Italy’s migrant drama moves from sea to stage

By Angus MacKinnon, AFP

ROME — Joseph Eyube always felt there was a performer inside him waiting to get out. ��I’m a funny man,�� says the Nigerian asylum seeker. ��Sometimes when I was watching TV or a movie, I would think, ‘I could do better than that guy.’ ��It all depends on your mind. If you know really you can do it, it is possible.�� Now Eyube has been given his chance to prove to the world that his self confidence is justified. Eight months after he landed in Italy, the 34-year-old is one of the stars of a new production that has brought the epic drama of migrants’ journeys from Africa to Europe, across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, to the Italian stage. Asylum seekers make up 20 of the 30-strong cast of ��Sabbia�� (Sand), an original piece conceived by director Riccardo Vannuccini that emerged from a six-month theater workshop run by the ArteStudio company in the Castelnuovo di Porto reception center on the outskirts of Rome. Sabbia had its first two showings at the weekend in Rome’s prestigious Teatro Argentina and there are plans to take it around a country grappling with the pressures and polemics generated by the arrival of unprecedented numbers of migrants on its southern shores. Eyube, like nearly all the others in the Castelnuovo center, arrived there after being plucked from a floundering people-smugglers’ boat in the Mediterranean. He grabbed the chance of working with ArteStudio, a company that specializes in producing theater in war zones and prisons and involving displaced people, the disabled and torture victims. ��I never had the opportunity to try theater or anything like that before,�� Eyube said, explaining how preparing for Sabbia had allowed him to offset the tedium of endless days spent waiting for news on the progress of his application to stay permanently in Italy. ��I needed something to keep me moving. A man cannot live only sleeping and eating, sleeping and eating,�� he said in a break from rehearsals. His role involves delivering the ��To be or not to be,�� soliloquy from Shakespeare’s ��Hamlet�� in his rich baritone voice. T.S. Eliot’s epic poem ��The Waste Land�� and the paintings of Jackson Pollock are also referenced in the contemporary production. ‘Grace of God’

Director Vannuccini’s resume includes a piece called ��Al Hodood�� that was produced in Jordan with the help of refugees from neighboring Syria and a production of ��Hamlet�� in Hebron, in the Palestinian territories. He says his latest work is not trying to make any particular point about Italy’s migration crisis, instead framing his objective as a greater understanding of the forces driving it.