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An international theatre project.

Dirk Neldner
Project Director

Three theaters from Europe (lead organisation Teatro Elsinor, Italy, Teatro O Bando, Portugal and Pilot theatre, UK), two from Canada (Dynamo Theatre, Montreal and Presentation House Theatre, Vancouver) and the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), have joined together to work globally on the theme Poverty and Migration. Six intercontinental co-productions, combining documentary theatre form with the aesthetical variety of the involved theaters, grow out of the collected interview material.

In 2013, as we began to have first thoughts about an international theatre project, I had just returned from Portugal. There, our friends from Teatro O Bando, had told me about a restaurant in Lisbon that had specialized itself in organising farewell parties for young Portuguese people who were emigrating: a cynical symbol of the crisis in the heart of Europe.

This was during the height of the European banking crisis when many young, mainly well-educated South-Europeans left their countries in search for work. Mass poverty, which had been considered as defeated, came back to Europe.

With the project »Boomerang-documents of poverty and hope« we wanted to go on a theatrical root-tracing search to see how the flight from poverty influences the personal vitaes of young people. The chosen form of documentary theatre seemed fitting because it called for a concrete artistic examination of the experiences of those directly affected.

Not even two years later, totally different events demanded our attention: War, terrorist attacks and the gigantic wave of refugees who arrived in Europe last year. It was important for the theatres who co-operated in the intercontinental coupling, to refer to this critical situation. This is especially true for the project theatres whose young target audience demands a sensitive way of dealing with current developments.

In the Portuguese-Canadian co-production this reference is clearly evident. In “Absence,” a refugee, before entering his target country, must choose between “Memory” and “Hope.” He is only allowed to take one of these with him.

In the Montreal production “Inner Migrant” the audience follows the difficulties that the Portuguese immigrant has in the initially alien new homeland.

The British-Australian co-productions are about causes and effects of the current migration movement: The Pilot Theatre play “Outsiders” describes hardships and dangers which grow out of religiously based prejudices and hate. The play of the young writer Emteaz Hussain, based on the Albert Camus novel about the French-Algerian conflict, which toured through much of the UK, became sadly very relevant because of the recent Parisian Terror attacks.

A war taking place on foreign soil influences the relationships of five young women in “War Crimes,” the play put on by ATYP in Sydney. The presence of a stranger (in this case a refugee) puts a small community to the test. The play was nominated in three categories for the Sydney Theatre Award. This is an appraisal for the whole project, which confirms the necessity for contemporary childrens’ and youth theatre to take a political stance.

“The private sphere is political and the political sphere is private” was a saying in the 1968 Student movement, which had its origins in the Vietnam War Protest. This motto is relevant to the Italian-Canadian co-production “I Wish.” In participatory performances, the desires of the young people are requested. The 8-12 year olds in the audiences in both Vancouver and in Forli would often say that what they wanted was: PEACE!

Of course theatre doesn’t bring us closer to World Peace. At least, not directly. But through this project the elementary importance of intense exchanges with the young audiences on the big themes of the world once again became very clear to all the partners. Obviously we can no longer evade global conflicts, no matter where we are and regardless of the ethnic composition of our societies.

All the more important was the exchange of ideas with like-minded people from different continents and different cultures over the last two years. Working together and being able to have heated arguments about a theme was enormously beneficial and unusually intense.

Artists from all of the theatres contributed their experiences and professionalism to the final project production, “Patricia Balbina’s Chance Encounter with the End of the World.” This was the climax and simultaneously the end of the EU sponsored project “Boomerang – documents of poverty and hope.” The opening was on 20.1.2016 at ATYP in Sydney and will be shown in February (11-15) in Vancouver.

The production draws on over fifty interviews with people who have migrated to England, Italy, Portugal, Canada and Australia. The process of creating this work has been as important as the story it tells and has been created over two weeks by artists from five nations that speak four languages. In a short period of time, a team has been forced to find an international performance language that can be clearly understood by artists from different backgrounds and experiences, looking to find universal experiences that can resonate with audiences from any age or culture. The creative team range in age from 21 to mid 60’s. Their expertise encompasses writing, clowning, film, dance, circus, dramaturgy, directing and sound design.

The collectively gained experience will influence all of our paths for a long time to come. Whilst searching for the tracks of young people, we have left our own tracks.

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