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MIGREAT! CONCLUSIONS

The MiGreat! Project (Changing the narrative on migration) officially ended on the 31st March 2022, after 30 months of collaboration between Giolli (Italy), EFA London (UK), Elan Interculturel (France), and Nyitott Kör (Hungary).

This long journey led to some tangible results:

Intellectual Output 1: a guide to frame the topic of narratives and provide a set of methods and approaches about which kind of activities practitioners can design and facilitate to explore dominant, counter and alternative narratives;

Intellectual Output 2: a set of visual tools to sensitise chosen target audiences about narratives and a guide about how such products can be developed in a participatory process;

Intellectual Output 3: a guide, that includes partners’ scripts, about how Forum-Theatre was used for the exploration of narratives.

In these outputs we brought together the practices, experiences, discussions and reflections we had throughout the project concerning narratives on migration and how to create counter/alternative narratives using theatre and visual tools.

We hope that the handbook and the guides will continue to propagate our results and good practices beyond the length of this project in the coming years. We are sure that the impact of this project is tangible: in various ways we facilitated the opportunity for a wide audience to reflect on narratives about migration. Moreover, we tried to experiment and to bring our approaches to different social and institutional contexts where they could be adopted and integrated.

Another important result, from our point of view, is the strong and meaningful collaboration developed between partners that has been successful in the face of  the complexity of the issue we were engaging with and the challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite these challenges we found a way to proceed, adapting our path to each specific context and the conditions we were presented with.

It was a big challenge and many aspects would deserve a deeper discussion. We developed and increased our capacities to deal with unpredictable risks and to shape answers to challenges imposed by external factors, as mentioned in our previous article about online and offline activities.

Thanks to this project, the partnership and all stakeholders engaged had the chance to reflect on important themes. The main “hot question” that arose during the project was about “narratives”: we noticed that  the dominant narrative is easy to get, it is everywhere, visible and audible. Conversely, the counter-narrative is not so easy to pinpoint, it risks having less emotional impact as it is more reflexive, dialogical and complex. How then are we to deal with the latter, being aware of those characteristics?

Another “hard point” to address was the distinction between counter- and alternative-narratives.

Indicatively we could say that the counter-narrative takes an element from the dominant narrative and tries to de-construct it, while the alternative narrative bypasses the dominant narrative and attempts to build  a new,distinct and separate narrative. Alternative narratives are usually not simple messages, but rather complex processes, therefore they may not reach a high number of individuals as mass media does, nevertheless they could have long-term, deep and multiplying effects, where involved individuals become agents of change themselves. Nevertheless, we recognise that there is still much to explore and elaborate on this point.

Another recurring issue on the project has been the relevance of narratives for participants with experience of migration. For some participants with a migrant background, the focus on narratives seemed far from their needs, maybe too abstract, difficult to explore and tackle.

The debate is still alive and would need further exploration, that we strongly hope to have the chance to pursue on future occasions.

What we really would like to say, at this point, is that narratives are rooted in social mechanisms and daily processes: to impact the dominant narrative, circulated by institutional mechanisms and mainstream mass-media, requires a larger effort based on many actions like:

– awareness raising campaigns with visual tools, important and positive news, examples of positive inclusion, testimonials;

– collective action taken by locals and migrants aimed at changing the mainstream perception of migrants like industrial action, housing action or volunteering;

– small-scale actions like creating employment opportunities for migrants or sharing your home with a refugee ;

– cultural events like open air dinners that bring together locals and migrants;

– Forum-Theatre with mixed audiences;

– intercultural/multicultural education settings and activities at school and in professional courses.

During the project we explored different tools, and we recorded our experiences and guidance in different publications;  we invite anyone working in the field of migrants rights to experiment with and adapt these, and also to include them in a larger strategy as described above.

During the 30 months of the project, we had the chance to run several events to share the above-mentioned results. The final project conference in London was a great moment to summarise and share the acquired knowledge with attendees, while also highlighting for us the need to continue to reflect and experiment with this topic. We are going to apply to other calls for proposals and the blog is being sustained until March 2027 to keep this work alive.

We thank all the people with whom we got in touch during the project and hope this first collaboration could continue in London, Trento, Budapest and Paris, with the local networks created.

We invite you to stay connected with us and help develop more true narratives about migration.

Online and offline: love and hate

The Migreat! Project had been running for only a few months when the Covid-19 pandemic took off all over the world. After an initial period of incertitude, we modified our activities, both at the national and international level, according to the limitations imposed. It was not an easy path: certain activities have been developed differently, some have been changed, for sure, most of them have been done online.

We cannot deny that at the beginning we were sceptical and sad about this change, but approaching the end of this project, we are conscious of a need to reflect on and analyse what we did and the skills we developed through online activities.

In terms of inclusion, also considering the international character of our project, we can affirm that online workshops and training allow us to include a wider group of people, that could, staying at home, join us even when, for different reasons (family needs, sickness, a tight agenda) they could not come in person. This allowed all the participants to be in touch from different countries, enter the houses of others while respecting the limits that everybody imposes (for example covering the inner stage), and allow us to share some time and personal life even in limited time.

The online “spaces” became, month by month, always more “personal”, and the number of activities that were possible to do expanded \\It is possible to decorate the space, share media and sounds, in an even easier way than in person we can create breakout rooms.

A large number of people experienced the need to stay indoors during the pandemic, but this allows us to share and maybe reflect on the situations of people forced into a place for different reasons (due to health or mental problems, in jail, hospitals, etc.) and how it is actually possible to include them. 

Moreover, even with some more difficulties, we experimented with the “blended” version of this: some people face to face, some online. In doing this, we must always be very careful and sensitive with who is behind a screen, the possibility to exclude them is higher. We solved this problem by trusting one of the co-facilitators present to “keep an eye” on this situation.

We think that this blended version is again a form of inclusion, and moreover, it allows us to proceed with meetings even if not everybody can participate in person. It might be, then, that it facilitates creative and decision-making processes that usually require several meetings and risk being interrupted or disturbed by the fact of skipping some meetings for lack of participants. Furthermore, people included can participate in decision-making processes.

Besides these positive effects and new tools in terms of inclusion, we can not deny that some limitations persist. A good and stable connection and device (pc, mobile) is essential to participation. Even if most people nowadays have it, those who face more difficulties are still excluded. Online activities can thus exacerbate the inequality gap and marginalisation of some.

Moreover, everyday life forces a majority of us to stay in front of a monitor for many hours: it is then necessary to find solutions after an online session and to “remind” people to move as an essential part of their wellbeing.

There is still a possible double effect of online activities: on one hand it could be a way to include people at home, at the same time it can push others further into isolation.

At the end, we would like to list some good examples: 

Theatre: https://www.dramanotebook.com/watch-free-plays-online/

Museums for example: https://ecobnb.com/blog/2020/03/online-museums-free/

Engaging the Public: Sharing our Tools through Seminars, Workshops and Forum Theatre Sessions

One of the aims of our project is to share the tools, guides and learnings developed together during the last two years with a wider audience of teachers, theatre practitioners, migrants rights activists, migrant community leaders, researchers, people with a migrant background and anyone else interested in changing narratives about migration. We hope that sharing our work will allow others to replicate our methods and take them in new directions, in other contexts and situations, creating new narratives as they go. To this end, we ran seminars, workshops and forum theatre sessions where we engaged participants in discussions and evaluations of our methods and tools. In this blog post we share our experiences from Italy and the UK of running these events.

Forum Theatre Workshop and Seminar on Participatory Pedagogy and Migration Narratives in London (English for Action)

In November 2021 English for Action ran our first open workshop of the MiGreat! project. We invited teachers and theatre practitioners to learn activities and share experiences of using forum theatre with migrant language learners. Together we explored games and Image Theatre from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed toolbox. Attendees enjoyed the participatory nature of the workshop and appreciated the activities which they said could be applied in their teaching.


In March 2022 we organised a seminar in collaboration with the Hub for Education and Language Diversity at King’s College London. We invited PhD and MA students from King’s and other UK universities to learn about the MiGreat! Project, engage with the participatory approach detailed in our project handbook and watch and evaluate the videos we had produced. 

Following a couple of theatre games and an introduction to English for Action, participants shared ideas about what ‘Participatory Pedagogy’ means to them using a word flower tool. Ideas that came up included: ‘dialogue’, ‘participant-led’, ‘bringing everyday issues into the classroom’, ‘community’ and ‘social action’. 

From here participants were able to make the link between participatory methods and the construction of counter and alternative narratives on migration, recognising that for these narratives to be transformative they must be constructed with and not for migrants.

During the last hour, participants watched and discussed the videos made on the project in Italy, Hungary and the UK. They talked about the counter and alternative narratives presented in the videos, the intended audiences and intended reactions as well as how effective the videos are. Participants engaged critically with the content and joined us in imagining ways in which the narratives could be communicated in more nuanced ways, for example by highlighting the value of multilingualism alongside English language learning. The students who attended the seminar appreciated the critical discussions and two of them said what they had learned would inform their research.

Learning English Opens Doors: Why We Need Accessible English Classes for All – Video Launch in London (English for Action)

In February 2022 we brought together English for Action students who are migrants and migrant community leaders, teachers, volunteers and partners from Citizens UK and King’s College London to launch the MiGreat! video we had produced. EFA students Ania and Mohana presented the video that they had participated in making, sharing their experiences and challenges they had faced when looking for an English class in London.

 

Following the screening, participants discussed how the video made them feel and whether they found it effective. Feedback was very positive with many participants saying that they identified with the narratives presented and wanted more people to watch the video and take action to improve access to ESOL in London.


The Handbook: shared in two different Italian cities

One of our main concerns, as authors of the MiGreat! project handbook, was to create a truly useful tool for other practitioners. The workshops organised for its distribution have been for us an excellent test bench, and have allowed us not only to measure its validity but also to make some improvements.

In December 2021 and in January 2022, Giolli organised two workshops to share the handbook and ran some of the proposed activities in two different cities: Trento and Parma. In Trento, we met twice a group of activists and Italian language teachers, entering their class right after the last lesson of the day. During the first meeting, we encouraged the exchange of ideas, analysed stereotypical behaviour and discussed experiences of migration and how it is narrated, inviting them then to try some of the exercises proposed in the handbook. The second meeting was entirely dedicated to exploring and testing the activities, actively involving each participant, to let all the teachers and volunteers experience the feeling of “taking part” in this experience.

In Parma, we ran a one day workshop, with some volunteers, workers and interns of a local organisation named Ciac, that is very active on the ground and deeply interested in the inclusion of migrants. Through some of the activities proposed in the handbook, we questioned together with the participants our role as educators, teachers and volunteers in relation to others and broader civil society.

Participants were very active and engaged in the discussions, underlining some criticisms and some points that need to be improved in the text. Those workshops allowed us to improve the quality of our product and we would like to thank all the people that contributed and welcomed our proposal. 

Forum Theatre Workshop in Italy

On the 18th February 2022 in Trento, Giolli ran a forum theatre workshop based on the work done during the project. The event was divided into two parts. In the afternoon, participants viewed both the videos produced during the project and a whole series of materials that were used to create the forum. The group of participants was composed of refugees, friends and family members of the actors, teachers and citizens. The participants, accompanied in their viewing by necessary explanations, discussed together other real-life stories which had at the centre the theme of migration narratives. Among the stories shared, the narrative linked to the difficulty for foreigners to find a home emerged with particular strength. Putting themselves in an improvised scene, the participants present then staged a forum theatre starting from the personal experiences of some refugee-participants in the workshop. The result was very strong, and the event allowed a large and diverse group to communicate using unconventional channels.

After a short convivial moment, the participants had the opportunity to attend the reproduction of the forum theatre created within the project. The participation of the public, warmed up by their earlier first-hand experience, was high and lively. We can only be happy with this result and for having been able to share our work with such a wide and varied audience.

Multipliers events: sharing our tools with the world

The final stage of the MiGreat project is what we call, in European projects’ vocabulary, multipliers events. The goal of these events is to share and disseminate what we produced together during the project, making it accessible for our target groups. These events help us to test key outputs and to collect feedback from the audience, so where needed, we can improve the created workshops, methods, and publications. In this article, we present some experiences and the impact of our tools. 

Workshop in Paris: a new perspective on migration (ELAN Interculturel)

Translation: A new perspective on migration / 6th november in Paris

The workshop “A new perspective on migration” took place on 6th November 2021 in Paris from 10h until 17h.

The aim of this workshop was, as the name suggests, to change the way we look at migration. 

In order to do so, we carried out activities around the following two main objectives :

1 – To become aware together with the participants that there are dominant narratives which are omnipresent, often negative and which invisible other alternative narratives

2 – To reflect together on methods and tools to co-construct alternative narratives on migration and thus create a new possible view on this theme.

To achieve these objectives we have proposed a pedagogical space that encourages dialogue and sharing of experiences between participants. Collaborative and participatory activities that also activate the body, sensations and feelings have been proposed. 

In the first part of the day, we worked on the dominant narratives on migration that exist today. Participants explored, discussed and analysed prevalent narratives about migration in mainstream discourse. We talked about what we liked and disliked about these narratives and where we felt alternative stories were needed. 

In the second part of the day, we wanted to co-construct alternative narratives, while using a participatory pedagogy that values the knowledge of all. To construct our alternative narratives, we make choices to tell real stories, not really exceptional, but real. The change of perspective comes from the perception that the process of migration is just one more aspect in our lives, but that there is much more behind the stories of these people – and that even if we can know a lot about the people who migrated for this or that reason, each journey is unique. We finished the workshop proposing to the participants to work in groups, and create an artistic representation of alternative narratives. We shared collages and radio emissions. Before saying goodbye, we exposed the tools of the Migreat project and (we hope to) have planted the little seed of desire and power of being actors of changing the narratives of migration.

Artistic presentations of alternative narratives

Debate in Paris: Changing the way we look at migration the face of Afghan migration 

For our second Multiplier Event, we organised a debate. This roundtable took place in the alternative and associative place “Les Amarres”, in Paris. In January, due to the crisis in Afghanistan, many afghans have arrived in Paris in the last few months. With the aim of putting the Afghan culture on the agenda, this associative site has organised a month-long programme dedicated to Afghanistan. Seizing the opportunity of dissemination and reaching a wide audience, Elan’ decided to organize a debate on narratives of Afghan migration.

 This event took place on the 27th January 2022. The objective was to exchange and discuss with people concerned by our theme around the following questions: What narrative on migration is conveyed in the mainstream media? What other invisibilized narratives exist? What are the stereotypes and prejudices about migration?

We questioned the representations of Afghan migrants in France and discussed strategies for changing narratives and co-constructing alternative narratives, through an active and participatory discussion with the speakers (three Afghan individuals now refugees in France, and one French person that works with French and Afghan integration through education).

In order to give visibility to the narratives of migrants from other countries too, we organised a second debate in the week just after, in an association coffee called Le Moulin à Café. 

For this occasion, we invited two migrant women who are now activists for changing migration narratives to share their stories. We had the opportunity to hear real narratives, identify stereotypes and systemic oppressions, and discuss strategies on how to co-construct alternative narratives.

For both seminars, we received great feedback about how hearing real stories help  changing our vision about a subject:

“The different stories are based on two different paths. It’s very interesting to have both points of view!”

“The diversity of stories and pathways that allow for a more complex view”

Workshops in Budapest: Developing imagination about alternative narratives through Theatre (Nyitott Kör)

Our approach

As described in the previous article, one of our main observations was the lack of imagination beyond the dominant narratives. Creating countering messages is an existing practice to some extent, however defining and devising alternative narratives about migration is scarce. 

One way toward alternative narratives can be a participatory workshop, where attendants themselves collaborate to find ways and messages that alternate mainstream ideologies. We choose to believe in the power of co-creation in a group where members share interests, problems or missions. A news broadcast on media might reach millions, transmitting short, simple messages that audiences possibly internalize, or forget. In this case the content is created by authorities, journalists, or politicians, the public only consumes it. On the contrary, an interactive workshop reaches a relatively small number of individuals, but engages them in a felt way, invites them to debate and try out their views, in a longer setting (2-6 hours), and the result is a product of the group, they are the content creators. Facilitators support and stimulate the process, but they don’t define the message. These experiences trigger reflection and learning, and equip participants with tools that they can further use in their work, their communities and lives. 

What we did

Therefore we invited various stakeholder groups to explore the Theatre Script, which we have developed during the project. It served as Stimuli for exploring narratives, and it also provided space for sharing Demechanization exercises, Forum intervention techniques, and as a result forming new, authentic ideas and messages, thus empower participating communities to take action for change. We could also share with them Visual Tools that have been created, as a good example of how adult learners can themselves produce an output that offers alternative narrative for wider audiences.

Participants appreciated the Manuals (Handbook, Visual Tools) the partnership created in the project, which would help them when wishing to conduct a similar endeavor. Generally we found it useful to first engage participants in a felt experience of their own, and then share with them how such a process could be built up. Being aware about the concrete groups’ previous experiences, way of approaching a problem, needs and capacities was key to support them best in their connected aims. We asked all participants to register prior to the event through an online form and answer some questions about their motivation. Relying on this, we adjusted some tasks and guiding questions throughout the events, and observed the presence, activity and dynamics of the group on the spot. Some groups are prepared to go very deep in a topic, and they feel safe to express their ideas in front of each other, while in other groups we need to be balancing between keeping the participants safe, and pushing them toward deeper levels (stepping out from the comfort zone, but avoiding the panic zone).

Outcomes, observations of the events

Different Higher Education courses and faculties were interested in the developed methods and outputs. Among others, students and professors of Social Inclusion MA, Psychology BA and MA, the College of Social Theory, and education related faculties attended, and made the workshops part of their professional education, which is a great impact in terms of the numerous target groups these participants will encounter during their careers.

During the workshops with Higher Education students, the prior focus was on how adults transmit narratives toward children, and in which roles they can alternate those, working toward a more socially inclusive society.

The biggest NGO focusing on supporting newcomers, refugees and migrants in Hungary attended one workshop with their key staff. For them the emphasis was on the supporter roles; how a social worker can facilitate the creation of alternative narratives while sharing the responsibility with the vulnerable groups themselves. This group was also interested in challenging dominant narratives with simple counter narratives, and confronting the play’s main oppressor from the point of view of legal rules, laws and complex, related knowledge about Human Rights.

Feedback from participants point out their appreciation for working through a story, in participatory ways, and their reflections about where responsibility plays key role in narratives:

“Forum theater is a very good way for participants to exchange ideas, looking for more solutions. Thinking and playing together feels very good.”

“It was useful for me to reflect about the outstanding role of organizations that support defending Human Rights.”

“I felt that a very current problem was presented through theater, and it impacted me emotionally very much. Tasks connected were well built up and interesting.”

“The importance of keeping your own culture alongside the culture of the majority society was visibly presented, and helped my understanding. And the exposure of adults and children alike to humiliating situations – and how a parent can cope with that, and how a child can cope with that.”

A Visit to the Pharmacy: Forum Theatre with Migrant English Language Learners in London

Author: Kasia Blackman

‘You know, it’s that English politeness, they do this,’ Alba leans across her desk cupping her ear with her hand, ‘Excuse me?’ The others in the room laugh and nod in agreement. She continues, ‘They pretend to be polite with that ‘excuse me’ but they don’t really try to understand you, they don’t respect you. It’s the tone.’ Alba is speaking in Spanish. It’s Saturday morning and we are in an English language class (ESOL) in South London. There are ten students, they are mostly women from Latin America, a couple of small children kept entertained with cartoons on their mothers’ phones, and me, their ESOL teacher. 

We have just been discussing some of the difficulties that you face as a migrant in London. One of the students had told us that she had been to the pharmacy to buy cough syrup for her daughter and instead of assisting her, the pharmacist had told her to get an interpreter. The experience was familiar to the students in the room, if it hadn’t happened to them at the pharmacy, it was at the GP, the supermarket or the bank. Making yourself heard and understood as a migrant to the UK when you’re new to speaking English is a challenge, a challenge made worse when the person you’re trying to communicate with is indifferent and can’t or won’t empathise with you. 

The situation at the pharmacy, though clearly frustrating, seemed very ordinary, mundane even, and I wondered whether it would lend itself to forum theatre. Forum theatre, as I had learned, needs to represent a situation of clear oppression with a distinguishable ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’. This situation wasn’t clear cut. ‘Maybe the pharmacist was just having a bad day’, one student said, ‘You have to put yourself in their shoes. This is their country and we have to learn English’. 

As part of the Migreat! project, my English for Action colleagues and I had benefited from two in-depth Theatre of the Oppressed (ToO) trainings, the first held online in March 2021 and the second in Budapest in September 2021, led by our partners and expert ToO practitioners, Giolli Cooperative. Now it was our turn to develop a forum theatre scene together with our ESOL students in London that would challenge dominant narratives about migration. We started by playing games.

The initial stage of playing games, also referred to as ‘demechanisation’, engaged students in breaking down the space and breaking out of their habitual actions. After a busy week of early morning shifts cleaning offices in central London, caring for young children and juggling various other responsibilities, playing games for them was a welcome break. Students helped to reset the classroom by physically moving tables and chairs to the corners of the room to literally create space for new activities to occur. The theatre games which we played included occupy the space, mirror and 1-2-3. The power of these moments lay in the enjoyment of using the body creatively, making mistakes, laughing and connecting with each other in non-verbal ways. The students reported feeling ‘relaxed’, ‘happy’, ‘excited’ and ‘ready’ after these games.

In the next stage of the creative process we engaged in storytelling, the sharing of stories and experiences in connection with the difficulties of being a migrant in London. Each experience shared was moving and powerful in itself, but what struck us were the similarities between these experiences. Participants immediately made connections between their experiences: ‘that happened to me too, but it was the GP not the receptionist’, ‘the GP said that to me too’, ‘if this is happening everywhere in London they need to train people better’. Identification with the stories of others made it possible for the group to quickly agree on the problem of discrimination to present in the forum. More specifically, the dominant narrative we chose to challenge was that ‘migrants can’t speak English’, our response to this was ‘yes they can, with a bit of support’.

Once we had sketched out the scene: a migrant customer, an unhelpful pharmacist, the attempts to communicate that are rebuffed, we began improvising the dialogue and imagining what the individual characters think, feel and say. We brought in additional characters: other customers, a colleague for the pharmacist and a manager, who could serve as bystanders and potential allies. We played out different variations of the scene, sometimes the customer would get served, sometimes they wouldn’t. 

After three sessions of discussion and improvisation, on Saturday 29th January, we invited ESOL students and teachers from across London and beyond to join us for a public performance. On the day, we began with a short introduction to forum theatre and a game to lift the energy in the room and prepare the spectators to become spect-actors and intervene in the scene at the pharmacy that was to be performed. From the first run-through, the audience, made up predominantly of migrant English language learners, immediately recognised the situation, yet the suggestions they proposed to alter the scene were varied. One spectator blamed the customer for being too impatient and rude, more politeness was the solution. She took to the stage but despite her best efforts, she was treated the same and left the pharmacy empty handed. She turned to the audience in frustration saying she had changed her mind, it wasn’t the fault of the customer but the pharmacist. 

Other spectators proposed alternative solutions. They performed the scene again, incorporating time travel, with the customer returning to the pharmacy after having spent two months attending English classes. They also performed the scene with the customer calling a friend to help them with interpreting. Towards the end of the session, a powerful iteration of the scene was played out with the customer demanding to speak to the manager of the pharmacy and filing a complaint for discrimination. Members of the audience reacted with cheers. The performances were interspersed with discussions about the different sides of the problem, the difficulty of being in the position of the customer, the role of the pharmacist, and some spectators talked about similar experiences they had had or witnessed.

We received positive feedback from participants who attended the forum theatre session. They told us they appreciated the ‘interaction of everyone in the room’, and felt it to be a ‘real situation’, they liked ‘the discussion after the performance’ and ‘the energy of the event’. The situation that English for Action students chose to present through forum theatre was nuanced. We didn’t refer to an ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’ although it became clear through the interventions that it was the pharmacist’s problematic behaviour and attitudes we were trying to change and not a simple misunderstanding. The power of the performance and engagement from the audience proved that forum theatre was nevertheless an effective mode for exploring these difficult experiences of migration and imagining alternatives. At English for Action we would definitely like to experiment further with forum theatre, and there is a demand for that from our participants, as we closed the forum session one member of the audience called out, ‘next time at the GP!’ 

HAVE YOU SEEN?!

FORUM THEATRE AS AN ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVE IN HUNGARY

Author: Zsófia Jozifek

Play. Act. Explore.

Nyitott Kör, The Hungarian partner of the MiGreat project, is otherwise a Theatre in Education Company. We are creating and playing interactive, participatory theatre performances about social dynamics, issues, relationships, and challenges, mostly for school classes. Theatre in Education (TiE) is a well established practice itself with its own methodological principles and defined aims, nevertheless the influence of Augusto Boal is present in TiE practitioners thinking and in the type of interaction that are offered for TiE events‘ participants: the concept of involving audiences as Spect-Actors is common for TiE. This article however is not about our usual practice, but below we offer some further reading for those, now possibly interested in TiE. 🙃

At Nyitott Kör we were familiar with Boal’s theory and some of his practice as well before the MiGreat project, however we had only experienced particular elements of his techniques. We had not yet had the chance to fully engage in a ‘pure’ Forum process, so there was much territory for us to discover. 

Our motto is Play. Act. Explore which implies how we work in our teams when creating, how we work with the participants of our events (regardless of their age and social status), and what we would all like to gain from these to apply in our daily lives: to become active agents of change and always see ourselves as (potential) creators, even in the darkest times (as having to flee, or experiencing a global pandemic…). 

Creating Forum Theatre, and a Script that guides this therefore was a great challenge for us: 

It is similar to TiE, but also very different, so which of our skills and expertise will be useful, and which of them could limit the process? Will our imagination and trust in the process be strong enough to step out of our ‘methodological’ comfort zone?

Demechanization

Context. Challenge. Topic. 

As we have shared in previous blog articles (here and here), narratives about migrants in Hungary are dominated by the mass media, fully expropriated by the current illiberal government, and are strongly dehumanizing. This peculiar phenomena affects everyday, simple interactions of migrant people. There is a lack of alternative narratives, and the imagination for those is also limited (not only) about the possibly beneficial inclusion of marginalized, vulnerable populations.

Our current society is enforcing practices of monologue, isolation, hate speech, exploitation, and ignorance (dominant narrative), and questions the values of dialogue, collective action, inclusion, partnership, multi-cultural expression and arts, thus sincere caring about one-another (alternative narrative).

As we worked, we discovered many layers to these narratives, and asked ourselves:

Which of these would be useful to include in the play and forum? Which should guide our focus, and which could well shape the environment of the protagonists as details and surroundings? Which element of the dominant narrative is simple, but not too simplified, but powerful enough for our audiences to step in and try out different narratives and strategies?

We found that a common experience was concrete discrimination, many times strongly connected to sharing/renting property; an area where the lack of trust toward other cultures plays a key role. This is implicit and explicit at the same time; people, even oppressors like to think positively about themselves, which often includes the “I am not racist” self-message that is contrary to their real actions. 

Following this exploration, we found it useful to choose a main antagonist oppressor (who is of course also oppressed in another context) who tends to be seemingly kind, hiding her real feelings, also wanting to be judged as a “good person”. We named this character Olga. Olga is a middle-aged mother, who manages the renting of her husband’s studio apartment.

She cares about what others think of her, seeks respect and authority. It is quite hard to get to her “real sense” and influence her attitude, as it is always changing depending on what is in her momentary interest to be seen as powerful (and good). She is ingenious about communication, and a master of manipulative messages, so the challenge for the Spect-Actors is rich: find “her”, or find a way to her, or find out what makes her less powerful, or find out where her narrative is impossible to continue, or perhaps all of these at the same time. 

One of the main tools of the oppressive narrators (in Hungary) is finding ways to highlight themselves as the “real victims”, because others criticize and try to limit their free expression of the (obviously oppressing) narrative. Olga embodies this phenomena, so we can play with it, and reflect on it.

Team. Devise. Story. 

To create the story and the Forum, we decided to form a team of theater makers, who are themselves personally involved in the topic of migration, and were also available to work intensely throughout a period of 2 months in the spring of 2021. Following Giolli’s training in September 2021, the group worked again for two weeks to clarify the six aspects useful to keep in mind for an effective Forum. 

As advised by Giolli, we began the work with demechanization and team building. One team member offered us adapted playback theater exercises for getting to know each other and each others’ stories, narration styles, interaction spectrums better. This was useful in our case, also because in the first weeks we needed to work online, because of an ongoing lockdown. 

The creative team then explored and collected independent scenes, monologues, situations, musical tracks, childrens’ songs, images that they found meaningful and relevant for the exploration of migration narratives, and presented these to each other. We discussed and reflected on the experience of collection and sharing, which led us to important discoveries about what our ‘embryo’ for the play was.

We agreed to create a story about an Iranian mother, Azura, and her two children, Yasmin and Maryam, residing in Budapest, Hungary, renting out the apartment that Olga manages. We chose not to play about their trajectory, but to meet them after having spent the first two years in the country. We ought to present their struggles in the local society, strongly influenced by the above described contextual challenges. We wanted to leave open the opportunity to offer the play also for young audiences in the future, so we felt that we needed to include the teenagers’ perspective, which can become stronger when playing with students, and become an affecting side-element for adults’ groups.

How could we add the small details that make our audiences feel and understand the walls the family faces inside and outside, with a small glance of hope that these walls are not made of stone? 

We added layers including the constant, unpleasant presence of the media; insecurity children experience in the school, caused by teachers who struggle with burnout, and by offensive teaching materials; and a ‘cool girl’ of the neighborhood, Ágnes who is also a classmate of Yasmin and learnt racist discourses at home.

We mapped possible allies in the story, and we created Mesi, Olga’s daugther, who is the same age as Yasmin. They are 12 years old, and immediately and very naturally become friends – it is still possible for them to relate to each other heartfully. Azura knows about an NGO that helps migrants in legal issues and everyday problems, so there is a possible ally to be involved from there. We play with the presence of the family’s neighbors: at different moments during the frontal scenes, the audience is offered this point of view. They can feel to be allies of Azura, or Olga’s allies, or silent partners, maybe afraid of expressing their opinions, maybe too occupied with their own problems and therefore ignorant. 

What theater language could best serve our goals?

When drafting the scenes and recording the dialogs, we needed to choose our style. As team members had strong musical abilities, we wanted to use that as much as possible. Here we chose an anthropological approach, and constructed rituals for both cultures to appear in the scenes through songs and kind of choreographies.

For the effective Forum we also felt that the key scenes needed a realistic layer, which make the conflict situations playable for the Spec-Actors as well. To include the children’s perspective, metaphorical language could also be a choice, which we applied through puppets; Maryam plays with her dolls about the past of the family, through which the audience learns about Azura’s difficult situation in Iran. 

How all of these could form a coherent story and offer the chance for Spec-Actors to explore alternative narratives?

Creative. Social. Practice.

In May 2021 we had a story, we had written scenes and dialogues, and created songs and connected rituals, and we also set the chronology of these. We rehearsed, and created a simple set design, which was transformative enough for the space to create an atmosphere. We were ready to test this with audiences, but yet were quite unsure about where to open the scenes, and which situations will be useful for interventions. 

We invited colleagues, friends, theater makers and educators, locals and migrants, stakeholder organizations to try out our ideas, on two separate occasions. We tried out different demechanization techniques, aiming to engage the audience in creative action. We also offered various points of intervention, but yet talking about the topic was overpowering acting in it – our skills for constructing a Forum were not yet trained enough. Nevertheless, we gained rich experience and feedback about what was working and what was either too hazy, or too obvious, therefore not useful for further discourse.

We faced the challenge of the changing regulations about gathering and events due to the Covid-19 crisis. All of a sudden only people with the vaccination green pass could enter our building, and migrants were not typically the people who could acquire the vaccine among the firsts. It was a surprising moment that we were forced to apply discrimination on who could participate, and who could not. And it was obvious that the discrimination applied more on foreigners who were not prioritized for acquiring the vaccine.

So our first results when audiences interacted with the story were distorted: migrant people were underrepresented among the Spect-Actors, and we could not really construct a Forum space. How could we continue the process to make the Forum work?

Feedback. Improve. Community.

In September 2022 – as part of MiGreat – partners gathered at our venue in Budapest to share their current state of art with the Forum Scripts, and to train aspects of it. We also had the chance to experience, observe and reflect on tasks and attitudes of the Joker, who plays a key role in constructing the Forum.

Based on colleagues’, professionals’ and friends’ feedback, we started to map what was ‘missing’ or misguiding in our play. Therefore we got rid of some scenes: 

  • A geography lesson in Yasmin’s class, where the audience played classmates of Yasmin and the teacher was unconsciously spreading misinformation about migration. Being an interactive (and long) scene, this exploited participants and their expression of views in a tricky way, too soon, and too verbally.
  • A ‘dream’ scene of Maryam, which was too metaphorical and hard to put in place.

And added new signs and elements:

  • In the first scene Olga is seen with Mesi, who is rehearsing a K-pop dance-choreo, very Tik-Toky.  We added a layer that Olga is parallelly on the phone, talking to her husband, and agreeing to instructions from him about renting out the apartment. She becomes more explicitly oppressed in this context, which opens the macro-level dynamics better, and makes Olga less evil.
  • Yasmin comes forward and directly speaks to the audience in some moments, narrating her situation and wishes about the next scene, and makes a gesture crossing her fingers, asking the audience for mental support. The audience feels more involved in these scenes, and are already searching for moments where an intervention could be applied.
  • Toward the end of the play Olga enters the rental apartment spontaneously, questioning Azura about her actions and real attempts of integration to the local society and accuses her of not following the rules of the apartment-building. Olga loses control and threatens Azura in front of her children of ending their tenancy agreement. The scene gives another opportunity for the Spect-Actors to try out an intervention, in a clearly crisis situation, where the oppression and the risks are explicit.
  • Later we tuned Olga’s attitude toward Mesi to be less demanding, and more paternalizing, with signs of honest love and care. This further broadened her personality, and somehow made her more accessible for Spec-Actors; as a result more audience members feel encouraged enough to try out their ideas on the stage. 

We experimented with the Forum interventions. Spect-Actors sometimes replaced Azura and tried out different strategies to cope with Olga. Sometimes they stepped in as social workers who accompanied Azura as a mediator, helping out with language issues and legal possibilities. In some of the cases Mesi was the replaced character, and participants tried to support Yasmin better, also balancing Ági’s power. In some of the cases our audiences felt that among the power dynamics we have shown, there is no possibility for change and challenging authority, or changing narratives. We then explored new situations with them: Azura met a social worker outdoors, at a café, and discussed her situation. Playing the social worker, participants could express alternative narratives. When playing with psychology students and becoming teachers, we tried out a new situation where Yasmin’s class teacher talked to Ági in a friendly context, and attempted to map her prejudices, also smoothly influencing her to try to be inclusive with Yasmin. One of the groups proposed a scene where Azura invited Olga and Mesi for dinner, and tried to impress them with cultural goods. The last was triggering deep debate in the group: how much effort one should put into getting accepted as they are? Can a marginalized person – in a vulnerable situation – stop trying to be included?

Feedback included:

“I really liked the way it was structured and how it got the students more involved. First you engaged them on a cognitive level, and then in the second part I could see that this approach also “clicked” on an affective, emotional level. And it was a pleasure to see how active they were, how much the play triggered their thoughts and emotions, and how they tried to adapt their situations and their behavior to approach the subject from different perspectives in order to achieve a real impact. The performance fitted very well into the theme of the course “Minority and Majority Identity”, so it helped me to understand how to approach the topic in a real-life way, through experiential exercises.” / Dr. Lilla Lendvai, professor at Social Inclusion MA Course, Eötvös Loránd University

“The reality is that although the story is fictional, it could happen any day in real life. Our vulnerability is being exploited/used by people who benefit from it and we have no coping strategies without help. All the characters in the audience stepped in as helpers- this was helpful. There is hope!!!! I was reaffirmed that we need to continue to be present in such cases and to direct the gaze of others to it.” / Participant

“It stuck with me that the importance of maintaining one’s own culture alongside the culture of the majority is strong. And the exposure of adults and children alike to humiliating situations – and how a parent and a child can cope with this. Forum theater is a very good way for participants to exchange ideas, looking for more solutions. Thinking and playing together feels very good.” / Participant

“As a participant, I was keen to share my experience after the experiment. It would have helped me vent a little.” / Participant

Spread. Alternative. Narratives.

During the autumn of 2021, and beginning of 2022 we had the opportunity to try out seven different times and with seven different groups the Script and the Forum. Our youngest audience was a high school class of 16 years old students. Eldest members of the occasions were around 70 years old. We could luckily involve participants with migrant backgrounds, some of them also visited our rehearsals, and shared their stories and point of views. Participating groups were University Students studying social inclusion, psychology and cultural anthropology; co-workers of the biggest NGO supporting migrants in Hungary, theater practitioners, artists, educators and journalists interested in Forum theater and/or alternative narratives.

136 people registered for one of the organized events, out of which 108 attended at least one event. 60 different organizations and stakeholders, and 24 freelancers were involved through the 7 occasions, out of which 21 people were foreigners. Additional 6 colleagues from Nyitott Kör attended, and 30 high school students and two teachers helped in testing during the autumn.

“I think what stuck most in me was how much language can isolate us from one another. Maybe we have forgotten how else to connect to fellow humans.” / Participant

“It was very pragmatic, tactile and plastic. The veracity of the play was even painful, especially concerning the children. The biggest learning for me is what [another participant] articulated: when watching the play, she wanted to help the family. But when she stepped into Olga’s role, she felt the risks and responsibility of her property, and her own interests were strong. Her interpretation of Olga was more open-minded, but yet she needed a guarantee about reliability.”  / Participant

Crew:

Azura – Samira Sinai

Yasmin – Tímea Udvari-Kardos

Maryam – Bernadette Benedek/Réka Tóth Bernát

Olga – Anna Kecskés

Mesi – Bernadette Benedek/Réka Tóth Bernát

Ági – Anna Kecskés

Joker – Zsófia Jozifek

Assisting – Ildikó Kecskés

Lights – Zoltán Meszlényi-Bodnár

Photos – Bianka Rostás, Kristóf Kantár

Online resources about TiE:

To Be project – Drama and Theatre in Education for school well-being

http://tobe.nyitottkor.hu

O’NEILL, C. (2014). Dorothy Heathcote on Education and Drama: Essential writings. Routledge

WOOSTER, R. (2016). Theatre in Education in Britain: Origins, Development and Influence. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVES ON MIGRATION BUILT BY THEATRE SCRIPTS: OUR EXPERIENCE IN FRANCE

First step when writing a script: to have a story

The last production of the Migreat project were the theatre scripts covering migration narratives. The challenge was there, we needed then to create a group, mainly made of people with a migrant background, to develop our theatre workshops in order to have some real life- experience material to write our scripts. 

For some people, doing theatre means fun, self-expression, creativity. For others, it might appear as a big challenge putting ourselves in front of an audience, playing with our voices, using body language.

Recruiting was hard. All of these self-imposed limits can easily be found in any case, but when we talk about people with a migrant background, they might be even bigger: language barriers, identities issues when migrating, insecurities.

Our chosen strategy: to get closer to organisations that usually work with this public and recruit through partnerships and connections with local associations. It is much easier to make people trust you if you have the support of an institution behind you, which was one golden lesson from this process.

Getting to know each other and defining terms 

We finally had a group to work with. We were eleven people in total: nine with a migrant background (Ferdous and Surrendra from Bangladesh, Herve and James from Ivory Coast, Marta and Hugo from Brazil, Mena from Egypt and Grace from Cameroon), and two French people (Valérie and Grégoire). The group was formed especially for the development of IO3. We chose to work with both migrants and locals in order to build alternative narratives that could be real, and increase the diversity of the group – we also took care to have different genders and ages. We wanted to create the content for the scripts but also share our activities developed during the project and empower the participants through the process.

We took a good half an hour on the first day to make it clear why we were there, what rules we wanted to create together in order to assure a safe space for each participant, explain the project and present the workshop program 

Introducing the topic

After some games to introduce each other and create a safe and creative space, we wanted to discuss with the participants what exactlyTO is and discover the participants’ existing knowledge before moving on to the practical phase. 

We carried out the “theoretical introduction” of TO through the activity that we learnt during the training about Community Organising led by EFA: each person takes three post its, on two they write something they know about TO, and on the other, a question. We did the card cluster and a presentation of each group at the end.

Talking Migration

The next step was to go deeper into the subject of migration, in order to share our personal stories, and reflect on the alternative narratives we wanted to see more often. In little groups, participants were invited to write all the representations they have heard linked to the word “Migration”. 

Each group summarised their discussions and we recorded the  key words that popped up. 

Thinking about these words, we would try to move from the representations of migrating to the personal experiences. To do so, we decided to use the support of some pictures (we used the DIXIT game, which contains beautiful illustrations that can have multiple interpretations). We put the cards on the floor, and asked participants to choose the cards that would better represent their migratory journey. In a circle, we shared our stories.

After a first collective moment, we divided the participants in little groups, and each person was supposed to write  down the different moments of their migration journey, drawing out obstacles and challenges. Then, they shared the experiences in the little groups and, together, chose one of the stories that would be played in the next section of the workshop.

“Demechanisation” and Theatre

The second day of the IO3 workshops were particularly concentrated on the theatrical part.

The strong points were always linked to the games – the act of laughing was central to developing the feeling of security in the group. The “demechanisation” games were especially powerful. 

Once the trust was gained, it was also much easier to be a Joker and talk with the audience.

Two stories about migration

We closed the series of activities with the Forum Theatre presentation of the two chosen stories. 

The first one was about Ferdous. Ferdous is a migrant who has just arrived in France. He is the product of a double migration; Bangladesh, then London, and then France. He does not speak a word of French. While shopping, he decides to go to a bakery to buy some food. However, he came across a French baker who was not very motivated to talk to him. We used this story to discuss discrimination and the daily life challenges when doing the most simple things. The work with TO allowed people with migrant backgrounds to gain confidence, and French people to identify easily the role of ally.

The second story was about Marta. Marta is a migrant woman who comes from the Ivory Coast. She arrived in France two days ago with her two daughters. She went to an association that deals with asylum applications to make her request.

However, she is confronted with a man who makes false statements about her in her asylum application, but she is afraid to speak out to this authority to show her disagreement. In this story, we got deeper into systematic problems concerning authorities and the difficulties with bureaucracy. After the Forum, we had a long discussion about how to deal with problems that normally come from people with a lot of power – and that we don’t have access to.

These two stories represent a lot of issues and systemic problems in the Eurpean context concerning  migration:  xenophobia, avoidance of the Other, and institutional racism, for example, just to cite some of them. However, we believe that theatre can be a powerful way to demonstrate these problems, empower the people affected by them, and allow society to engage in changing migration narratives for the better.

FORUM THEATER: HOW TO CHANGE the NARRATIVE ABOUT MIGRATION

From theory to practice

From the 9th to the 11th of September 2021 second training on Theatre of the Oppressed took place in Budapest. It was, facilitated  by Giolli Coop, focusing  on the use and facilitation of  Forum Theatre.

The four  ”Migreat!” partners worked on a common scene during the first training held in March 2021, and before arriving in Budapest,  perpared an individual activity, working on the theme “Migration narration and possible alternative narratives” in their specific context.

The results of those activities, that used the Theatre of the Oppressed as the method to build a Forum Theatre piece, were brought to the training in Budapest in order to use these scenes for a comparison and a deepening of the ‘Joker’ role.

The plots were very different:

– Giolli enacted a micro-situation where a young man from Gambia, forced to leave his backpack at the entrance of a supermarket, got angry at being the victim of an obvious discriminatory action, identified as a possible thief because of his origin;

– Elan’s scene is settled in a self-service restaurant, where a foreign attendant was reprimanded for not serving the salad in the traditional way, i.e. the way the boss wants it;

– EFA London showed an English class for foreigners, in which a participant was excluded because the class is reserved for asylum seekers;

– Open Circle, on the other hand, told a more complex story in which a foreign family looking for a home was faced with prejudice from locals.

The main goal of the training was to underline the difficulties, problems, weakness of our scenes, to produce more powerful works and to develop our capacity to be a “Joker”. 

First at all, we noticed that in all canvas, the narratives were implicit, underrepresented, so part of the work in the September training was to see how to insert them effectively (in dialogue, with the addition of other characters, in the reading of texts, as symbolic characters, as a song…).During the training we also clarified better what was the question of each scene and what kind of audience to address.

In addition, those who wished to, could experiment with the role of the Joker, facilitating audience participation. The Joker is a crucial role, even more delicate when engaged in a Forum on the look-out for a counter-narrative or an alternative narrative, as it must be careful to bring out the relational level and the narratives both in the analysis of the story and during the interventions of the audience on stage. For this reason, we  proposed that the Joker of the Forum Theatre sessions of the Migreat! project should have a partner to assist them, to help them to focus more on keeping track of the narratives theme, its implications and possible transformations.

Subsequently, each partner experimented with Forum Theatrein their own contexts, to see how it worked in the field and to draw ideas from it to write the script, the concrete result of the project.

Let’s see what emerged from the experience of this process.

STRENGTHS OF THE STORY CONSTRUCTION PROCESS

The initial physical and emotional warm-up – the game part – was powerful and very useful for everyone, as it allows to “break the ice” and to physically create a space where unprecedented actions, different from everyday ones, can take place.

It was possible to create a climate of trust and security to proceed to the sharing of personal experiences thanks to the activity, supported by few theoretical hints of introduction to the methodology and the purpose of  Theatre of the Oppressed.

The power of this moment lay in the enjoyment of using the body creatively, making mistakes, laughing and connecting with each other in non-verbal ways. Participants reported feeling ‘relaxed’, ‘happy’, ‘excited’ and ‘ready’ following these games, as EFA colleagues reported.

In the next phase we did a recognition of stories and experiences, creating a feeling of strong closeness, of sharing. Those who decided to share their story to build the Forum no longer found themselves alone in front of their oppressive situation, but their strength grew thanks tor the similarities with other stories and thanks to possible connections with other people.

Once the story had been chosen and the scene set up, we moved on to the performance in front of an audience: this experience revealed the power of this method, which makes universal themes starting from a particular situation, and we are then able to forget that we are in a theatrical fiction. It allows us to understand that, if we activate the resources, everyone can transform the situation, or at least can try to change it. Setting in motion attempts to contrast the state of things, even if improbable or scarce, can generate energy and hope among the oppressed.

The involvement was successful and developed on different levels, our Hungarian colleagues tell us: “I really liked the way it was structured and how it got the students more involved. First you engaged them on a cognitive level, and then you can see that this approach also “clicked” on an affective, emotional level. (Lilla Lendvai, Social Inclusion MA professor, leading the Minority and Majority Identity course)”.

CRITICAL POINTS IN THE PROCESS OF FORUM THEATRE

We can summarize the difficulties encountered into three categories:

-the story: we need to pay attention to the length of the story we put on stage and also to its structure. A story should not be too long, should be clear, open and include  a climax, otherwise the audience may not understand where to intervene or you run the risk of lingering in stages of debate that often tire and lose energy.

-The group: the instability or characteristics of the group of participants have in some cases made the flow of the process and its democratic nature complicated. This can lead to a critical point where the investment of the actors and the audience is lost.

-The public: the interventions of the public, called to replace the oppressed and their allies, can be difficult for various reasons (shyness, lack of understanding of how to do it, little time…). It is certainly necessary to mediate and not force anyone to perform, but at the same time invite action as a true tool for participation in change. However, it is permissible to hear phrases from the audience such as those reported by the Open Circle colleagues: “I would definitely give introverted members of the audience the opportunity to respond without the obligation to perform; I would be reluctant to take part in an event where I would have to make an unexpected appearance.”

Another difficulty we all found is related to the language, the French colleagues say about it: “The only difficulty is the obligation of having a common language in order to proceed with the analysis of the scenes at the end, which prevented us from recruiting immigrants who could not speak a minimum level of French”, and we at Giolli in Italy can only confirm this. A mixed-language session could be envisaged, thus enhancing both the non-verbal language, reducing the actual translation to a minimum, and the importance and value of being able to express oneself in one’s mother tongue.

VALUE OF THE METHOD AND POSSIBLE FUTURE USES

From the experience gained by the partners of the Migreat! project, Theatre of the Oppressed seems to be a very suitable approach to bring out strategies to create alternative narratives on migration as well as to explore and re-imagine the daily oppressive situations experienced by peoplewith migrant backgrounds. In particular, Forum Theatre sheds light on the power relations that exist in migrants’ stories of oppression.

The tool of Theater-Forum is also powerful and effective for other areas and issues:

  • intersectional oppressions (eg.. migration and gender);
  • problems of identity of second or third generations;
  • in schools where Roma students are present (Hungary);
  • in training courses for teachers, decision-makers or social workers;
  • with low-income or undervalued groups of men and women workers;
  • In language learning contexts.

In conclusion, we have a lot of positive feedback on how much Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum are able to generate trust and empowerment, despite some difficulties linked to the language, the mobility of some groups of foreigners and to some resistance to intervene in  Forum plays.

In our opinion, the latter can be overcome with further preparation for the Joker, who should be able to listen to the public and gradually lead it from passivity to action.

An important aspect underlined is how the Forum becomes not only a crucial moment to create solidarity, but also a way to construct it, as in the exchange of ordinary stories we often discover an unexpected similarity.

We think the challenge of the Migreat! project, in creating stories relating to migration and its various narratives, is both stimulating and problematic. The difficulties arise from asking the audience to operate on two levels: the basic level of the conflicting relationships and the more advanced level, the interpreting and critiquing of the narratives.

We therefore invite all readers to experiment and bring to the public those experiences that can stimulate a general reflection on the dominant narratives and possible alternative narratives.

Migreat! Handbook – Creative approaches to changing the narratives on migration through visual tools

The group of the MiGreat! Project created various visual tools focusing on the narratives of migration. Some of these visual tools already feature  in previous blog posts. This time we would like to share a different outcome, focusing on the process of creating a visual tool: The MiGreat! Handbook. This handbook is about collaboratively working with migrants to develop visual media (short films, posters, etc.) that challenge negative narratives about migration. We believe that visual tools can be an effective means of communicating messages, especially with the growing influence of social media in shaping public opinion. In the handbook we lay out steps and examples that aim to support practitioners to find new ways to free the participants’ creativity, and to actively seek alternative narratives. It is not our intention to set out rules to follow but rather to share our experiences and invite other practitioners to experiment, adapt and improve on the participatory approaches we have presented here.

In this article we would like to share with you the main steps of creating a visual tool, based on our experiences, and also the final outcomes, the visual tools of EFA (London), Nyitott Kör (Hungary), Giolli Cooperative (Italy) and ELAN (France). This is our handbook at a glance how we organised the various steps and approached the process of creating. In the handbook you can read in more detail the description of these steps and also some personal experiences from the partners of the MiGreat! Project.

Posters based on the message: “The migration process is not simple and each journey is unique”. Each poster contains a QR code linked to an audio of the person sharing their story.

What we did: Overview

This overview leads you through a series of steps to develop a participant-led visual tool. It goes through getting a group together, exploring what narratives are out there in society, deciding what narrative you want to focus on and what kind of visual tool you’d like to develop.

To develop our counter-narrative tools, we followed these steps:

  1. Get a group together

Giolli Cooperative on their experiences of initiating the project:“We carried out the meetings in Italian but allowed for linguistic inclusion, as far as was possible. We took care to contact each participant individually, introducing ourselves (if they did not already know us), introducing the Migreat! project and proposing the activity. We welcomed their questions and reassured them about the open atmosphere they would find. We asked for their preferences and availability in terms of times, days and methods: three of the four focus groups took place online, only one in person, in a city park.”

Short videos (2-4 minutes each) representing real stories of people who have been negatively stereotyped or experienced a discriminatory act. The stories are all connected.

2. Explore narratives

Samira, a practitioner from Hungary: “It was not an easy process, because the dominant narratives are not a past story for the Hungarian context, but they are present in the everyday, and I felt that participants needed to distance themselves from these thoughts. They wanted to live their lives, concentrate on practical things, like work and study, and not think too much about the local society’s negative attitudes, because the whole thing was still kind of a trauma for them.”

 ‘Armin’s Dream’ and ‘He could thrive’, which humanise their refugee protagonists living in camps in Hungary. The basic idea and concept of the visual tools were devised by the Drama Deutsch group.

3. Choose your narrative

Example from EFA London’s digital jamboard exploring possible ideas for a campaign video. At this point EFA participants  had already chosen their audience, possible campaign allies, people who support and perhaps already take action on migrants’ rights but might not know much about English classes for migrants (ESOL).  The group considered the questions: ‘what do we want our audience to feel?’, ‘what do we want them to do?’, ‘what do we want to show?’

 ‘Armin’s Dream’ and ‘He could thrive’, which humanise their refugee protagonists living in camps in Hungary. The basic idea and concept of the visual tools were devised by the Drama Deutsch group.
Nyitott Kör involved an Iranian artist, Abouzar Soltani in the participant group, who as a refugee lived in a camp with his son.

4. Make a visual tool

“The biggest challenge was deciding the content and format for the video, given that everyone had slightly different ideas and so much to say. EFA hired a videomaker to help facilitate some scripting sessions and then a videographer to film. A core group of four participants wrote the script with the support of their teacher and the filmmaker, and all four are featured in the video, expressing how they feel about learning English in the UK and what they feel needs to change. The video is influential in its authenticity. It was created by ESOL students to talk about language learning, which is one of the major issues facing migrants and refugees in the UK (and across Europe).”

A campaign video based on the message ‘It’s difficult to learn English, the government should give us more help’ which shares the stories of four English language learners in London.

Reading the MiGreat! Handbook you can get more information and practical tips regarding the process of creating a visual tool. You will find activities and ideas to help you along the journey of clarifying your group’s chosen migration narrative(s) and creating tools collaboratively.  

Further reading: