We're called Pipeline Theatre, and we write and tour plays that engage with important issues - mental health, the use of AI in dementia care, drone warfare, the online sex industry, immigration, fostering. We do this with a light touch - our plays are character driven, funny, moving.
We've been developing our latest play, 'Drip Drip Drip', for over a year now (we took it on a pilot tour early in 2019 with some superb actors, and it went down a storm). It looks at racism, Islamophobia, migration and the refugee experience, and is set in the NHS. We're taking the final, re-developed piece on tour nationally (including a London run) in early 2020, and to that end we've recently been holding new casting auditions.
During that process we met Yonas*, a young Ethiopian refugee, who's been in the country for a few years, following a perilous journey common to many refugees, and is trying to make his way as an actor (he used to act in Ethiopia, before he left, and is trained in circus skills). He's a member of a persecuted ethnic minority, hence his need to leave Ethiopia. Over the course of two auditions it became clear that his English wasn't yet at a level to allow us to use him for the part he was auditioning for, given the nuance and complexity of the many conversations that are needed in a rehearsal room. However, he's clearly a very good actor, his improvising skills are great, and we really want to give him a chance.
To do that, we've decided to create a new character, just for him, that will add a new layer to the play, as well as give him an opportunity to work with us. As a quick synopsis: In the play there are three main characters: a Muslim, female, second generation immigrant Doctor; a white, older cancer patient; and an Eritrean refugee called Daniel, who's doing his best as a trainee nurse. The cancer patient is a discredited academic, an advocate of pseudo 'race-science', Islamophobe and anti-immigrant. Through the play Daniel and the Muslim Doctor have their status, their identities, their family stories, and their hopes and dreams profoundly challenged - perhaps even shattered, even whilst caring for, and developing relationships with, this dying, toxic character. Yonas's character will be someone with whom Daniel has a brotherly bond, someone who is not thriving, a presence (almost ghostly) that weaves in and out of the central narrative, and whose needs force Daniel to compromise his professionalism, raising the tension in the increasingly high-stakes confrontations between 'ordinary people' and 'ideas'.
This new part will allow Yonas to use his skills and his own language, without the risk of him feeling exposed in a more pivotal part. It will also enable him, and us, to express the truth of his experiences to audiences. Alongside rehearsals we'll also be arranging free English lessons for Yonas to help him with both the rehearsal process, and his life in this country, going forward. As well as this we'll set up any extra counselling support he might require, as obviously the subject matter is close-to-home. We have of course made him fully aware of the story and the parallels with his own experiences, and after three and a half hours of audition time, including improvisations on those themes, as well talking extensively with people who have worked with him before, both he and we are confident in his capacity and enthusiasm to play this part.
Paying him to perform this new part, plus his accommodation during rehearsals and tour, and also the English lessons, will require extra money for the project. We've just received our Arts Council funding for play, which we submitted before we met Yonas, which means we can't back to the Arts Council, as they are unable to offer more money for the same project. So we're looking for funds from elsewhere. We think that an extra £3,500 will cover the additional costs, and any means of us getting close to that figure through crowdfunding would make the difference between us being able to offer Yonas this opportunity or not. And obviously - we really really want to! And just as obviously - he also really really wants us to be able to! It would give him a much needed sense of belonging and purpose in a new and understandably alien environment, after having been forced to leave his homeland, and experiencing a journey that few of us would ever willingly take.
There will be rewards, largely connected with performances, but any donations would make a massive difference, and ultimately give you and others the opportunity to see Yonas in action, on stage!
* We're currently using an alternative name at the actor's request for safeguarding purposes.