Artist-In-Residence Week V

In June and July 2014, I will be spending two months as a writer-in-residence at Teatru Salesjan in Malta, creating new work and holding workshop sessions under the name ‘Beyond Borders’. This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Part of the process will be writing down my experiences weekly.

This week was filled with beautiful sceneries, returning to Mdina for inspiration, the Dutch team winning with penalties, followed by a beautiful day at the beach with my neighbours and some of their friends. But there was also a lot of writing and several conversations about my writing and what I’m addressing. Therefore, I feel the need to write about the intentions of the play.

Immigration is a difficult topic. There are no satisfying solutions and it forces people to think about borders of nation states, of Europe and their personal ones. When and why are they crossed? And when does fear turn into hate? But I’m not writing a play about immigration or refugees. It’s not solely political and it doesn’t want to provide solutions, nor a dystopian view.
The play is about fear. Simple human fears. Fear of being left alone, of unrealistic threats, of loving someone too much, of losing everything. And the people that stay in Mdina are all afraid.

Siri is afraid to take life into her own hands, so she blames her husband for it. Carl – the historian – needs to write ‘The History of Malta as I see it’ because he is afraid that things will change. That a cathedral might not be renovated, that the ancient temples eventually will be eroded by Maltese summer and harsh weather. He’s afraid of the future and so he defends the past. The Fat Lady that lies on his sofa is afraid she has no real purpose in life. Scared she might be seen as this fat, useless piece of nothing. Yet she believes the right time will come.  Paul is projecting all his fears onto the refugees, blaming them for everything. Even for his own inabilities.

And Oliver is waiting for his breakthrough as a journalist and staying in Malta is an excuse; if he fails at least it’s not his fault. He falls in love with Siri and he becomes her way out. Daisy is afraid of not having enough money. She guides the tourists although she knows they’re only here to see the refugees; almost like dolphin watching.

They are all afraid. And they all are trying to deal with that in a world that scares them, in a world that dictates you to respond because you can’t deny things have changed. So, I needed to create a world that shows no obvious solutions because I believe there are none. I need the refugee problem because I believe it shows our discontent, our fears and our insecurity at its worst. And after that, also show there is hope and a beautiful ending possible. Because there is so much beauty.

Yesterday someone said: “Sometimes you have to leave Malta for a few days to realise what a beautiful country it is we’re living in.”

I think that’s right. I’m not showing this future Malta because I think this is what’s going to happen. I’m showing it so that people again realise that there’s a lot of beauty to be found here. Beauty that often goes unrecognized. I want people to celebrate the beauty of their country rather than filling the cracks and corners with fear, discontent and unhappiness. And I want to show that the thing you should fear the most is being afraid.

I wrote a lot about my research on immigration and might have given the wrong impression, as I’m not trying to create a depressing dystopian world that we should conceive as a possibility. Yet one conversation resulted in a ‘warning’:
“You have to be careful that this play will not be fuel for the wrong people.”

And it made me think (and slightly upset): To which extent is a writer accountable for the opinions of his audience? And do we therefore need to alter the play? I have no solid answer. But I did decide to change the structure just a little, to make sure that the message I want to send comes across. Not out of self-censorship. But I think it is helpful to listen to all the input you’re getting and decide if you want to do something with it.
I changed something about the army of refugees. They are still there as a possible threat – or so they think – but I make it clear in the end that there was never an army. It was just an idea in the heads of the people, that allowed for silly choices to be made.

Apart from the changes, the fact still is that this given ‘warning’ was also about fear. Even if you fear the thoughts of those people who fear other people, change, immigrants etc., than it’s still fear that rules your thinking. And I think it shouldn’t.
And it shouldn’t get in the way of writing.

It’s difficult, but yet good to have these discussions during the writing process. It tells me that what I write matters. Now all I need to do is use these last three weeks to create a beautiful play and continue discussing about how one feels about it. So it can only become even better in the end…

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