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The Tempest Society: Too bad Jesse Klaver wasn't in the audience #HF17

Struggle is by far the word that falls the most in the video triptych 'The Tempest Society'. The struggle for a dignified existence, the struggle for papers, the struggle with a system that does not want to give you rights. Refugees struggle day in and day out, year in and year out, with this matter.

In this video triptych, the Moroccan-French director gives Bouchra Khalili (Casablanca, 1979) gives a voice to the invisible. By letting emigrants tell their stories themselves, she gives them visibility in a society they would rather not see. She does not work with professional actors but with 'ordinary' people.

"Europe has a long history but a short memory."

Her main themes, migration and civil rights, are expressed this time by three residents of Athens, with whom she creates a collective. This collective 'The Tempest Society' is a tribute to the collective 'Al Assifa' (the storm). That group, also consisting of a hard core of three, fought for the same issues in Paris in the 1970s.

There is little material left for a reconstruction of 'Al Assifa' from the 1970s. But it is moving how the attempt is shaped. The Athenian performers hold three photos of the three members in front of their faces and talk about the group. The last surviving member of Al Assifa, philosophy teacher Phillipe, slides in and reads from the group's manifesto. It is a nice tribute to the past of political theatre-making and at the same time the bridge and justification for what we will see next.

© Stathis Mamalakis

"theatre without performance or performance without theatre?"

 What all happened around migration since the 1970s? A jumble of announcements about constitutions, incidents, the Junta and individual stories follow.

The show does not have a traditional narrative structure but has three parts that 1. Story 2. Play and 3. Characters as its title. There is also a musical interlude and an epilogue. Khalili opts for shades of grey in the image and emotionlessness in the play. The neutral narrative style is meant to give the show the feel of a journalistic newspaper. It is not meant to be compassionate. Khalili sees migration as an act of resistance against an established order. The last thing she wants is to portray migrants as vulnerable and unself-reliant.

Only when the personal stories of Katarina and Elias are told do the actors look into the camera. Katarina, child of refugee Ghanaian parents, was born completely disenfranchised in an Athens hospital. The only official proof of her existence is her birth certificate. Her fate depends on any policeman who can arrest and deport her on the street.

Kenyan Elias came to Greece when he was four, and assimilated like the best. But came to the conclusion that he was still treated as 'the outsider, the other'.

"Theatre respects our words"

 Fugitive Syrian Malek, one of the guest actors in this film talks about the importance of being able and allowed to make theatre. How important it is for your self-esteem to be able to speak for yourself. To be able to give beauty to your sad stories by telling them in front of an audience. He made a performance with Syrian refugee children in a shelter. Later, when they were able to go to school and had to fight for their basic rights, a second performance about life here and now in Athens did not get off the ground.

'The Tempest Society' is an informative bombardment of stories around the theme of migration. Interestingly, it does not opt for the paved path of the emotional 'the suffering called flight story' with beginning, middle and end. Yet, the film really picks up steam when there is room for the individual stories. These make it tangible to us, the viewer, what it is like to survive disenfranchised. The other parts of the film remain too much of an intellectual exercise.

Still, in both content and form, giving the other a voice is a fascinating adventure. Migration is not a 'little thing'. Too bad Jesse Klaver was not in the audience. It would have been a nice heart-to-heart.

Hannah Roelofs

Dramaturg, speech coach and student English teacher.View Author posts

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