Speaking for Ourselves

Confronting prejudice with teabags and tents

Confronting prejudice with teabags and tents

Olivia Miller

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Confronting prejudice with teabags and tents

You want a British passport? Ok – just throw these teabags into a pot.

Or perhaps you’re an immigrant scrounger trying to get money out of the state? Try your luck on the “Wheel of Benefits”: just spin it for a handout.

The provocations are typical of the work of Romanian-born Dana Olărescu and Serbian native Bojana Janković, who came to London to do MA’s in performance and stayed to set up a two-person theatre company, There There.

Their chosen subject: immigration, based on personal experience. All their performances raise the questions: What does it mean to be an immigrant? What is national identity and how does that change depending where you live?  What are immigrants’ public identity?  

These are complex issues but their performances are in your face rather than in your seats, getting audiences to confront their prejudices through sarcasm and humour rather than polemics.

In Text HOME to 78070 - created in response to the Home Office’s “Go Home” campaign in 2013 of the same name - the duo take to the streets wearing politicians’ face-masks.  The performance involves getting people to go into a tent for immigration advice, provided in the form of recorded information. It is unrehearsed and didn’t expect to get much response. Big surprise! Some people swore at them, some shook their hands, others talked. It was as though seeing two pretend politicians in an everyday situation triggered the release of political frustrations.

“They felt they could punch those politicians in the face,” says Olărescu.

Janković and Olărescu have been focussing their attention on East European migrants (one of their shows is called Eastern Europeans for Dummies) but when a migrant from outside Europe told them their street theatre resonated with him they realised the universality of the migrant experience.  

Also, politicians provide a common ground between immigrants and non-immigrants: “Everyone, immigrants or citizens, sees their lives worsening - whether through, job security, or benefits cuts, or visa nightmares, or housing etc. - day by day - and politicians are the common denominator in that,” argues Janković

Eastern Europeans for Dummies plays with stereotypes and humour to make its points: this is the production that introduced teabag throwing and the benefits wheel.

They regard London as a perfect backdrop for their funny, provocative theatrical assaults on all-too prevalent misinformation, negativity, and xenophobia.

“In a way London is a pleasant place to be an immigrant because there are so many of us. You’re really not a tiny little minority so you don’t feel like you’re walking around simply marked as a foreign body,” says Janković .

Olărescu loves London’s energy and constant activity, which she says encourages her creativity.  

London is also big and diverse enough to enable them to make a living from their theatrical training, which would be much harder to achieve in their homelands. At present they both need day jobs to survive but their ambition is to make There There full-time work.

Overall, their hope is that There There will help audiences approach the migration debate with an open mind and greater positivity.

Their next target? To tour Eastern Europeans for Dummies in areas with high populations of Eastern European immigrants in Europe in order to increase Eastern European participation in theatre and in the migration debate globally.

Most immediately There There have a performance and an event coming up:

- Eastern Europeans for Dummies is in Sheffield on 25th June, as part of Migration Matters Festival: http://www.migrationmattersfestival.co.uk

- the show's poster will be in EUROPhonia pop-up exhibition: http://europhoniapopup.tumblr.com/