NEW YORK – The A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies at New York University presented Theatre of the Refuge by Rafika Chawishe on September 24. Chawishe recently completed the Lincoln Center Theatre Director’s Lab 2018 and just returned from Mexico where she finished a long durational performance in collaboration with Mexican artists Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez. She spoke about the experience during the presentation at NYU.
The lonely Citizen is based on the immigrant Alcira Soust Scaffo’s extraordinary story, hiding in a 4th floor bathroom of the National Autonomous University of Mexico for 15 days when the army occupied the University one week before the Tlatelolco Massacre. Chawishe, whose mother is Greek and father is English-Syrian, is an award-winning actress-director, and a devoted children’s legal rights’ activist. Her presentation at NYU also included fascinating details about other previous projects, and the latest project with her theatre company Zlap Collective, Europeana, which earned an Ibsen Awards Scholarship in 2017. The production is based on Henrik Ibsen’s Little Eyolf and Chawishe’s research and interviews with 150 refugees, all unaccompanied minors, on the island of Lesvos’ first reception center.
Working with artists and refugees, Chawishe has created a unique body of work which speaks about the serious issues facing the world and challenges the audience and participants with difficult questions. The result is complicated, thought-provoking, and often haunting, bring ing in the audience to experience interactive moments while reminding everyone of the common humanity that connects us all. In the interactive spirit of the event, world maps were handed out to all those present, so they could trace the journey their families have made going back three generations, emphasizing the universality of the immigrant experience and the crossing of borders.
Chawishe was introduced by Visiting Professor Eleftheria Astrinaki who gave the welcoming remarks at the event. Dr. Liana Theodoratou, Director of the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies at NYU and Director of NYU in Athens, also attended along with many students in the Hellenic Studies program and theatre enthusiasts of all ages.
The presentation concluded with a lively Q&A session which allowed Chawishe to go into further detail about her work and her process as a theatre artist, and what audience members can look forward to in the upcoming Europeana. In response to a question concerning the unaccompanied minor refugees who participated in the project on Lesvos, Chawishe noted that many of the young people are now missing. Whether they somehow managed to find their families and reunite with them elsewhere or have fallen into the hands of human traffickers, remains unknown.
Europeana opens September 2019 at the Alternative Stage of the National Opera House in Greece and is a co-production between the Ibsen Awards (Norway), the Greek National Opera, and Ostgotateatern in Sweden. Europeana will also be presented in Norway and in Sweden in 2019.