Theatre with unaccompanied minors goes to the Edinburgh Fringe.
A guest post by Kate Scarlett Duffy
The audience filter in and take their seats. The lights go down and we take our positions onstage. I take a deep breath: my name is Kate, I live in Kilburn, my country is… UK. Over the top I hear Harrow-college-Wembley-Afghanistan-my name is-Somalia-London-Afghanistan-Albania-Eritrea from the 8 actors around me, as they introduce themselves too and vie for the audience’s attention. This is how Dear Home Office begins; by putting a face to the stories of unaccompanied minor refugee young men in the UK who are so often made invisible.
It feels funny calling ourselves ‘actors’. See, most of the young men in Dear Home Office know me as their ‘Key Worker’, because in the day I’m in charge of the Supported Accommodation project run by Afghan Association Paiwand. My job involves helping young men acclimatise to the UK – going to the GP, registering for college, opening bank accounts and introducing them to great British institutions (roast dinners and Adele).
Through involvement with Phosphoros Theatre, which I run with my mum Dawn Harrison and our friend Rosanna Jahangard, we’ve been able to create a space in which these stories are put on stage. What started as a weekly drama workshop series in a living room in Harrow has now become a fully formed piece of theatre that has had 3 sell out previews in London, and is now days away from going up to the Edinburgh Fringe for a week long run.
Dear Home Office was born out of the desire of the Supported Accommodation residents to tell people about their experiences of being unaccompanied minors – crossing borders without their families and navigating the asylum system in the UK. They said they had interesting stories to tell, and they reckoned themselves pretty funny (we agreed). As theatre makers, myself, Rosanna and Dawn believed that drama could be a beneficial tool for practicing and developing English literacy, for increasing confidence and self-esteem and enhancing team work skills. As the devising process continued we began to realise that our workshops were also being used as a sort of rehearsal for real life – using role play to imagine visits to the Home Office, or tricky interactions at college. For young men with unique pressures as well as the daily ups and downs of being a young adult, Dear Home Office had become a significant part of their routine.
Dear Home Office reflects both on memories from the past, and also how refugee youth form new communities. Rooted in a Supported Accommodation project that aims to reinstate ideas of ‘home’, it has been so special to welcome these young men into my parents home in the Derbyshire countryside for rehearsal holiday trips. Think frolicking in fields, hunting for Easter Eggs and pulling Christmas crackers, having water fights and doing Afghan Attan dancing…
These authentic, innocent moments are shown on film, and capture the essence of what Phosphoros Theatre aims to do: to challenge perspectives and offer alternative narratives. Audiences have said that Dear Home Office has opened their eyes to the people behind the headlines. Join us at the Edinburgh Fringe this August so our cast can show you ‘who we were then, and who we are now’.
Dear Home Office is at the Edinburgh Fringe from 22-28 August 2016 at Underbelly Med Quad 12.15. Tickets here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/dear-home-office
This project has been funded by Arts Council England.