Apocalypse Theatre Company’s ASYLUM

Rapid-response theatre flies in the face of theatrical tradition, but it shouldn’t always be like that. The average play takes approximately two years to reach the stage, by which time any topicality it may have had initially has long-since passed. Enter rapid-response theatre, where plays appear on stage mere weeks after being pitched or commissioned. You might remember Hollywood Ending at Griffin in November 2012; where that project took nine weeks to journey from concept to the stage, Asylum – a twenty-four-play cyclical response to the federal government’s Operation Sovereign Borders – appears approximately four weeks after pitching. The plays here are raw, unsentimental, unflinching; visceral. Under the artistic direction of Dino Dimitriadis, Apocalypse Theatre Company hosts 97 artists in a fearless and challenging exploration of what it means to seek asylum, what it means to come to Australia by boat, how it affects us – personally, as a community.
The two-dozen plays in Asylum are presented at the Old 505 theatre in Surry Hills. In many respects, anything than their presentation as staged-readings would betray their ideas and the commitment of the project to drawing attention to this contested part of Australia’s identity. I have often maintained that all you need to make a piece of theatre is a stage, an audience, and something to say; Asylum has these three things in abundance, and to see more than one night of the project is to be aware of how little we actually know about this situation.
Part of the Coalition government’s response to ‘combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders’, Operation Sovereign Borders is the result of the election promise-slogan, ‘stop the boats,’ and currently operates under a tightly-maintained veil of secrecy and misdirection on a ‘need to know basis’. At its core is an appalling fear of the unknown, of the ‘other’, and the lie made of our national anthem – for those who’ve come across the seas, we do not have boundless plains to share. Just this week, an article was published online about the bystander effect and how it might help to explain the ongoing collective indifference of the Australian public to the brutal treatment of asylum seekers. At the same time, another piece pointed to “a disturbing trend in Australia of governments eroding basic democratic freedoms […] which are the basic ingredients of good government and accountability,” while another argued that “most Australians think human rights are important but don’t actually understand what human rights are.”
What Asylum’s writers, directors, and actors do superbly is make sure each story is told simply, eloquently, and passionately, ensuring that we never lose sight of the human lives at the heart of the stories. Through monologues, short and longer plays, devised pieces and soundscapes, we meet people from all over the planet trying to understand the world and the situation they have found themselves in. There is no judgment in these stories, no undue discrimination; no story is better or more important that any other, just as we are as people. Some stories are shot through with humour, others with pain and anguish, but what shines in each and every second of these stories are the humans in them, the humans that refuse to give up, the humans that never stop being.
The implications of Apocalypse Theatre Company’s venture are subtle but harrowing, and are vital to a way forward: we are all humans; if we are all treated as such instead of segregated into an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, “if our government spoke of human beings instead of criminals, [then] offshore processing, turning back boats, children in detention and indefinite imprisonment for all would be unbearable. Confronted with this spectacle of suffering, we would refuse to just stand by and watch.”

Ticket sales from Asylum’s two-week season directly support the selfless work of the Asylum Seeker’s Centre and Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Along with the Refugee Action Coalition, the Refugee Advocacy Network,  and the Refugee Council of Australia, they are committed to fighting for and improving the rights, ethical treatment and conditions for asylum seekers in Australia.

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