Changing the Narrative
When Lara Parmiani, as a young actress and theatre-maker, arrived in the UK from Italy, twenty years ago, she struggled to get lead roles on stage due to her Italian accent, despite speaking English fluently. While London had a cosmopolitan reputation globally, the West End Theatre did not reflect this. The accents on stage were not heard, and if they were, it was as a parody of foreign nationalities or one line from a bit part.
Lara did succeed in fringe theatre, and she found a commonality with other non-British artists, forming LegalAliens Theatre. A company of UK-based international artists uses theatre as a means of discussing social issues, politics and for provoking change. LegalAliens wants to change the narrative on migration and the ‘refugee crisis’. Their stage plays use different nationalities, accents, languages to expose audiences to more diversity.
LegalAliens began running free theatre classes allowing migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers to learn English and acting, meet others that shared their background or similar challenges.
Hosted in Tottenham–one of the most diverse but also deprived areas in the Borough of Haringey, North London–the classes were open to everyone, no matter their level of English or their experience. The sessions offer a safe space for people to meet, learn, and make friends while being creative.
“Many migrant communities stick together and cluster in an area, which means the opportunity to practice English is actually limited.”
Simple theatre games, storytelling and improvisation encourage conversation in a fun manner. Vocal exercises (articulation, breathing, pronunciation) build confidence, and are popular with people who are shy and scared to speak. Participants are encouraged to invent stories, work on storytelling, free writing, and creativity. Traditional acting techniques (like Meisner’s “repetitions” or Lecoq’s “states of tension”) are taught to develop speaking skills as well as confidence. The groups use extracts from contemporary and classic plays, to practice reading, build vocabulary and create characters.
URB_ART spoke to Lara Parmiani, artistic director and founder member of LegalAliens (www.legalalienstheatre.com), a women-led ensemble of international theatre-makers who have made the UK their home. They collaborate with artists from any background, irrespective of ethnicity, language, or nationality. Most of LegalAliens’ work is in direct response to the need for migrant theatre-makers to feel seen and represented, and they use theatre as a tool to foster inclusion.