In the rehearsal rooms at Hope Studios in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Dr Cathy Wilcock has just brought to a close the first creative workshop for Be // Longing – a theatrical performance that will place the University’s Manchester Migration Lab quite literally in the spotlight.
As she takes a seat, Dr Wilcock says: "Today has been thoroughly enjoyable. This was our first session with Take Back Theatre – the company we’re working with to develop a piece of theatre that brings the Lab’s research to life.
"The performance sessions today have shown us just how much impact theatre can have and how it can convey so much depth in a matter of minutes."
Informing the debate
Dr Wilcock is coordinator of the Manchester Migration Lab and a driving force in its creative direction. The Lab is planning to use writing, theatre and live events to support its invaluable academic research in informing debates on international inequalities and migration issues.
Co-convened by the Global Development Institute’s Dr Tanja Müller and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute’s Professor Bertrand Taithe, the Lab brings together more than 70 researchers across the University’s Schools and Institutes. Dr Wilcock explains: "As well as developing some exciting research bids, we’re also hosting a number of academic workshops with leading migration researchers from all over Europe and the UK.
"Topics are wide-ranging: one covers diaspora and political engagement; another looks at refugees and self-reliance in urban settings."
The Lab’s flagship event is their international conference – ‘World on the Move: Migration, Societies and Change’ – which will include a debate on Brexit.
"We’re also working with non-academic collaborators and the conference leads straight into the piece of theatre we were working on today, which will be performed at Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats from 31 October until 4 November.
"I’ve also been leading on a newspaper-writing project with Manchester-based asylum seekers and journalists. The idea is to challenge problematic and manipulative media representation and offer our own account: ‘Not the Fake News’."
The performance sessions today have shown us just how much impact theatre can have and how it can convey so much depth in a matter of minutes.
The perception of migration is one of the key drivers behind the development of the Manchester Migration Lab. "Public opinion on migration has been irresponsibly manipulated for political and ideological reasons by the right-wing press," Dr Wilcock says. "A lot of popular discourse is very far removed from the actual facts.
"This is one of the reasons why we’re keen to collaborate with creative practitioners – it’s essential that academic researchers make use of as many communication channels as possible in order to expose these myths.
"Our creative strand is extremely important in helping us to achieve our aim of communicating widely. We want to produce something engaging and insightful that helps the Lab build networks with civil society, activists and grass roots and international migration NGOs, while also raising awareness of migration research at The University of Manchester."
Starting a more informed conversation
The Manchester Migration Lab is working on ‘Be // Longing’ with Take Back Theatre – the company set up by actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, writer Becx Harrison and visual artist Grant Archer as an artistic response to the politics of austerity.
They commission urgent, short, script-in-hand pieces of theatre in response to social and political events, and their aim is about "coming together as an artistic community and starting a conversation".
Be // Longing will be performed at Hope Mill Theatre from Tuesday, 31 October –Saturday, 4 November 2017. Tickets are available from www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk