Established in 2015 as a site-specific response to the refugee camp in Calais, Good Chance is now a UK charity and nomadic theatre company collaborating with refugee communities. Founded by Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy, it has a full-time staff of three aided by six freelancers, and relies on the support of volunteers in every iteration of the project. Initially it was supported through crowdfunding, raising £45,000in its first public campaign; as a charity it received £250,000 in its first year, but spent closer to £300,000. Funds are raised through trusts, foundations and individual donors, many of whom were refugees themselves, and are now successful in arts industries and investment.
Mission: temporary theatres of hope
At the height of the refugee crisis, British theatre-makers Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson visited the “Jungle” in Calais and discovered “a city basically: about 8,000 people, from about 25 different nationalities, mostly Sudanese, Afghan, Eritrean, Kurdish, Iranian, Iraqi, but also Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Palestinian, Mali, Pakistani, Somali, Mauritian. There were churches, mosques, restaurants, legal centres, community leaders, a library, an unofficial women and children’s centre: really everything you would expect of a city.”
Although there wasn’t an arts centre or theatre as such, they also found art in abundance: “There was a need to express, and a need to come together. It wasn’t so much people telling their story, it was more this is a song or a joke that I remember from home. And there were pockets of performance all over the camp: some people had drums, some people did rap sessions. The music was vibrant and vivid in spite of the terrible conditions, but also because of the conditions: every single person was in a phenomenally strange situation and therefore had to find a way of expressing something about their position. An atmosphere of creativity existed which wasn’t just artistic but entrepreneurial: every night people were trying to get across the Channel, and during the day they were building restaurants, shops, houses, and a sauna that people were charged €2 to go in.”
These encounters forged Good Chance, a charity and theatre company that builds “temporary theatres of hope in places where a need for expression is not met, aiming to bring people together and foster understanding through art and theatre. It’s welcoming people, irrespective of nationality or gender or ethnicity or religion, celebrating cultural difference, and finding ways that different artistic traditions and styles can be in dialogue.”
A spirit of togetherness
In every aspect of its work, Good Chance seeks to delegate and create space for participants’ expertise. “We try and create a practice that really is all of us: we bring a dome – we build it together.” The dome in question is a geodesic structure that embeds the metaphor of togetherness in its construction: “each pole works together”. And the invitation is for a refugee community to create it together, inside and out.
Calling it a theatre is important to the company in this respect: “A theatre doesn’t just need art when you’re building one. You need benches, you need perhaps a little bit of food, you need music – there are lots of skills that are welcomed by a theatre. We could have called it an arts centre or a community hub but the original idea to call it a theatre is a slight provocation, the idea that you could have a theatre in a refugee camp. Theatre for us has always been somewhere you can go to be safe, but also to have unsafe conversations.”
“A theatre doesn’t just need art when you’re building one. You need benches, you need perhaps a little bit of food, you need music – there are lots of skills that are welcomed by a theatre.”
Place-making with the placeless
Even while Good Chance were based in the Calais refugee camp, “we realised that we were doing something that wasn’t just specific to Calais: it was humanising a situation that was being spoken about in a difficult way, and that model could be applicable to other situations that are not well understood”. Following the partial eviction of the Jungle in March 2016, the Good Chance theatre in Calais was dismantled and brought to London for a nine-day festival: “That was dictated by the people that we were working with, because lots of people reached the UK and they were people who were artists or who became artists. So we thought: let’s take the theatre to the UK and let it be run by these people, and see what happens.”
Following the second, major eviction of the Calais camp in October 2016, many refugees found themselves Paris – where Good Chance followed in January 2017. “If you take the Jungle away from Good Chance what you’re left with is people coming together in a culturally neutral space where there is permission to perform, to listen. There is an emphasis on getting involved if you want to, but you can also sit and watch or go in a corner and draw. That’s still important in places where there are people who don’t feel they have an ability to interact or integrate in a profound way.”
The Paris iteration of Good Chance runs to a similar model to that developed in Calais: effectively, it offers a platform for volunteering artists to “do a week of workshops. The expectation from our side was that this would be a challenging week, filled with pretty much anything you could imagine in a theatre – whether you were good at it or not. The week was a great amount of time: enough to get to know people, but not so much as to demand the kind of emotional commitment that would be lost when they left.” These workshops adhere to a set schedule, because the lives of the refugees using the space “are so chaotic and changeable we feel that it’s important to have an anchor”. In Calais, many evenings offered a communal event, whether film night, spoken word or music performances; and in Paris, each Saturday ended with “The Hope Show: a variety performance, with a focus on sharing what had been made throughout the week, from incredible artistry to people doing ridiculous things like chicken impressions”.
In Paris the schedule has developed to offer “different stations inside and outside the theatre, with things like carpentry, or sculpture-making, or cooking, or drawing, while theatre workshops happen in the theatre. It’s important that a theatre welcomes people with different skills.”
The challenge of bureaucracy
Although becoming a charity has afforded Good Chance the opportunity to access funds beyond the donations of well-wishers, it has also brought significant challenges – particularly in the area of evaluation. The company’s work “doesn’t fit into an evaluative structure that we’re aware of. How would you evaluate the feeling in a workshop when you’ve got all these different people together improvising? How do you evaluate the change in people from when you meet them in the morning in the street or in the refugee welcome centre and you say do you like music, do you want to come to this, to in the evening when we walk back with them and say, we’ll see you tomorrow? We can’t give out a survey, or even get people to press a smiley face at the end of the day, because it would fundamentally change the whole idea.”
Not having answers to those questions is “a good, interesting challenge: we’re determined to press forward something that does fulfil those obligations but doesn’t change what we know to be true about the way that we’re working. Because we can’t do that and remain responsible to the people that we work with.”
Recognising that the refugee crisis will be ongoing for years to come, Good Chance argue for the need to ”question how we welcome people into our towns and cities and villages and rural places, and make the best of everyone’s skills and talents and personalities”. Initially the company intends to other cities facing similar issues to Paris, including Athens and Istanbul; but it also dreams of creating a home for itself in the UK: “A building entirely run by refugees and migrants where people who arrive can go and be listened to and then if they want to stay on and run the place. And then that building builds domes where they’re needed in other places, around the world.” These theatres might reach out not only to refugees but all “disadvantaged people”.
“People can really do it, but for some reason feel like they can’t.”
To push forwards the company needs not just money but “great volunteers: artists who are courageous, responsible, sensitive, who want to explore the world and learn new languages and culture. We need people to do this in their own communities or other communities and to be fearless about building something that brings people together. People can really do it, but for some reason feel like they can’t.”