How the the­atre is bring­ing mi­grants and Ital­ians to­gether

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Is­mail Ei­nashe Is­mail Ei­nashe is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Lon­don.

High in the moun­tains of south­ern Italy lies San Chirico Ra­paro, a poor iso­lated town which has be­come the un­likely venue for a the­atre project bring­ing to­gether young African mi­grants and Ital­ians.

The play is a ver­sion of a clas­sic Greek tale, Ja­son and the Arg­onauts, by Ital­ian the­atre com­pany Teatro delle Albe. It chron­i­cles the ad­ven­tures of a band of he­roes who join Ja­son in his quest for the Golden Fleece, and at the heart of this great ad­ven­ture is the sea and the ship they sail in, the Argo.

Italy has in re­cent years be­come Europe’s mi­grant bot­tle­neck. Last year, 181,000 mi­grants ar­rived by boat; the ma­jor­ity came from sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. Since 2014, more than 500,000 mi­grants have ar­rived. Many of these mi­grants are African teenagers from coun­tries such as Gam­bia, Nige­ria, Sene­gal and Ivory Cost. They come un­ac­com­pa­nied, flee­ing vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion, be­fore em­bark­ing on the dan­ger­ous boat jour­neys across the Mediter­ranean.

There is now a new re­set­tle­ment pol­icy, where the Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties move small groups of child mi­grants into vil­lages and towns in the south of Italy, of­ten in the mid­dle of nowhere.

San Chirico Ra­paro is sit­u­ated in Basil­i­cata, his­tor­i­cally part of mafia land. It has 1,200 res­i­dents, but most young peo­ple have left to find em­ploy­ment. Most of the young African mi­grants are ac­com­mo­dated in com­mu­nal build­ings and one build­ing in San Chirico Ra­paro houses 12 teenagers, mostly from Gam­bia.

Teatro delle Albe (which has pre­vi­ously pro­duced plays about the mi­grant cri­sis) spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity. It held re­hearsals in the vil­lage and staged a unique pro­duc­tion of the play on April 12, with the sup­port of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Now the play­ers are get­ting ready for their big per­for­mance, on June 26 in Mat­era, the Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture for 2019.

Ali Sohna, 19, is from Gam­bia and lives in Mat­era. He is a main voice in the pro­duc­tion. For Ali the sea was a deadly place. He ar­rived in 2015 af­ter a per­ilous jour­ney from West Africa via the Sa­hara, be­fore reach­ing Italy on a boat from Libya. He lost his brother at sea, and some months later his mother died in Niger.

Ali has strug­gled to make a life for him­self in Italy. With­out his fam­ily, he says, “the oth­ers will have their par­ents to watch them in the play, but I won’t, my brother is dead and my mother is not here”. How­ever, through this pro­duc­tion he says he has found a pur­pose and a voice. “The­atre is an in­stru­ment I can use to get rid of the bad feel­ings in my head, the bad mem­o­ries; I want to see the­atre not just in Italy but back home in Gam­bia,” he says.

For di­rec­tors Alessan­dro Argnani and Emanuele Valenti, those an­cient sea voy­ages of the Arg­onauts mir­ror the jour­neys that mi­grants strug­gle to make in reach­ing Italy’s shores. There are no main char­ac­ters in the play and about 30 young­sters are part of the pro­duc­tion. They have also in­cor­po­rated el­e­ments of African mu­sic and dance. “One of the meth­ods we use is we tell them the story, then we ask them to act it by im­pro­vi­sa­tion,” says Valenti.

Papis Baji, 18, from Gam­bia, who was on the same boat Ali took from Libya, also lives in San Chirico Ra­paro. “I en­joy liv­ing with my friends in the cen­tre; we have a good time,” says Papis. “In the play I am the one who drives the boat the Arg­onauts are on, and this re­minds me of the boat jour­ney I made; we used a boat to come here.”

Papis has en­joyed tak­ing part in the play and has made friends. “There is no dif­fer­ence be­tween us Africans and the Ital­ians; we are all hu­man be­ings. I like Italy, I want to stay here in San Chirico Ra­paro – they have done a lot for me here.”

For young Ital­ians like Francesco, 17, from Mat­era, the ex­pe­ri­ence of tak­ing part in the play has also been pos­i­tive. He has made friends with Ali and oth­ers, and says, “I re­ally have en­joyed work­ing with new peo­ple, it has been a fun, great ex­pe­ri­ence”.

Valenti says: “This young Ital­ian gen­er­a­tion is ready to be con­nected to the mi­grant cul­ture. They can use the­atre to con­nect to mi­grants.”

The­atre is an in­stru­ment I can use to get rid of the bad feel­ings in my head, the bad mem­o­ries Ali Sohna 19-year-old mi­grant from Gam­bia, who lost his brother at sea

Cour­tesy Is­mail Ei­nashe

The cast of Teatre delle Albe’s pro­duc­tion of Ja­son and the Arg­onauts, which re­cruited African mi­grants in Italy.

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