“White People All Over”: Refugee Performance, Fictional Aesthetics, and Dramaturgies of Alterity-Empathy
Em: Contemporary Theatre Review
Editor: Taylor & Francis online
Repositóro ULisboa: http://hdl.handle.net/10451/44399
Over a two month period during the summer of 2017, we followed the production process of Passajar, an immersive participatory performance project in Lisbon (Portugal), collaboratively created by four theatre-makers and recent refugees from Congo, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The production was developed as part of Lisbon’s Festival Todos, a publicly funded and socially engaged performing arts initiative that has been running for more than a decade, functioning as social intervention through arts in inner neighbourhoods with a high proportion of migrant and marginalised communities. Facilitated and curated by the festival’s artistic director, Madalena Victorino, this multidimensional performance work was an important (albeit limited) experiment in searching for potential new forms of migrant theatre and refugee performance.
In this article, we critically revisit Passajar, both performance-process and performance-product, focusing on three interlinked issues evoked by our experience of closely observing the creative process and of watching the production. Firstly, we look at how this particular project relates to and addresses difference in actual creative practice, and more generally, how such refugee performances ‘bind “one” to another without collapsing the “I” or the “Other” into a totalizing “we”’.
Secondly, we examine what kind of aesthetics working with refugee participants generates, and what are the performative means and dramaturgical processes by which such aesthetics of refugeedom are being produced. Lastly, we question the ethical positions deployed in Passajar, highlighting that by the very decision of producing a performance work with refugees, the theatre collective tapped into multiple individual and communal identities, histories, and ideologies. In shifting the focus from representation to encounter, whereby the feeling of displacement was collectively explored and played out physically by resident facilitators and refugee participants alike, Passajar’s performance opened up an affective and ethical space of experience for the practice of both self-transformation and empathy towards alterity. Although the creative team devised Passajar’s collective work based on ‘displacement’ as a broadened identifier, both the rehearsal process and resulting performances successfully expressed the complexities and differences of individual refugees’ personal histories and their actual experiences of being dislocated from home and their own language. In this sense, we suggest that Passajar’s humanist-driven fictional aesthetics offers an example of a more inclusive dramaturgy on human rights, evocative of the ‘open ethics’ sustained by philosophers Baruch Spinoza, Henri Bergson, and Gilles Deleuze. By managing to articulate an arena of shared struggle without losing sight of particular spheres of belonging, the performance process and product were, we would argue, both identitarian and universal.