In this piece, Kavita and Tatiana reflect on visiting the Good Chance Theatre.
Good Chance Theatre is an experimental and ephemeral theatre space first established in Calais and then temporarily set up inside of the ‘Bubble’ in Paris during the final months of its operation. Good Chance Theatre is founded by British playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, who felt that “as the makeup of our communities changes, integration and understanding are essential to stimulating constructive dialogue rather than destructive conflict.
Theatre and the arts are more vital than ever in facilitating this …” (www. goodchance.org.uk). Tatiana and Kavita were lucky to be audience members in two of the weekend performances that took place (on March 4th and March 24th respectively), and share thoughts on their immediate impressions, the juxtaposition of celebration and precarity, and what happens after such projects inevitably end.
What were your first impressions when you came into the space?
Kavita Ramakrishnan (KR): I remember making my way to the entrance of the Good Chance Theatre (GCT), following people who were clearly ‘out-of-place’ to the environs of the ‘Bubble’ – white, well-dressed, and older. I was given a wristband and hung out for a bit outside of the tent. It was jarring to see it alongside the actual ‘Bubble’ and warehouse where migrants sleep. It seems improvised, ad-hoc, in all of the ways the ‘Bubble’ was originally intended before institutionalization and securitization dampened any spontaneity.
Tatiana Thieme (TT): For me, the show was moving and wonderful in many ways (as participatory theatre can be) but also filled with perverse ironies, starting with its location. It’s inside the compound near the Bubble, so you need to send an e-mail to get an invitation and be on the list. This does not preclude other migrants from attending as audience/participants, but it means they need to either send an email themselves or have someone else do so on their behalf. As a result, it becomes inevitably an exclusive though ‘performed inclusiveness’ theatrical moment that was ephemeral in every sense.
What did you think of the production?
KR: I thought it was interesting watching a combination of Sudanese and Afghan men engage in quite playful skits, telling of jokes and impersonations. For instance, one skit involved an Afghan man driving in a ‘car’ that breaks down – a Sudanese mechanic comes to ‘fix’ the car and all is back to normal again. Another skit showed three men taking an exam, and copying each other’s answers – all playfully under the nose of the ‘headmaster’. While there was this tremendous playfulness, so too was an atmosphere of emotion and sincerity: one young man from Brazzaville talked about the military (in French), and another young man from Sudan spoke powerfully in Arabic. It seemed to be an event where language didn’t matter: more important was to convey a range of emotions. In one, there were two white girls who mimed romance with a Sudanese man and Afghan man respectively. It made me think of understanding and performing various forms of masculinity: from rendering the silly joke, to reading a poem about loving one’s mother, to strutting around with different ‘model’ walks, and finally enacting heterosexual romance (perhaps with women who may have frowned upon back home).
TT: Each week the program changes. So, when I attended, the production first started with a kind of overture of participatory structured improvisational movements across the circular space, performing the sorts of exercises that had been done all week in the workshops. As audience members sat or stood against the edge of the dome-like structure, we were invited to enter the life world of the week’s workshop where bodies and life stories paid attention to each other across lines of countless difference. Touch and affect were integral to the movement, but without excessive indulgence and sentimentality. The beauty of this kind of participatory theatre and performance art is that you don’t have to ask or tell what people have been through . You can sense and share without disclosing the sorts of details that so many want to either forget or move past, so the ‘journey’ doesn’t define their existence as recent arrivals. For a moment, participants and observers co-mingle and inhabit a third space, where nationalities and birth places and the artefacts of identity as defined by nation states and authorities are arbitrary and have no place in this space. But this is of course a stage, set apart from the world outside this bubble, in every sense of the word…
What struck you about the atmosphere?
KR: The play as beautiful as it was, alongside the mixing of different people still left me feeling awkward and privileged: that some of us had the ability to put our name on a guest-list and enter with ease while refugees who were sleeping rough outside had no access to something that could have been potentially uplifting. I also wonder at the implications of something that is temporary in the lives of refugees – yet another volunteer-led project, however innovative and spectacular – that can seem like a profound loss once it’s gone. But perhaps temporary in the same way the refugee situation was imagined to begin with?
TT: The idea of limbo does haunt the atmosphere and production. For instance, Ahmed had been asked by Good Chance Theatre to read a poem he wrote. It was beautiful, abstract enough to relate to the experience of so many in the room, but personal enough to defy platitudes and any sense that this was homogenising the trials and tribulations of the so-called ‘refugee’. But when Ahmed came out of the bubble, and we had a chance to speak for a while, I noticed all the Good Chance Theatre team walk by after the show congratulating Ahmed on his performance, on this touching performance. As if they expected an automatic enthusiastic ‘yes’ and didn’t really wait for the answer, a few asked him ‘you’ll come again next Saturday?’ as they walked past. Ahmed turned to me and said, ‘I’m not coming back here. Not near the Bubble. I came in as a refugee seeking help with my asylum process. That was a year ago. I am in a camp (Centre d’Hébergement/Accueil) near Orly airport now, sharing a room, and I don’t want to share a room with someone I don’t know. Coming to this place reminds me that I am still so unsettled. If the theatre goes somewhere else in Paris, I’ll always come. But not here.” Ahmed is waiting for his asylum status, but has been told “not to call the prefecture because they apparently don’t like that. They say they will contact you.” So, in the meantime he waits, in limbo.