Every once in a while, a stage production comes along that does more than just entertain. It deeply stirs our emotions, nudges at our conscience, and challenges our way of thinking. Why us? is one such production, being performed next week at Sydney’s Seymour Centre.
What makes Why us? so compelling is its authenticity. It doesn’t stage a fictional representation. Instead, it brings to light the real-life stories of young refugees who have braved adversity and sought refuge in Australia. Each story is as heart-wrenching and authentic as the last.
Presented by the Treehouse Theatre, Why us? conveys the hopes, fears, dreams and realities faced by these young performers. It invites the audience, through tears, laughter, and moments of reflection, to truly immerse themselves in the lived experiences of these courageous individuals.
The Treehouse Theatre, known for its passion for giving voice to underrepresented narratives, crafts this show with sensitivity and depth. They’ve successfully created a platform where young refugees, torn from their homes by war, conflict, or persecution, can share their life stories with an Australian audience.
The mission of the Treehouse Theatre is two-fold. Firstly, using recognised psychology-informed frameworks, it aims to facilitate trauma recovery for their young refugee cast. Sharing stories under the care and guidance of a psychologist during the rehearsal process becomes a form of exposure therapy, allowing them to process and release the harrowing memories of their past. The second goal of the Treehouse Theatre is to educate the Australian public, especially the younger generation, about the refugee experience.
Catherine Maguire-Donvito, a Co-Founder and Director of the Treehouse Theatre, explains that Why us? is structured into three parts: stories from the performers’ childhood, their traumatic experiences as a refugee, and their resettlement in Australia. “The performances are carefully structured,” Catherine elaborated. “First are the fun, funny childhood stories. Then come the traumatic stories of their refugee experiences, followed by their tales of resettlement, which combine triumph and survival with humour.”
Catherine’s colleague and Treehouse Theatre Co-founder, George Rosier, highlights the profound impact the performance has on families too. “One thing we’ve found is that families who’ve been through this usually don’t talk about it. I’ll never forget seeing a parent in tears at the end of the show saying they didn’t know their child felt that way.” George also recounts the story of one performer who, after the show, went from being a bullying target to one of the most respected kids in school.
The format of Why us? is a series of about 25 short vignettes, with no trauma survivors ever playing their own roles, as it could be too traumatic. Instead, they act as witnesses or narrators. Co-Founder and Director of the Treehouse Theatre, Ruth Hartcher-O’Brien, leverages her drama teaching background to guide the performers to deliver their vignettes with emotion, and theatrical technique.
One vignette performed in a previous Treehouse Theatre production stands out as a touching illustration of the scars, both visible and invisible, that these young refugees carry. The story revolves around a Kurdish boy from Iran, who in his past was beaten and whipped with a bike chain. As part of the performance, a heart-wrenching image of his scarred back was projected on the screen. The depth of his suffering was highlighted by an unexpected revelation from a teacher who attended the performance. The teacher shared that he had reprimanded the boy for repeatedly slouching in his chair during class, completely unaware of the traumatic backstory that caused his posture.
After being subjected to experiences like this, it’s no wonder these young performers are left asking “Why us?”.
War rips your world apart, shredding your life in a flash of violence, and leaving your family adrift without any place to call home. You have a new name now – Refugee – and a new life to construct. This is the true experience of young survivors who through performance share their stories of joy and horror, humour and pain, loss and belonging.
Dates: 2 & 3 November 2023
Venue: Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Tickets: BOOK HERE