Asylum Dialogues, Sheffield University, 19.04.2010
‘How come Mary got moved all over the country and put in prison?’
As we squeezed one more group onto the tables at the back, closing the doors on the 130 people packed into the room, it was clear the word about this show had spread far and wide. As the home of Actors for Human Rights North, Sheffield has seen its fair share of AFHR plays by now, but it’s clear that this diverse city still has audiences to be found. One new audience member posed the question ‘How come Mary got moved all over the country and put in prison?’ I’m always happy to hear questions such as these as it means we’re not just preaching to the converted (I’d be happier if the question was no longer needed…!) How to find a succinct answer? Gina Clayton one of the post show speakers and author of Textbook on Immigration and Asylum Law gave a clear response: ‘these people get caught up in a system that is broken down’. At the heart of what we do with Actors for Human Rights is bringing the voices affected by these ‘broken down systems’ to audiences encouraging them to think about what they can do to help. The other panel speaker, Sam, who is an active volunteer in Sheffield talked to the audience about ways of taking action such as volunteering with CDAS, Conversation Clubs, ASSIST, City of Sanctuary and how the smallest efforts can go a very long way. Looking round the room at the end with everyone eagerly studying their copy of 12 Things You Can Do it seems clear that these voices were inspiring.
Asylum Dialogues @ All Saints Church, Winterton, Scunthorpe, 21.04.2010
‘We don’t meet people like that around here.’
Tonight’s performance was, according to this audience in Winterton, ‘a real eye opener’. I think that’s about the best feedback we can get. Providing for perhaps the first time ever, a real insight into the lived experience of the UK asylum system and forging connections between vastly different parts of the community. Whilst Hull, a major city of dispersal for asylum seekers is only 17 miles away from Winterton, it is according to one audience member, ‘another universe’. Not that the people of Winterton are blind to the affairs of the world. The Q&A indicated there was a fair share of Guardian readers in the audience, and they had asked us to bring the Dialogues to them based on their concern for refugees, but few had previously encountered face to face a person who is going through that experience or heard in their own words what it was like. The real ‘John’ whose story features in Asylum Dialogues, attended last night and spoke after the reading about just how little he had known about the lives of refugees until he met Angela, a Jamaican woman who was the cleaner in his office who has now become his dear friend. He talked about his life radically changing when he realised the injustices she was enduring and how he now tours the country urging others to show similar support to those seeking sanctuary here. Whilst this was a long way from bright city lights or grand theatre stages, it was for me, the actors and the audience, Actors for Human Rights at its most useful.
Asylum Dialogues @ Manchester Uni, 29.04.2010
‘Befriend a refugee, what’s that? Like invite them to your house?’
At 7pm, before anyone had turned up to this dank, musty nightclub room, on a cold rainy night, smack bang in the middle of exams prep time, I thought ‘Here we go. We’ll get 20 maximum, keen students already on side’… I was wrong. 60 people turned up, and when I asked the audience to raise a hand if they were already part of with the Student Action For Refugees group only three hands shot up! During the pre-show mill around, someone reading our 12 Things You Can Do Document muttered, ‘Befriend a refugee, what’s that? Like invite them to your house?’ By the end of the show, that same person was chatting with Dave from BOAZ Trust about doing just that, befriending and supporting destitute asylum seekers through BOAZ Trust’s destitution project. And lots of other connections were made too, people chatting to woman from Community Arts North West about volunteering with their Exodus Festival, someone chatting with a person from the Red Cross about volunteering in their night shelter.
So from Manchester to Winterton and in between, over this past week we’ve communicated the inspiring voices of Asylum Dialogues to wide-ranging audiences reminding me just why Actors for Human Rights is so useful and just how lucky I am to be a part of it.
By Clea Langton, Regional Co-Ordinator, Actors for Human Rights