I was honoured to be invited to the 2016 Families in Global Transition conference in Amsterdam, as a David C. Pollock Scholar. Over three packed days, a few hundred Third Culture Kids, expats, immigrants, and nomads gathered together to explore the deep connections of our international community, and new ways to build bridges to the wider world.
Families in Global Transition is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. We promote cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world. www.figt.org
I’m still processing the incredible time I had in Amsterdam, meeting loads of new people, talking about my work in a new way (everyone there already knew about Third Culture Kids – so the element that needed to be explained was experimental verbatim theatre), and learning about all the wonderful initiatives and resources out there for TCKs and globally mobile families.
There was a huge focus on empathy and storytelling, on compassion, on inclusivity, on research, on understanding, on bridge-building. There was a palpable sense of welcome; even though plenty of people were celebrating an annual reunion with friends from around the world, I never felt left out as a first-timer.
Instead, I was in awe of the inspiring history of this community, the TCK pioneers who first gave us a name, pushed for research funding, and put us on the map. The conference itself has grown from a kitchen table conversation in Indianapolis in 1997 to an international event this year. (Next time I’m feeling frustrated about how long it takes to conceive, fund, produce, and create a piece of theatre, I will think of Ruth Van Reken and her 20-year vision.)
It’s difficult to summarise those three busy days into something coherent, so I’ll choose to focus on a new idea that popped up, about how Home Is Where… might contribute to the bigger picture of what’s happening with TCKs all over the world.
It’s always been my ambition to tour the production beyond London – I know that it’s going to be a challenge just to get the minimal team of 7 of us on the road, along with all our props, set, and other equipment. I want to take these stories out to areas of the country that have less exposure to “Others,” where we can offer an alternative to fear-based mainstream messages about people who are “not from here.”
Lately I’ve been wondering about touring even beyond the UK, to festivals and venues in Europe. It’s even more of a logistical challenge, but there are specific funding opportunities for artists bringing their work across cultures and across borders, especially into Europe (…for now. We’ll see what happens with UK’s EU Referendum…)
And then at FIGT, the whole world opens up, and I started to wonder if we could take this to Hong Kong or Singapore, where there are huge communities of internationally mobile people. What about South Africa? Brazil? The States? At what point does this become too big, too expensive, too long-term? (After all, I’m sure my wonderful cast will want to perform in other pieces of theatre eventually…) Is there some other heart of the project that can become internationally mobile, something that’s easier to move than 7 artists?
I’ve forgotten who said the word “franchisable” to me, in passing, after a session about something else. Thank you, mystery muse! A revolutionary word, an idea so big that in the moment, the logical (stubborn) part of my brain said “No, that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what I was thinking at all.” But of course, one of the central tenets of devising theatre is that the best idea in the room wins, and it can come from anywhere. Even if it totally upends everything you were thinking, it’s the best idea in the room. And it wins.
So that idea kept working on me, and became this:
What if we created a version of Home Is Where… that could tour WITHOUT US? Not to replace the London production and UK/European tour – because I still want to take the piece to new communities and foster dialogue there, find out what people are thinking, run workshops with audiences – but to supplement our in-person work and send these ideas out to places in the world we can’t get to. Because we are finite human beings, with finite time and resources.
What if we published a “create your own” Home Is Where… so that teachers at international schools could do their own version of the piece with their students? There would be a central story with central characters that don’t change – the bit we’re writing and devising this summer – and then students could do interviews in their own communities which would be popped into the existing structure of the piece. Choose 3 responses to the question “where are you from” and insert them here between scenes 1 and 2. Choose 2 stories about feeling out of place and insert them here between scenes 3 and 4. Plug and play verbatim theatre.
Home Is Where… might have just become truly global in its potential. And I think I’ve just signed up a few extra years of my life to this project. Let’s go.
Everything feels just a little bit more possible, nested in the supportive community of Families in Global Transition. I’ve become an FIGT member so I can keep in touch throughout the year, and hopefully get myself back to Amsterdam in 2017 (our first stop on a European tour of Home Is Where…?). I’ve made new connections in the UK and all over the world, people who are interested in getting involved, telling their stories, supporting the piece, suggesting tour venues, bringing their local communities to the theatre.
Huge thanks to everyone at the conference this year, and especially to Michael Pollock and the scholarship committee for inviting me to join you all. Three cheers for the TCK tribe!