Verbatim Theatre: A Refugee Story
I've spent the past week putting together a play with some amazing people and we had our performance on Saturday in the Hong Kong Arts Centre. I've never performed before and neither did the majority of the group so it was quite a challenge for all of us. We have put the play together because this week was our school's project week. In this week, all students join a project (e.g. helping to improve infrastructure on the Philippines or working with children in Cambodia). My group stayed in Hong Kong and interviewed asylum seekers to tell their stories in a play.
Before doing this project, I did not know that Hong Kong makes a difference between the term "asylum seeker" and "refugee". In Hong Kong, people are asylum seekers until they went through a long screening process and the conclusion of it is that they are eligible for refugee status. However, the majority gets rejected in Hong Kong. We called our play "A Refugee Story" but the majority of the people we interviewed were - in they eyes of the law - asylum seekers. Another thing I've learned is that refugees can't stay in Hong Kong. When they obtain their refugee status, they will be resettled in another country, but not in Hong Kong. Asylum seekers receive little support and this is why we tried to raise awareness with our play.
In the play, we told our own stories and what we have experienced during the week, but our main focus was on the stories of the people who we have interviewed. We told the audience about their life in their home country, the event that made them leave, their life in Hong Kong and their hopes and dreams. Hearing their stories was shocking and heart-breaking. It is close to unbelievable what some people go through in life and then they still stand in front of you and smile and try to move on. No matter how tough life has been on them, most of them seemed to have hope.
As an overseas student, it took me quite a while to find out about this issue in Hong Kong and I was truly shocked to find out about their living conditions and their life. Very often, their voices remain unheard and this was the reason why we did our play: We wanted to give them their voice and make it be heard.
Our performance was a verbatim theatre performance. This means that we use the words that they give us and we don't play anything that they did not tell us. Each of us interviewed one asylum seeker and then acted him or her out on stage. I was quite nervous because we had to write the whole play and learn all the lines in a few days. It was definitely nerve wracking but it was a great experience and I believe that we've all learned a lot. You get a little bit more of a sense of the meaning of words like 'religious persecution' or 'political persecution' when you act as a person who went through it. All of a sudden, these terms mean something because you have a concrete story and a face that told you this story. I have always had a definition of these terms, but never have I had an emotional attachment to them - until I had to put on someone else's shoes for the performance. It is very tough to tell such a story because you realise how different your life is. And that maybe the only reason for that difference is your place of birth.
I am extremely grateful for the week and for all the people I have worked with. I've learned a lot and I have realised what it means for an individual to be a refugee. I have also seen an incredible amount of hope and support from NGOs. We worked with the NGO Christian Action to get in touch with the refugees. All of them were very grateful for the support from the NGO and I could see that it does make a difference when individuals give a little bit of their time to organisations to help others. And it is appreciated.
If you guys are interested in this issue and you are based in Hong Kong, you can visit our second performance this Friday at Li Po Chun United World College (link below).
Lots of Love,
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