Placed in the middle of Broad Street in Oxford, our transparent shipping container was the centrepiece of our Decisions and Journey performance at the Oxfordshire Science Festival on the 25th of June 2016. The performance focused on individual motivations for people from countries in conflict to stay or go, and the different aspects of their journey. By engaging the audience, we asked them the question: what would you do?

Would you go? 
Our custom-designed transparent container, furnished with a bright green grass mat and colourful beanbags and cushions looked very attractive in the otherwise grey and busy main street. Someone was playing the guitar. People who came near the container were offered a hand massage.

But although everybody who passed it must have seen it, few people came closer to have a better look. Some were busy. Others were shy. There were many reasons not to cross the physical, social and psychological boundaries into our attractive looking but unfamiliar container. With their behaviour the people on Broad Street showed an important pattern of migration: most people don’t do it. Only three per cent of the world’s population is a migrant. Even if things seem better elsewhere, it takes courage to overcome all the boundaries of leaving home and going to an unknown place.

What makes home to you?
Those people who were courageous enough to step into our colourful container were rewarded with a hand massage. On the most rainy day of the year, the improvised roof over the container provided a dry space. There was cake. Gentle live guitar music on the side of the container contributed even more to the warm and hospitable atmosphere. It led to conversations about what makes one feel at home. Our guests told stories about their own homes and journeys, and whether they considered themselves ‘movers’ or ‘stayers’ in life. Depending on their answer, we offered them a fortune cookie, containing a phrase of wisdom from one of the interviewees from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bosnia-Herzegovina, on their reasons to stay or go, which sometimes related very closely to our guests’ own experiences.

What would make you leave home?
While we comfortably chatted away with our guests,  the situation was all of a sudden disrupted. Cushions were pulled away, chairs were moved. A conflict emerged. The container was no longer safe, but became an unpredictable, hostile place. People started leaving, confused about what was happening to their previously fun experience. Leaving home is not something people do easily. Many would not leave if they did not feel they had to.

How far would you go to be safe?
A performance of a chaotic journey started, up and over the roof, away from the container. Actors travelled over each other, using and helping each other to move forward. They showed key moments in these journeys. The performance showed that migration journeys are never a straight line from origin to destination. For most, it is a continuous trail of both hardship and hope. With every step, decisions have to be made and boundaries have to be crossed. This is why most people on the move will stay close to their place of origin – only a fraction of migrants and refugees travel further afield and reach Europe.

At the end of the performance, the audience was invited to share their personal stories with us. Gradually, we started creating home again and giving hand massages. And the cycle of home, disruption, conflict and journeys started again.

Decisions and Journeys is part of the CONTAINED trilogy of theatrical performances that connect experience, research, and creative learning to create dialogues and more understanding about migration. The performance was based on stories of migrants, told to dr. Marieke van Houte in her research on migration in conflict countries. You can read these stories here. The team of the performance on Broad Street consisted of: Creative Director Anja Meinhardt – Research Director Marieke van Houte – Performers Remco Heijmans – Steve Hay – Sparrow – Sarah Jane Clarke – Daniella Cromwell – Federica Infantino – Dominic Heaney – Dan MacMahon – Frederike Otto – Sonja Wiencke – Anja Meinhardt – Marieke van Houte – Film Ben Johnston – Set Simon Dormon – Dramaturgy Joakim Daun.