Time is passing so quickly in lockdown. Every morning I receive text messages and phone calls from friends to check if I am doing ok. I tell them I am ok, I send pictures of the food I have cooked or funny videos I receive on Whatsapp to cheer them up. But I can't lie, most of the time I feel anxious about the future.
Living in quarantine is pretty much like living as an asylum seeker. The difference is you don’t have money to indulge yourself in different cooking styles and you can’t watch TV simply because you can’t afford the licence. You have only £35 per week to survive. Tens of thousands of people live on canned food donated by charities and sleep in the basement of a friend’s house or in a garage/ under a bridge. I am surprised to have realised that thousands of English people are homeless and they sleep in shop doorways, on park benches and friends’ sofas. Maybe I am lucky to have a roof over my head, and an Android phone that connects me with the world for one or two hours a day?
Let me tell you about my daily routine:
9 AM : waking up:
10 AM: having a lie-in, procrastination.
11 AM: checking on social media to see what friends have been up to, and if they are doing all right. Sometimes writing a post on my Facebook or share something. Recently I wrote a dystopian story about European people seeking asylum in Africa and the Middle East because many countries will have gone under water due to global warming.
11.30 AM: making breakfast and meeting other ladies in the kitchen! I live in a Serco's shared house.
12:00: watching cooking channels on YouTube and choosing a cheap recipe for dinner. If I need ingredients, I go to the corner shop and if I can’t find them I just improvise. I can’t walk around looking for spices and veg and risk spreading the virus because I am too selfish to have a plain dinner. Adding chilli sauce will do the job.
2 PM: making phone calls to my family back home to check if they are ok. The virus is spreading across the world and it seems that governments are worried about the economy than about people getting sick. There is nothing I can do except ask them to take care of themselves.
3 PM: going for a quick walk in my local park
5 PM: having supper
6 PM: reading magazines, learning English, watching news to find out how close scientists are to a vaccine or a cure. Thinking and worrying. Speculating about the future. Thinking about the damage we have done to animals and our planet earth. We have messed up. Maybe this is a wake-up alarm. There is much to learn from a microscopic virus.
12 PM: praying and wishing for a better world after the crisis is over.
I'm Maddie Wakeling and I am an actor and theatre maker living in Manchester. I work as the Arts and Community lead at RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) facilitating theatre workshops with a group of people seeking asylum. This work has come to a halt due to the current situation and I am now working within RAPAR and MRRC (Manchester Refugee Rights Collective) to coordinate support for people with no recourse to public funds in Greater Manchester. I am also using the time to focus on future projects for Kahlo Theatre - we have one play in development and are having regular phone calls to try to write and create remotely. We have also written a short piece of film in response to the current situation and are working to produce this soon. It's not easy working in separate homes - so much of the magic of theatre making happens in the space and can't just be thought up. I have, so far, found more time for writing though and am grateful for that.
Kahlo Theatre was formed by myself and Gerogina Russell when we graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre in the summer of 2018. We left drama school desperate to make work, work that was rooted in the exploration of a political or social issue. We wanted to play with form, tired of the conventional plays favoured by drama schools. So we created Kahlo Theatre. Our work blends movement and text. We use music from the beginning - finding and creating songs that move us from the inside.
Kahlo Theatre were due to bring a reworking of our debut play ‘Life Between Yes and No’ to the Kings Arms in Salford on the 2nd and 3rd of April.
Those dates have passed us by and we were far from performing on stage. We were instead isolated in our separate homes, both on hold as we tried to get through to the DWP along with the one million others also left unemployed by the Covid-19 crisis.
I had expected to be on the other side of the line, our play - Life Between Yes and No - is all about the DWP. It was specifically about Anna, a woman working on the front line of austerity cuts in a Department of Work and Pensions call centre, working for minimum wage, answering phone calls and following a strict script. They have to get the form filled and the person off the line in the allotted time, or they’re at risk of losing their job. As callers argue, shout or even cry down the phone, the workers’ job still remains: to get through all the questions before their time is up.
I did try to smile at the irony, instead of playing a DWP call handler I was desperately waiting for one to answer my call.
In Life Between Yes and No the voice of the caller is played by different instruments which reflect their character. Personally, I'm not sure quite what I'd be - in the play there's a violin, trumpet, piano, guitar and drums. We did this, in part, to explore the dehumanisation that happens in our welfare system. Where all our personal problems are funnelled in tick box answers.
Our welfare system, along with our asylum and immigration system, is designed to fail those who need it most. In February this year a government watchdog found 69 suicides could have been linked to problems with benefit claims over the last six years. In 2015, 3 people were dying every day after being found ‘fit for work’ when they clearly weren’t.
Around this time last year I read an article in the Guardian written by a DWP call handler which became the inspiration for our play.
“When you cry down the phone I feel like crying too, but if I speak to you for longer than 23 minutes and go off-script I risk losing my job”
Austerity is a choice, it's poverty created by policy. Our Tory government has presided over 10 years of cuts and closures to vital services. But our ministers don't spend hours listening to the cries of those that have been the worst affected.
It made us think about this huge disconnect. The decisions made from within the bubble of Westminster which day after day destroy the lives of people up and down the country - and who's manning the complaint lines? A person earning minimum wage with next to no employment rights. We become each other's soundboards so often in the world of work. It's encouraged and the systems are designed so our rage only reaches the ears of a neighbour.
As the corona virus escalates our politicians encourage us to blame each other - the people in the park, the woman on the bench, the teens hanging out on our street. At times like these it's vital we remember who got us here - who cheered at blocking a pay rise for the nurses they now applaud? Who has been shrinking the budget for social care year on year? Who maintains a system where our essential workers are paid £8.72 an hour, on zero hours contracts, while their bosses sit at home on salaries?
Lets keep hold of our anger and aim it higher.
Watch the trailer of the show on the link below:
Terrific news: Sheba Arts has received GMCA funding to promote arts and culture in four different boroughs of Greater Manchester in 2020 and 2021. We will work with communities, venues and organisations over the next two years to bring new narratives of migrant and refugee communities to the mainstream using our unique grassroot methodology.
We have already established partnerships with some great venues and organisations and we are working hard to build connections with people from different communities to involve them in our future activities.
This year, Greater Manchester Combined Authority has allocated £8.6m to 35 cultural organisations. This investment recognises the diversity of Greater Manchester and the importance of supporting emerging grass root organisations. A recognition of our work and the change we bring to people's lives. This fund will enable more communities to play a positive role in the society and contribute in the vibrancy, liveability and wellbeing of Greater Manchester.
Congratulations to the organisations on the list. We look forward to working with you.
Our first newsletter in 2020 is now released.
We have some information to share with you about what we have done so far and we brought you some exciting news about our next project!
Click on this link to continue:
The Women Of Freedom Square is a devised work-in-progress piece of community theatre, led by the Manchester-based Sheba Arts, an organisation which aims to give marginalised, migrant and refugee communities a voice through art. It's an awareness-raising exercise, but the world of The Arts, especially theatre, can be a very powerful and political tool if used correctly.
Since it was the first time that any of the cast had ever set foot on a stage before, and the stories they told were deeply personal and emotive, it would be very unfair of me to critique anything at all about the artistic elements of the 50 minute production. Instead allow me to give you a little background to the piece and how it evolved.
Taking inspiration from the so-called 'Blue Girl': a young lady who, after being arrested and imprisoned for trying to enter a football stadium dressed as a man in Tehran, set herself on fire when she came away from her trial. And so this evening's play was set in that city, Tehran, the capital of Iran, a country in both political and religious turmoil. The play focused on 5 seperate stories, instances where women have tried to break away from the uber-rigid controls set on women in Iranian society. In fact one could almost say that the play as it stands at the moment is more a statement about male patriarchy than about the subjegation of women. I said I would not speak of artistic merit here, however, the decision to use just one male performer and yet have him half-concealed with his back to the audience as he spoke, was a hugely symbolistic and imageful idea.
The performance was delivered in two languages, sometimes in English, and as the play progressed, more and more in the language of Iran, Farsi - and the English translations were displayed on a screen above. Sadly the screen and the dialogue were often out of sync, but that is a minor issue. Whilst we learned much about life in Iran and how such things as not allowing women into football stadiums - something we in the UK take for granted and is indeed just a simple, basic human right for all - is forbidden there and the punishments are more than harsh, often ending tragically. The other storylines offered were a lady being imprisoned for organising a fashion show - for women only - where the models 'disgraced' their religion by wearing western clothes, dancing, and neglecting to wear the hijab. For flaunting 'sexual promiscuity' the punishment is execution. How a young Anglo-Iranian student over there visiting during the 2017 earthquake was imprisoned for helping a charity deliver aid directly to the needy. This, more than the other stories I think shocked me, since this seemed the most idiotic rule.. surely the country would be only too glad of outside help in such a time...?! Another woman for not wearing her hijab properly and another - a British reporter - for trying to interfere, speak with and report things which are 'forbidden'. Thus, without such plays as the one presented this evening, how is anyone ever going to know the truth and be able to do something about it.
I fear that Iran is not the only country to be repressing female expression, and whatever we think either of the religion or the politics of these countries, we must surely give every citizen the right to make their own minds up. Congratulations to Sheba Arts for your bravery at exposing such injustices and to the performers too for their perspicacity and determination to tell their stories. I often think that living in the UK is not easy; we are a deeply troubled, riotous, unsafe and state controlled society. It takes stories like these to shake me awake and realise just how lucky we are to be living here.
See the original review on the link below:
We are offering 10 FREE tickets to our next show Women of Freedom Square, at Kings Arms , Salford, 30th January 2020.
Please send an email to email@example.com between 23 November and 1 December to reserve your place.One place per person.
Please bring along your National Lottery ticket or scratchcard on the night of the performance.
Tickets will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis!
5 de Junio de 1995
My name is Sally Hilton and I am from Guatemala. I came to the UK a frew years ago.
I have been working as a volunteer since entering the United Kingdom. I was a volunteer with the Liverpool Foundation and Migrant Support where I had my experience in introducing myself for the first time at a Refugee event. My teacher discovered that I had talent then I contacted Sheba Arts to attend their workshops.
I have been dancing since I was 7. But Sheba Art opened the door for me and allowed me to share my culture and tradition and trained me to become a dancer and performer. Sheba Art workshops helped me discover my talents and gave me confidence on stage. Dance Away the Spiders was my first experience with theatre and it helped me gain confidence and establish my dance company lxcanul Art.
My plan for the future is to work with people from all over the world and explore their dance styles, atttending workshops and teach them to discover their art.
I want to thank Sheba Arts, Migrant Support and Journeys Festival for supporting me as a dancer and painting model artist.
Fereshteh Mozaffari is the founder of of Sheba Arts and has lived in two different countries, Iran and the UK. Bring Me the Mountain is her new work in progress, which delves into the devastating impact that being a refugee can have on mental health. Although it firmly states in the programme that this is not autobiographical, Mozaffari brings her experiences into a fictional character, Oraman, who flees a war zone, coming to the UK with hopes of piecing her life back together.
Fereshteh Mozaffari’s Bring Me The MountainOraman’s fragmented mental health is effectively mirrored in the play’s structure. As she suffers flashbacks of war and memory loss, the narrative switches between the past and present, causing confusion amongst the audience, and for the protagonist. Consulting the doctor about her health, Oraman is subject to a crude interrogation with absurd questions for someone who is clearly distressed, an interrogation by a British doctor that almost shames the patient into believing that they are at fault for their condition.
“Why should I speak the truth when you don’t believe me?”
Mozaffari deftly turns Oraman’s mental collapse into a traditional piece of dance, Sufi whirling to the rhythm of a Daf. This Whirling Dervish dance isn’t peaceful though, in fact it is difficult to watch, as she physically struggles, her arms reaching out for support. This inner conflict eventually turns into a meditative trance, and she discovers her centre of gravity, finding inner peace and tranquillity. It is a remarkable piece of physical theatre that profoundly translates the character’s mind transforming from fragmentation into wholeness.
It came as a surprise to me in the show’s Q&A session that Fereshteh Mozaffari is relatively inexperienced as an actor. Although creativity has always been an outlet, this is usually in writing poetry and plays, and she rarely actually performs. It is a testament to the director, Szilvi Naray-Davey, that she manages to get the most out of Mozaffari as an actor. To be able to portray such emotional torment throughout the performance deserves the utmost credit. It mustn’t be easy to relive those experiences.
Sophie Tyrell‘s stage design remarkably adds a surrealist setting for what is a piece rooted in emotional realism, creating an effective juxtaposition. A vast sheet of paper covers the floor, transcending into the air at the rear of the stage. In a significantly symbolic moment, the white paper is torn to shreds by Oraman, a bold statement of resilience and freedom, and an explosive release of energy.
By elevating the paper, Tyrell’s design forms a screen for Kooj Chuhan‘s visual elements to be projected onto. Surreal mouths break through the paper, taunting Oraman within her conscience, or visually providing a mouth for the doctor and policemen who interrogate the character. Faceless, these machinations are deeply disturbing, show the autonomy and bureaucracy of the state.
As a work in progress, Bring Me The Mountain is an accomplished piece of theatre and provides a strong foundation, with only small improvements required. There is a video which feels out of place in a piece that focuses on inner conflict. It would be more effective being performed on stage, rather than filmed outdoors.
I also feel like there can be more variety in mood, as it purposefully feels quite sombre. There are comical moments in the play that provide uplifting moments of humour, such as Oraman’s druggie neighbour who steals from charity shops, but these are only touched upon, and it would be nice to see them expanded.
Nonetheless, this is a piece that is as effective in its storytelling as it is in its design. An interesting clash between interior mental health and surrealist design, Bring Me The Mountain has plenty of potential. It also shows what a gifted writer and performer Fereshteh Mozaffari is.
To see the original text click here.
Refugee Week is an opportunity to celebrate multi-culturalism and the contributions of refugee communities and individuals to our society and there was no better illustration of this that Sheba Arts' 'Diversity and Friendship' festival in Stockport.
The event was an uplifting and triumphant celebration that united the local Hazel Grove community and a wonderful variety of highly talented acts bringing their skills, their cultural traditions, heritage and love of the arts and expression to St Peter's Parish.
Although our selection of performances is a drop in the ocean of the North West's diverse community, together we demonstrated just how privileged we are to have the world on our streets.
We were joined by many amazing talents who helped to turn the evening into the most lively and inspiring occasion by sharing their cultural traditions and talents with the local community.
We enjoyed amazing performances including Irish dancers from St Peter's Parish, no doubt bringing pride and joy to the local community, many of whom revealed they were of Irish descent. We also enjoyed Guatemalan dancing from Sheba Art's own Sally Perez Hilton, performing her own Ixcanul Art project in her traditional Mayan influenced style. The room was on fire for the amazing Malayalee Association of Stockport MAS representing the state of Kerala with their Bollywood and Classical dance act.
Kurdish artist Amang brought us a wonderful paint-to-music spectacle along with Irish music from Lizzy, Connor, Dave and Abbey.
We even enjoyed traditional Morris dancing from Brendan and Dave who led the heavily audience-inclusive Country Dance with all the attendees dancing rounds on stage accompanied by Lizzy on the violin (who had performed earlier in the evening with Dave). We also were honoured to hear Lucy's wonderful singing and poetry from Jolivia.
The evening finally reached it's crescendo with the Culture Bridge organisation. These Kurdish artists had opened the festival with their musical act, and now they rightly would finish the event with the energy and spirit that only a Kurdish dabke can summon, bringing the whole audience to the stage for the final dance.
Meanwhile, the children were challenged to create their own flag designs for nations of their own invention or new designs for existing places and also had the opportunity to enjoy a drumming circle.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the event and helped to make this such a successful and special celebration of diversity from the acts, to the workshop facilitators, to the catering and the wonderful people of St Peter's Parish. We were also profoundly honoured to be supported by Stockport Council.