"Listen to Us! Love Us!": Issues of (Self-)Representation and the Asylum Seeker/Refugee Artists of Fada Theatre's Talent on the Run
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In the Dutch field of theatre of the past several years a large number of performances have concerned themselves with the topic of asylum seekers and refugees. Some of these are verbatim theatre pieces that were initiated by non-asylum seekers/non-refugees. An exceptional verbatim theatre performance is Talent on the Run by Fada Theatre, which was initiated, directed, and performed by an all asylum seeker/refugee cast and crew. Having created a platform for themselves, the artists of Fada Theatre are approached regularly by people who wish to write about asylum seekers and refugees. They are held as representatives for the entire social minority. In this essay, I argue that being in such a position comes with issues of (self-)representation and that the work of artists from a minority background is inevitably affected by such issues when they address the majority. To get an understanding of the position of Fada Theatre’s artists, I turn to theory on ‘discourse’ and ‘representation’ and point to the structures of power and oppression that are inherent to issues of (self-)representation. I connect this to theory on identity and discuss how one can resist and/or negotiate the oppressive identities that have been constructed for them. Working upon the concepts of ‘subalternity’ and the ‘burden of representation’, I discuss restrictions and pressures someone from a social minority can experience when they attain a platform from which they can address the majority. I point out that these restrictions and pressures are a result of having persistently been misrepresented by people and institutions outside of the minority group. To analyze my case study, I connect the above theory to the issues of (self-)representation that Fada Theatre’s two founders/directors have experienced in creating and performing Talent on the Run. From my semi-structured interview with these artists, it became clear that they felt a responsibility to address the Dutch majority and to combat the discourse of Western news media that presents asylum seekers and refugees as bad and dangerous people. In doing so, they have had to make specific artistic choices and have had to adapt to the (literal and symbolic) languages that the Dutch audience can understand. Lastly, I conduct a performance analysis of Talent on the Run to discuss its responds to the identified issues of (self-)representation. I show that the performance opposes the discourse of Western news media by reconfirming the discourse of humanitarian interventions that presents asylum seekers and refugees in an equally stereotypical manner, namely as helpless and needy victims. However, by structurally ending Talent on the Run with a Q&A-session in which the focus shifts to the people behind the performance, Fada Theatre is able to add to this discourse and to complicate the stereotype.