Touching Home – A new sensory theatre show about London migrants
Imagine how it feels like to leave your country, to abandon everything that connects you to home to find a new home. And if you couldn’t use words, how would you express it?
27 Degrees is developing a new sensory theatre show inspired by the everyday stories of London migrants, Touching Home. Walking away from the dramatic recollection of narratives shared by the media, the company wants to explore the intimacy of the experience of leaving one’s country and to use the senses to break the boundaries between audiences, performers and migrants.
The company was founded in April 2017 by Marie Klimis, Chusi Amoros and Dajana Trtanj, around a shared passion for immersive theatre and storytelling. 27 Degrees define themselves as a multicultural collective of artists: the lead artists are from Peru, Belgium and Croatia and they also collaborated with artists from Denmark, South Korea, Mexico, Poland and the UK. They specialise in multidisciplinary shows presenting international narratives that are universal and relevant in our global contemporary context. They started working on Touching Home in March 2018 with a three-month Research and Development (R&D) period supported by Arts Council England.
The first stage of the project was about collecting stories. One of the goals of the project was to showcase the diversity of London migrants: for this the artists interviewed 20 Londoners from a range of ages, occupations, backgrounds and origins, including people who migrated from India, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Italy, Peru, Canada, Lebanon, Spain, Bosnia or the US, to name but a few. The questionnaire was centred on the concept of home and the sensory elements connected to people’s memories of migration.
The second stage of the R&D was a two-week residency at the Old Library in London, supported by Theatre Delicatessen. During the residency, the company invited guest practitioners to explore ways of sharing stories through sensory exploration: olfactory artist Sarah McCartney led a workshop on scents, showing how to create perfumes reminiscent of memories and how to practically use smells in performance; Anna Pearce explored the possibilities and challenges connected to touch; and Yaron Shyldkrot led a workshop on sound and darkness, used as tools to create comforting or unsettling environments.
This R&D led to new performance material combining original texts, sound or physical installations, dance, shadow puppetry, live cooking, olfactory storytelling or intimate audience interactions. Some scratch performances were then presented in June in London as part of Refugee Week and the Open Senses Festival. Now, the goal is to develop the show further in autumn and winter 2018, aiming to create a full immersive production in 2019.
In a world of political uncertainty, environmental challenges and increasing inequalities, there is a growing fear of the foreigner, the stranger, the unknown “them”. 27 Degrees want to make a show that celebrates the universality of the human condition, that tackles stereotypes about migration and explores empathy. Theatre scholars have shown over recent years that sensory exploration allows audiences to connect with narratives in a direct and affective manner. Smell, for instance, is the sense the most closely connected to memory in the human brain, and Helen Paris mentions its power to ‘cross geographical borders, celebrating what unifies us as humans’. And this is exactly what 27 Degrees are trying to achieve with Touching Home: the goal is not to tell migration stories to audiences, but for audiences to make these stories their own.