Performing self-authored narratives of unaccompanied refugee young men: rethinking young male migrant identities through performance
This practice research examines how personal narrative and self-authored performance can generate nuanced understandings of male unaccompanied minor experiences within host and peer communities, by developing new performance strategies for creating theatre with, for and by this community. Due to their extreme experiences of survival ‘without papers’, these adolescents are often positioned in migration studies outside a Western paradigm of childhood, and are frequently misunderstood by host communities. Yet the voices of refugees are often absented from research, performance and public discourse, enacting forms of erasure and silencing. This practice research project considers how performance practices might reposition and/or destabilise hegemonic knowledge about young male refugees in order to restore agency and trouble the discourses of suspicion, distrust and victimhood that have become associated with asylum seekers in general, and male unaccompanied minors specifically. The practice elements of the project are centred around the development of a new piece of performance work with the theatre company I co-founded in 2015, Phosphoros Theatre, that works with a core company of actors who came to the UK unaccompanied. At the centre of my methodology is a collaborative approach that incorporates making and holding space for refugee artists. Much of this performance research considers the tense relationship between personal narrative, identity construction and political agency, as asylum stories become the basis for gaining legal recognition of refugee status. Adopting self-representation as a mode of inquiry, this research addresses and contests the fascination and desire for authentic refugee studies, truth telling and aesthetics of suffering. It seeks to establish empowering new forms of theatre making that enable a significant rethinking of male unaccompanied minor identity, developing new ways for refugee actors to interact with and articulate their lived experience, in a reframing of who gets to speak about forced migration, adolescence and vulnerability, in what way and how.