Saturday, 10 July 2004

Actors for Refugees-Something to Declare, Michael Gurr (Article), July 10, 2004

Article/Interview about Something to Declare by Michael Gurr 
Actors for Refugees
Writer: Kate Herbert, July 2004

The term "queue jumping" took on a whole new slant while waiting for Something to Declare, a play based on testimony from asylum seekers.

The queue ran from the Melbourne Town Hall along Swanston, up Collins and into Russell.

An astonishing crowd, over 2000, flocked to support asylum seekers at this performance by Actors for Refugees on Thursday July 8.

Actors for Refugees is a loose coalition of actors who perform this play in order to raise awareness of the plight of refugees.

They did not charge for tickets but made $10,000 from donations at this one performance, says Christine Bacon, producer of Something to Declare.

When the group receives an email requesting a performance of Something to Declare, the wheels start rolling.

All you need is a date, venue and an audience to book the show., says Bacon.

Playwright, Michael Gurr who compiled the script, says, "Someone finds four actors and a musician and puts them in a car. It's a show that can be done in a shed or in the Melbourne Town Hall."

Actors, Alice Garner and Kate Atkinson came up with the notion of Actors for Refugees while working on Sea Change around September 11 and the Tampa.

They realised, says Bacon, "Actors can tell individual people's story …use their public profile…and counter the myths about asylum seekers."

After working with a smaller project for some time, Actors For Refugees approached Michael Gurr to develop a bigger project with a formal structure.

"I disappeared under a paper storm of research," says Gurr. "There was more research material than I have ever seen."

The material comprised letters and testimony from asylum seekers, reports from doctors who worked with refugees and psychologists and government information,

Gurr's brief, he laughs, was "To go away and turn it into an hour that's not depressing."

This says Gurr, "Is a critical point…If you leave having your indignation refreshed then the next question is, 'What can I do?'

"The central trick of this government, " He continues, "is to keep people faceless and voiceless…and hard to identify with."

"Actors can put faces and voices to these people…My imagination can't create anything more powerful than the truth."

Director, Bruce Myles with actors, Helen Morse, Pamela Rabe, Alison Whyte and Daniela Farinacci mounted this version with Alice Garner and others providing music.

The script is read rather than enacted. Gurr weaves transcripts of interviews with refugees amongst facts about asylum seekers, politicians' sound bites and references to government policy.

The spine of the play is a gripping story told by an Iraqi woman, one of only 45 of 400 asylum seekers who survived a sinking boat.

The gruesome details of the most punitive detention centres in our lucky country bring gasps of shock from the sympathetic audience.

We are reminded of children in detention and of people living on temporary protection visas with no rights and no security and treated as criminals instead of victims.

The play recently performed in Queenscliff, Perth, Brisbane and at Parliament House, Canberra for Federal politicians.

For information on Actors For Refugees or to book Something to Declare for your school, town or community group, contact or look at their website

By Kate Herbert

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