| CONTAINED | Would you have what it takes to be a migrant?

container 2I am very proud and excited to introduce CONTAINED, a project of theatre and research on migration.

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“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”SAM_2800
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.

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.

In or out? An extraordinary queuing experience

LiveFriday Social Animals posterA dream is coming true at the Social Animals LiveFriday in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford: making a theatrical experience-performance to communicate research!

In or out? An extraordinary queuing experience

The entire museum is a special place, but some parts are more precious than others. How far will you go to get in? What if the rules are twisted? Get in line and immerse yourself in the universal experience of in- and exclusion!