Eastern Europeans tackle immigration and EU referendum in Rich Mix show
PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 March 2016
The date is set: on June 23, Britain will decide whether to leave the EU, or stay within its confines.
Immigration is firmly at the heart of the debate over Europe, which makes the timing of an upcoming performance piece, Eastern European for Dummies, particularly topical.
For one hour at Shoreditch’s Rich Mix on March 18, stereotypes will be skewered by two Eastern European immigrants, Bojana Jankovic and Dana Olarescu, who say they are fed up with politicised media headlines branding them all “benefit cheats,” “job stealers,” and “scroungers”.
“What scares me is how much the media can get away with, and the politicians can get away with,” says Bojana, 31, who lives near Essex Road, in Islington. “The stereotypes are just as ridiculous as someone imagining that all English people go around wearing a top hat, or all women carry umbrellas because they saw it in Mary Poppins.”
She continues: “I’ve had jobs, and I’ve never hunted down an Englishman for their job.”
Dana, 30, of Peckham, adds: “We can only hope this piece dissects the stereotypes.”
It is not the first time the artistic duo, who together make up theatre company ‘There, There’, have performed the piece, which they first created about five years ago.
But since then, it has grown in length from just 15 minutes, to an hour-long production, which references the looming EU referendum and the intensifying debate surrounding immigration.
It grew out of Bojana and Dana’s personal experience of coming to the UK as immigrants in 2009.
But now, they say it is far less about their own stories and more about picking apart words and images used by newspapers and politicians to depict Eastern Europeans.
Underpinning it all is research on immigration policy that the pair carried out themselves, which is inserted directly into the performance. Bojana says: “We are not a media headline, we are not: ‘The Romanians are coming!’
“We want to create an atmosphere where conversations can be had,” she adds. “The show is obviously influenced and shaped by our personal experiences, but we don’t say in the piece: this is me, or this is my story. This is not about me and Dana and our experiences.
“This is more about the general problem we are faced with.”
A David Attenborough-style voice will narrate the pair’s actions on stage, as though they are animals in one of his nature documentaries. Dana says this makes it more of an exhibition piece, than a traditional play.
In previous years, they have performed it at museums, next to numbered art pieces hanging on the wall.
“It’s better for it to be an exhibition rather than a show with words and amazing actors because we, as Eastern Europeans, are exhibited,” she points out. “This is how we feel.” With just four months to go until the Brexit vote, watching this show could even help the undecided make their minds up – though Bojana admits it is unlikely to sway those in the Vote Leave camp. She says: “If people come away thinking from a new angle, or just thinking, that would be a brilliant result.”
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