Anita Hallewas – Is something better than nothing?: The dilemma of applied theatre practice in refugee camps on the Greek islands


Anita Hallewas

UNSW, Sydney, Australia

Is something better than nothing?: The dilemma of applied theatre practice in refugee camps on the Greek islands

The current refugee crisis has seen tens of thousands of refugees incarcerated on Greek islands in the Mediterranean. Most of these residents live in tents with no electricity or running water for protracted periods of time. It is believed the lack of essential services and government support, publicized heavily in the media, triggered the start-up of hundreds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) so everyday citizens could gather and more actively support refugees arriving in Europe. NGOs offer support from port-a-loos to food, laundry and clothing services to educational support. These acts of gathering and welcoming have been seen across Europe, with immense popularity in Greece, and are mostly funded through small civilian donations. NGO groups also offer psychosocial support and intervention, including theatre and performance based programming. The author visited several Greek islands in 2019 and as a participant observer through a grounded theory approach observed various theatre projects intended to support refugee children, youth and adults. This paper explores the dilemmas associated in how these many theatre practitioners say hello to refugees living on Greek islands, only to very quickly say goodbye to return to their own homes. When the development of authentic relationships is a large and crucial aspect of community applied theatre practice, can short term programming still be of benefit to these communities? Is this is another case of something is better than nothing, or is nothing better than something to best support vulnerable communities such as these? With NGOs bringing in new facilitators seasonally, as well as touring groups arriving ad hoc as funds allow, how do all these welcomes and farewells impact vulnerable refugee communities? 

Anita Hallewas (BA, BTeach Deakin University, Australia, MA University of Victoria, Canada) Anita is currently undertaking her PhD at UNSW, Sydney, Australia, with a research focus in refugee theatre, specifically how theatre might improve the quality of life for those living in refugee camps and the ethical implications related to that practice.  She is an active applied theatre practitioner and is the founding managing artistic director of Flying Arrow Productions a theatre company that specializes in applied theatre programming with a special interest in encouraging intergenerational collaboration.