Tell your own story, my brother.
The plight of refugees has become a pillar of our public consciousness, with increasingly alarming regularity in recent years. We speak of refugees in so many ways – as victims of war and climate change, the legacy of violent unrest, the subject of hate rhetoric and legislation. But most of this talk is on refugees – it’s much rarer to hear their stories first-hand unless you are actively engaged in this space.
Enter Flight, the latest Studio Theater production.
Flight, based on the novel by Caroline Brothers Countryside, follows orphaned Afghan brothers Aryan and Kabir on their perilous journey from Afghanistan through Europe to join their uncle in London. Throughout their story, the boys recite their itinerary, with varying degrees of hope, wonder and despair: Kabul-Tehran-Istanbul-Athens-Rome-Paris-London. The show and novel reveal to audiences the dangers they face as unaccompanied migrant children – from sea crossings and forced labor to abuses and threats from authorities – as well as moments of human kindness and support. Through their eyes, we learn about their decision to leave their home and what they hope to find in England, and what propels them through the darker parts of their odyssey. Brothers based her novel on the “lost boys” she met, interviewed and reported while covering makeshift refugee camps in France; she then expanded into the novel to better explore issues of global responsibility to children like Aryan and Kabir, and to delve deeper into their own stories. By letting Aryan and Kabir tell their own story, Studio’s production gives audiences greater insight into a complex issue and a human face to an idea that, thankfully, is abstract to many.
Studio’s production is not unique in its perspective alone. In the Age of Covid, we’ve seen theaters adapt to the pandemic, but this particular experience felt unique. Flight, directed by Candice edmunds and Jamie harrison, is presented as an individual experience, but always in the theater rather than at home. Viewers are taken to individual booths surrounding a rotating carousel and immersed in the story of Aryan and Kabir through a recording while watching dioramas that spin in front of the viewer to the beat of the narrative; essentially, viewers are immersed in a 3D graphic novel. The dioramas, created by Scottish theater company Vox Motus and adapted by Oliver Emanuel, are beautifully detailed sculptures and paintings in light boxes that highlight each scene as it passes the viewer through time to recording. . The carousel in the center of the structure actually rotates twice, so the stages are carefully placed to use the space, and the result is an incredibly intelligent and immersive production. It seems counterintuitive that such an isolated experience would work for live theater, but other than a slight need to adjust to the initially loud headphones (especially unlike the quiet room when you walk in), I still felt connected. in a way that I don’t think I could have felt at home or looked through a screen. The particular medium also allowed some intriguing creativity to tell the story of the brothers; flashbacks and dream scenes were presented in less precise pieces, the crisp lines of reality fading into thought. More difficult and violent moments were presented artistically in a way that conveyed the message without forcing viewers to watch those moments in full. And, in a way that simply couldn’t exist in live or recorded productions, using these dioramas resulted in beautifully detailed views of every place the brothers traveled, allowing audiences to share. their wonder and alienation. This latter sentiment was also supported by the production’s decision not to translate the conversations with any of the strangers it encountered; like the brothers, audiences try to deduce what is being said, but are unlikely to fully understand, an immersive technique that has been particularly effective.
In truth, I have only one complaint to make with this production: I found the end a little abrupt. There is an emotional climax towards the end of the story that can and should hit viewers hard. However, the storytelling and spinning rushed towards the poetic conclusion, which left me both frustrated that I didn’t have time to register and react to the climax and in turn disappointed that my attempt mental processing distracted me from the magnificent fence. I feel like a few more moments to sit down with the aftermath of this event – as well as explore the fallout for the Second Brother and the conclusion of their journey – would have been welcome and would have made the story d ‘all the more powerful.
Overall, however, Flight is an experience that will stick with viewers, as it should. It’s a particularly poignant production in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, though it’s also a reminder that stories like Aryan and Kabir’s existed long before and will continue to exist long after the political and military dust will have settled. But Studio’s production is a beautiful, clever presentation of a heart-wrenching story and perfectly captures the love, hope and loss that drives refugees – and all of us.
The Studio Theater production of Flight is played until March 6, 2022. The run time is approximately 45 minutes. Audiences experience the performance through individual headsets in personal viewing booths and are limited to 25 clients at a time. Please note that the production contains brief flashing lights, loud sound effects and periods of total darkness as well as danger scenes and a brief description of sexual assault. This production is not recommended for audiences under the age of 13, and some audience members found the experience of watching the show to be claustrophobic. More information and tickets can be found on the Studio Theater website.
Studio Theater also highlighted Resources for those who wish to assist unaccompanied minors like those featured in the production, including Tahirih Justice Center, Afghan asylum project, and Children in need of defense (KIND).