Pöyhönen, Sari, Lehtonen, Jussi & Raad, Harith: Transforming journeys and shaping realities in a documentary theatre project

An American theatre artist and scholar Jules Odendahl-James (2017) writes how documentary theatre simultaneously questions and shapes the reality. By giving space to lesser known and counter-narrative aspects of the reality it inverts the margin and the centre, and interrogates the structures of authority. This paper is based on a documentary theatre project Other Home, which took place in the Finnish National Theatre in 2016-2017 (Lehtonen & Pöyhönen 2019). Other Home illuminated how refugee artists were navigating the labyrinth of the Finnish asylum system, and how asylum authorities questioned their artistic experience and careers. It also described various struggles in the process of integration and settlement in Finland.

In this presentation we examine how people from different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and art forms come together and create a hybrid community of artistic expression in a documentary theatre project Other Home. We will focus on the journey of one member of the community, a video journalist and an actor Harith, who had several roles in the production: a project assistant, an interpreter, and an actor.

The presentation draws on various materials: personal accounts and narratives, rehearsals of the performance, and a documentary film based on the Other Home. We explore the affective aspects of Harith’s experience as a refugee artist, and the ways in which his journey was developing during the documentary theatre project.  We also discuss how Jussi as a theatre director and an artist-researcher and Sari as a researcher and ethnographer of the project aimed at shaping reality through various actions of activism including policy briefs, letters to the editor, and expert’s statements.

Lehtonen, J. & Pöyhönen, S. (2019). Documentary theatre as a platform for hope and social justice. In E. Anttila & A. Suominen (eds.) Critical Articulations of Hope from the Margins of Arts Education. International Perspectives and Practices. London: Routledge, 31-44.