Carlota Matos
9 min readJul 21, 2022


I was recently awarded a Developing your Creative Practice (DYCP) grant from Arts Council England to upscale my work with a focus on access and inclusive practice. Through this period of professional development, I will research issues related to working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, learn about widening access for Deaf and disabled artists and participants in my work, expand my network of collaborators in the Southwest and gain a better understanding of what kind of work I want to make. As part of my planned activity, which runs until mid-April 2023, I am writing some blogs to consolidate my learning and share my findings (though I might have more questions than answers!).

Bristol Refugee Festival
My first step was to attend Bristol Refugee Festival events throughout June, including a family theatre show, art workshop, boat trip and art exhibitions. I noticed the festival flyers had a QR code for translations in 22 languages, available on the website. I also attended a Refugee Celebration Peace Feast, organised by Bridges for Communities, which was eye-opening. Cultures were shared, different languages spoken, and we heard first-hand accounts of seeking refuge. Some questions were brought up such as: When do you stop being a refugee? What happens when you form a family in a different country, and your children have no connection with your country of origin? What happens if you want to go back? I watched the film Dear Home Office at the Watershed, which shines a light on the UK asylum system through the lived experience of recent asylum seekers and refugees. In the Q&A afterwards, the panel spoke about how they developed the script through workshops on Zoom for people with lived experience of the asylum process. In approaching personal stories, they started with the theme of scrutinising the system. Images were used as inspiration to discuss themes, and there was an openness about where the topic might lead to. Everyone’s roles were defined from the outset, as well as the commitment required. Participants were involved in every step of the process: the team would go away and work on some material, then come back and get thoughts and opinions. On 24th June, Little Amal, a 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian child refugee, visited Bristol for the first time. Thousands of people came together for a meaningful walk with pop-up performances, chants in support of refugees, and ending with Amal waving goodbye as she disappeared from the Harbour on board a ferry.

Migration Matters Festival
I spent 2 days in Sheffield for Migration Matters Festival, an arts festival that celebrates the positive impact migration and refugees have had on Sheffield and the UK. I found the Roma Genocide exhibition (Healing Hidden Identities) particularly inspiring. Along with World Refugee Awareness Month and Pride Month, June is also Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. There were speakers and performances throughout the day, including by Irish, Polish and Hong Kong community members, focusing on using the arts to help heal past and current tensions. I attended a Story Cafe as well — an invitation to sit down, have a cup of tea, and share our migration story. I like the idea, however, the stories were audio recorded and there was a lack of clarity as to how the recordings will be used. I watched some compelling theatre and performance work by migrant artists, of which I would highlight Windows of Displacement by Akeim Toussaint Buck, a dance theatre show around migration, home, borders and identity. I realised I am much more engrossed in the moments where a performer speaks as themselves directly to the audience. The challenge in making theatre about our own experiences is to keep an aspect of “unrehearsedness”. Through writing, blocking and rehearsing something, it can gain an artificiality that is not so interesting to me, but that is often needed to create a “separation” from the material and avoid reliving trauma. So how do we keep the essence of telling a story for the first time? The feedback form for one of the pieces asked “Where is home?” which is an interesting way of gathering data about diverse audiences but, for some, this question may not be so simple to answer. The festival is successful in placing Sheffield as a city of sanctuary, though I was disappointed to find a lot of the venues were not wheelchair accessible.

LegalAliens Theatre
In early July, I had the opportunity to shadow a day of rehearsals and a public performance of Ali in Wonder(Eng)land, the latest piece created by LegalAliens Theatre’s community group, at The Space in London. With a cast of 10 migrants, who co-devised the piece, they adapted the story of Alice in Wonderland, with everyone playing a character (and each actor playing Alice at some point), but also moments of people playing themselves and sharing personal stories. There is something very powerful about seeing someone “real” on stage. There were different languages spoken, which I find captivating, and a strong sense of ensemble. The participants reflected on how this experience has improved their mental health and wellbeing. The caricatures and stereotypes of English people present in the piece made me wonder how we can avoid alienating English audiences and those who don’t have lived experience when making work about migration. Through this project, I found out that LUSH has a community fund.

I have been reflecting on how we can break down language barriers in theatre making and workshops. Perhaps it is less about changing the exercises and practice, and more about creating non-judgemental, welcoming environments where it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t understand something, as they are not afraid to ask. In truth, confusion and misunderstanding can happen in any group, not just those who don’t have English as first language. I think we could all benefit from normalising and embracing the vulnerability of asking for clarification.

I had a very insightful conversation with 6Million+, an organisation based in Huddersfield that develops creative projects with refugees and local communities. In their arts projects, participants often act as translators for each other and interpreters are hired when needed. We spoke about how we can make sure everyone is paid fairly for their creative contributions, which becomes tricky when someone is in a situation where they can’t be paid (certain benefits or asylum process). Ways of getting around this are to pay in food vouchers or buy someone the resources and equipment that they need, for example, musical instruments, sound speakers or painting materials. Providing food and drinks in all sessions and allowing time to connect during break times is essential. I loved hearing about people bringing their own cultural foods and swapping recipes. I truly believe eating is a great way of bringing people together (although I do wonder how we can support those who have difficult relationships with food). Some people may not be interested in theatre or creative activities, but we all have a need for human connection. 6Million+ usually use a message as a starting point rather than deciding what the final product/event will be. This way, they avoid alienating those who don’t see themselves as creative. Step by step, participants develop the confidence to perform on stage. Theatre shows benefit from a combination of serious and light-hearted moments. Sharing culture and connecting with people different from us is joyous and that should be included in the work, especially when our aim is to change perceptions.

Collective Encounters
What are the ethical considerations we need to have to ensure our work is not exploitative? Does making work about migration reduce migrants to being “just” migrants, perpetuating a dangerous governmental and media narrative? It is true that being a migrant can be a big part of our identity, but perhaps exploring identity as a theme, and what makes us who we are, is more interesting. There is a children’s picture book titled My Name is Not Refugee which I am looking forward to reading. I recently attended an Open Space online event by Collective Encounters (as part of their Centre for Excellence in Participatory Theatre), centred around ethics and theatre from lived experience, and we had a breakout room discussion about the role of a facilitator in this type of work. Although it is not necessary for the facilitator to have lived experience of the topic, that can help create an immediate connection and an understanding which comes from shared experience. However, as the holder of the space, we need to be careful with sharing our own experiences and what we are requiring of others. There is also value in being an “outsider”. Explaining a situation to someone who doesn’t know what it’s like or who is not from the same community can feel safer, and new perspectives may be found. Whilst the facilitator is the theatre “expert”, participants are the experts in their lives. We want to encourage people to use their voices and raise understanding, and different projects will require different considerations. I am interested in exploring what the role of a director looks like in co-creation, and how to create an open, collaborative process whilst leading with a strong artistic voice. A non-hierarchical process doesn’t mean everyone has the same role or skills. I am an advocate for vulnerable leadership.

I am exploring these questions and issues in more depth in some mentoring sessions I am receiving from Ingrid Jones from acta, a community theatre with vast experience in working with diverse groups across Bristol. I have been shadowing their Cornerstone Theatre Group, which brings migrants and locals together to create devised performances, and reflecting on the value of open spaces versus targeted groups. To get those with certain backgrounds and experiences in the room, it is helpful to work with an organisation that may be supporting them already and even be able to sort transport for them. Childcare can be a huge barrier so, where possible, a crèche should be provided. Some groups may be interested in telling their personal stories, others not. We just need to be clear on what a project is, what will happen to the stories and what the end product is (if there is one). Then people can decide if they want to be involved or not. It feels clear to me that participants need to be involved at every step of the way, in every decision, and in what is shown. Total consent and approval need to be gathered before sharing others’ personal stories. We need to make sure there is enough support in the room and that the spaces we are creating feel held, encouraging participants to set boundaries and gently push them in a supportive environment. Creativity and the opportunity to express ourselves are essential; they enrich our experience and promote wellbeing, which helps us deal with difficult things in our lives. Asylum seekers can be relocated at any time, so what happens then? How can we invest in legacy and long-term commitments? It is also important to note that some people may not want to be seen in this country so identities must be protected when needed. Some people, particularly women, may not want to perform or be on a stage due to their religious or cultural background or beliefs. I am excited by the idea that someone can be present in a piece without physically standing on stage, whether that is through video, voiceover, or written text. At the end of the first mentoring session, we briefly touched on how I might go about starting a new project, beginning with asking the question “What is the need?”. After answering, we can figure out who is best to speak to. We will be speaking about this more comprehensively as I organise and plan some taster workshops which I will run towards the end of my DYCP activity.

Finally, I got the chance to watch the recording of Q+A by Access All Areas around Transforming Leadership, which gave me some helpful insights and links about working while receiving benefits and Access to Work funding. I came across the exhibition We Are Invisible We Are Visible at Arnolfini, presented by DASH, a disabled-led visual arts organisation. There were some beautiful circus films shown and interventions throughout the day on 2nd July. I am now off to Liberty Festival in Lewisham, London, for 3 days of creative experiences and works by D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists.