Thursday, July 05, 2012

Dare to be Different

It's been an amazing few weeks here, with our Participation and Learning programmes going into overdrive as the educational year heads towards its close.  Joel and Gabrielle have been working very closely with the London Māori community to complete the Oral Histories component of our Heritage Project - and the website has now been launched!  Click here.  Once you're on the site, you need to register if you want to access the fascinating archive of interviews, which are there in both written and audio form, dealing with migration, Polynesian life in London, ceremony, lifestyle and change.  There's also a great video about the project, which shows people from the community discussing why this work matters to them, and young people from Malorees School who have been working with the London Māori.  And, the process, they all got their arts awards!

Meanwhile, down in Plymouth, I've been working with a group of young refugees and asylum seekers, known as Dare to be Different, who came to the city as a dispersal centre, and who come from places as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, Angola, Russia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe - and probably a few more besides.  Two months of workshops have explored their creativity, and have drawn off their experiences, their hopes and their dreams.  It's been a fascinating and inspiring journey - and it's culminated in a performance called Division which they've presented at the Drum Theatre.

What's very salutary about this group is the complex and fluid nature of the identities they are exploring.  In some ways, they are defined by their past and by their refugee status: they have fled from persecution, and many of them have lived through far more in their early years than most people do in a lifetime.  We had one very powerful session based around the participants sharing personal stories about how their lives had changed - and many of them were astounded by what others had lived through.  And so was I.  On the other hand, they feel an intense need to move beyond that restricted identity, and to create a new way of living in the new space they have come to.  They are young people, with much to give and much to expect; so they cannot and must not be defined solely by a past over which they had no control.  Division was a terrific piece of theatre, because it was able to include a sense of what had been left behind, or perhaps absorbed - but also a sense of the lightness, the comedy present in young lives, and the aspirations and challenges of living in a new space.  

What's more, they were wonderfully eloquent about all this when we had a post-show discussion, and that discussion involved not only theatre people and friends, but also public figures like the police, the racial equality council and other public agencies.  In fact, this work became a study in how theatre can become an attribute of participatory democracy.  Something we are sorely lacking in our society right now. 

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