The Acting Project: theatre and refugee integration in Greece
Exploring the ways in which theater can support the integration of refugees and migrants into Greek society.
Submitted by: Anastasia Spiliopoulou, Project Manager Caritas Hellas
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
November 2017 – March 2019
Currently Caritas Hellas is exploring available funding opportunities for the extension and expansion of the project.
The acting project began in November 2017, when 28 young people from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, between the ages of 17 and 25, expressed interest in participating in the first acting group of Caritas Hellas. The project explores ways in which art and specifically theater can support the integration of refugees and migrants into Greek society.
The acting group is part of the integration program Metavasis, which includes psychosocial support services and legal counseling, Greek and English language courses, social and cultural activities, vocational training courses, job counseling, and support on financial and tax related issues.
The goal of the project is to help participants develop their creativity and imagination, social networks, language proficiency and communication skills. In addition, it aimed at supporting them in overcoming feelings of isolation and developing a feeling of belonging. Last but not least, it focused on helping familiarize them with the local culture and establishing lines of communication between the refugee population and the local community.
Dedicated and secured funds have been available for a period of two years. This allowed for long-term planning and gave sufficient time to overcome any difficulties and reach tangible results. The acting project was part of Metavasis program implemented by Caritas Hellas since February 2017 and funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Caritas Germany.
As a component of Metavasis Program, the acting group could make use of well-established channels of communication, of other program resources, and available program facilities.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The project included two phases of 10 months each (September-June). The first phase focused building trust among the members of the acting group, while the second phase was dedicated to developing a better understanding of the local context and establishing links with the local culture.
First phase of the project:
In the first trimester, weekly meetings included role-playing games, body exercises and improvisation to help group members open up and express themselves. Some of these improvisations served as the basis of a performance developed in the third trimester, which was built around body theatre and included limited dialogues held in the native language of the participants. Participants were introduced to Greek mythology in a playful and interactive way through games, videos and other group activities.
The second and third trimester focused on the performance of the play ‘’Odyssey’. The decision to perform Odyssey was the result of a group discussion. The group members saw it as a way of symbolically sharing their own experiences and journeys by performing a classic piece of Greek mythology. The play was performed in Greek, with simplified and adapted dialogue that is easily understood by audiences of any background.
The performance was developed by the group members with the support of the facilitation team, was directed by the group facilitator and was held in the local area theatre ‘’PK’’.
- German Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- German Embassy in Athens
- Caritas Germany
- Theater PK
- Greek Forum of Migrants
- Director Giolanta Markopoulou and acting group: ‘’Station Athens’’
- Cinematographer Olympia Mytilinaiou
How challenges were overcome
A participatory approach was adopted to develop group coherence and encourage active participation of all group members, who came from diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs. With the support of the group facilitators participants were actively involved in every aspect of performance development, each contributing their skills and interests to areas they felt confident in. In this way participants developed ownership of the project and participated equally in decision-making processes with people of different cultures, ethnicities, languages and gender. In addition, field trips and activities were organized on a bimonthly basis, giving the group the opportunity to develop closer relationships with each other, get an understanding of theater and art in the local context and develop a common understanding around it.
- Initially only three women had joined the group. This lack of gender balance was addressed by expressly supporting female participation. Refugee community organizations, women’s organizations and Caritas Hellas structures were used to spread word about the project to potential female participants. The unofficial networks of group participants have proven to be of high importance, since women felt more comfortable attending group activities with close friends or other family members. Existing members were strongly encouraged to share their experience with female family members, friends and classmates. The process has been highly successful and by the end of the first trimester the group had 12 female participants.
- Another challenge was overcoming the participants’ daily difficulties, personal challenges and trauma. In order to enhance the psychological well-being of participants the project focused on building up positive experiences and cultivating a sense of belonging.
Basic drama therapy techniques, aimed at helping participants express, identify and link emotions to different reactions, were incorporated into the process. The group facilitator was a member of Caritas Hellas staff, an actor and refugee who has lived in the country for more than a decade. Thanks to his unique background he was able to combine acting methods and tools with the procedures and priorities of Caritas Hellas and a deep understanding of the participants’ experiences and challenges.
In addition, participants were strongly encouraged to use the social and livelihoods support services of Caritas Hellas, and all have met with a social worker at least once. They have been referred to internal and external supporting mechanisms based on their needs and requests.
- Body theatre methods have been used extensively in order to overcome existing language obstacles. All participants were lacking basic Greek language skills and the attempt to enhance their language skills through group activities was initiated gradually, building up to the Greek-language performance of Odyssey. Even though dialogues were shortened and simplified, participants had to read, understand and learn them by heart. In this way participants connected to the Greek language through an activity they enjoyed and built positive experiences around it.
- Using appropriate spaces and facilities.
All group meetings took place in the Community Centre of Caritas Hellas. The Community Centre is a welcoming and easily accessible space, located within a safe area of Athens. The Community Center is located next to the Social and Livelihoods Support Center of Caritas Hellas. The use of this space has been important in developing a feeling of security and safety for all participants.
Results of the Good Practice
- Participants’ sense of belonging has increased:
All participants had the opportunity to develop new social networks, relationships and friendships. Weekly meetings helped develop group coherence. Putting on a performance at the end of each project cycle strengthened the sense of group belonging and the sense of a shared commitment to a common goal.
- Participants improved and enriched their skills:
Participants experienced active learning by working as a group, participating in team building exercises and designing collective activities. Through this process they improved their communication and language skills, discovered their abilities and competences and learned how to use them confidently.
- The daily life of participants has improved:
All members of the group had the opportunity to access appropriate social and livelihood support mechanisms.
Moreover, participation in the project increased their confidence and willpower to pursue their dreams. As a result, five participants have found a stable job, five enrolled in educational institutions to continue their studies, eight have been connected to production companies and will participate in a mini-series as well as a documentary on the refugee crisis in Greece.
- Intercultural dialogue between refugees and members of the local community has improved:
A different interaction between refugee and host community members has developed in the course of the performances (hosts/ guests versus actors/audience), bringing a new dynamic to the way the “other’’ is perceived and understood by all.