For the last six months, theatre maker Alirio Zavarce has been an Artist in Residence at William Light R-12 School and Woodville High School. This residency has cumulated in The Migration Project in the 2013 Come Out Festival.
Arriving at the Torrens Parade Ground, we are each passed a migration card. It asks for our name, our date of birth, our method of arrival. Then the questions get stranger: are you blonde? A real blonde? What is better – lamingtons or pavlova? Would you be prepared to eat a whole jar of Vegemite to prove how Australian you are? Are you secretly racist?
We fill these in while waiting in line, and at the end stands Alirio Zavarce, asking each of us “What makes you Australian?” We again line up, this time in five queues, as we wait for the rest of the audience to be processed.
We are directed into the next room, dropping our migration cards on a table on our way in. The room is filled with circles of chairs, and in each circle is a student from one of the two high schools. We small talk: where in the world have you been? What hobbies do you have? They tell us a bit about themselves, where they’re from, and how we’re all a part of this big wide world together.
We move again, this time into an end-on theatre set-up. The high school students take their places on the stage, and the performance truly begins. Introduced and lead by Zavarce, the students tell us their stories of how they came to Australia, or how their families came here. They write words to describe Australia on blackboards, they pull props to tell their stories out of suitcases. Intercut through this are videos of other students talking about the world they live in: what makes them Australian? How does racism make them feel?
The Migration Project feels of the same central philosophy of Zavarce’s lauded Sons & Mothers: Zavarce taking an instance in his life – there his relationship with his mother, here his migration to Australia – and using it to instigate a collaborative community work. Where Zavarce created a space for the men of Sons & Mothers to truly own the work, though, that same space doesn’t feel like it is offered to the young adults at the heart of The Migration Project. Their stories are slotted into the work, but the work is never of their stories. In the end, we are left with just a cursory glance.
The piece is quite nice: we see some students telling their stories, and they do a lovely job of this. But in the subject matter – and in the students – it feels like there is so much more potential.