What follows is an interview with Terra Nova Artistic Director, Andrea Montgomery, writer of a new intercultural play called Mi Mundo, which will be touring Northern Ireland as part of the Arrivals 3 Roadshow. But, as Terra Nova’s publicity claims, the Roadshow is “much more than a production”.
Andrea, perhaps you can tell us a bit about the background to this Arrivals project?
Andrea: “This is actually the third Arrivals project. Arrivals 3D, we call it. That’s a bit of a joke, because originally when we staged the first Arrivals we didn’t expect to do any more, and by the time we got to a trilogy, my colleague Tom Finlay, who is the director of this new project, said ‘We’ll have to call it 3D’ – isn’t that what the third film always is? 3D?”
And is it 3D?
Andrea: “It is. Our first two Arrivals projects were like ‘tapas theatre’. Five new intercultural plays by five different writers, all in one night. This one goes a step further. For Arrivals 3D we are building an immersive space so that audiences can actually go in and explore the world of the play, and then watch key scenes unfold around them. That means we can tour much more than a production, the Roadshow is like a giant 3D installation with an intercultural play inside it.”
You created five new intercultural plays for Arrivals and another five for Arrivals2, but Arrivals 3D sounds like you are not following your usual model.
Andrea: “We’re taking the Arrivals ‘brand’, for the want of a better word, deeper. We’re still making theatre about interculturality, but we all felt it was time to go deeper. Everyone at Terra Nova felt we’d explored the short form thoroughly enough for the time being. We’ve done ten new short plays in the last two years! We were inspired by – totally inspired – by a real life story that came to light during the Arrivals2 masterclass. The masterclass is the place where we pull 20 or 30 people together from all walks of life, artists, writers, actors, members of as many of Northern Ireland’s new communities as possible and spend three days exploring the themes that will end up inspiring the plays we create. There was one story last year that was so powerful that we couldn’t let it go. The whole group decreed that we had to make the next play about it and Mi Mundo was born.”
What does Mi Mundo mean?
Andrea: “It means ‘My world’. The title of the play came from a quote; a man facing deportation away from his children said they were ‘mi vida, mi mundo, mi todo’ when he tagged them on facebook and it stuck as the title of the play. It means ‘my life, my world, my everything’.”
Could you tell us a little bit about the story without giving it away?
Andrea: “Mi Mundo is based on a true story. In fact it is about a situation happening to UK citizens, which is affecting an estimated 17,000 families per year. It’s a story that most people don’t know about. Basically, if a UK citizen travels outside the EU to live and work, say to New Zealand, Canada, Argentina or Japan, and they meet and fall in love with and eventually marry someone from that country, and have a child or two, they no longer have the automatic right to sponsor their spouse if the family wants to move back to the UK. The law changed in 2012. Now people have to guarantee that they have money. They have to have a certain amount of money in the bank in the UK – assets like a house or car don’t count – for a year, or they have to be earning over a certain level in the UK, and have pay stubs to prove it. They’re not allowed to have help from other UK family members, and they’re not allowed to count the earnings of their foreign spouse. They’re asked to reach a certain financial target for their spouse and then the amount rises with each child the couple has. We found Oxford research that noted that the amount is unaffordable for 70% of the population of Northern Ireland. Once the couple applies for the spouse to be granted this kind of residency they are automatically denied any other kind of visa, even a visit. We saw cases of pregnant women forced to give birth alone because their husbands couldn’t get into the country to visit, for months or even years. These are British men and women, with real marriages, separated from their husbands and wives, and British children being denied access to their parents. We were amazed that the marriages survived the stress people were under. We saw research into the anxiety and behavioural problems it is creating in the children. It’s a gross injustice. We had to tell the story.”
How do you plan to turn it into a play?
Andrea: “I was determined to pay tribute to the courage and loyalty of these marriages. These are people who are living love stories on an epic scale. But also the stories are domestic. Each one of those 17,000 cases is a British citizen. It’s someone like you or me, or your cousin or your neighbour and our government is denying them their basic right to family life. I have about 40 minutes to tell the story, and I do spend quite a bit of that time letting you see how the couple I’ve chosen fall in love and have babies. I wanted some pretty good craic with them before they have to take on the British government. So audiences would have a chance to get to know them. Because the director Tom Finlay is also making sure you get to explore their world, read stuff, look at things on the walls, read documents about the case, you get to know them pretty well. “
And I understand only 25 people go through at a time?
Andrea: “That’s right. Twenty five people a time. Although we’ve worked out a cunning plan so we can take up to 60 school children. You get to move through the installation, see the scenes, and then you get a chance to give your opinion and help influence the materials that go up on the walls of the installation for other people to read who come to the Roadshow after you. You decide what the message should be. The whole thing lasts about 90 minutes.” You’ve become known for getting people involved in shaping your productions.
Is there an opportunity for people to do something similar on Mi Mundo – the Arrivals 3D Roadshow?
Andrea: “Absolutely. The show runs Jan 20th to Feb 3rd, but the opportunities start right away. We offer intercultural workshops for groups of all ages before and after Christmas, and on the weekend of the 12th and 13th of December we’re offering limited places on a free intercultural masterclass. The masterclass will be a chance to work with professionals on the themes of the show, to influence what the installation looks like and pick up new skills. The masterclass will be particularly interesting for anyone who is getting interested in writing or theatre themselves.The masterclass is free, and lunch is provided, so it’s quite a special treat. There is also a chance for visual and craft artists to pitch to have their work showcased in the Arrivals 3D Roadshow installation as it tours Northern Ireland. I believe there are a few bursaries for materials to be won. Last but not least, Terra Nova has secured funding for schools and groups to attend to experience Mi Mundo – the Arrivals 3D Roadshow for free. They are limited in number so if you’d like to snap up you should get in touch with Terra Nova at firstname.lastname@example.org right away.”
To find out more about the project, to inquire about a workshop for your group, to find out about artists’ bursaries or to book a place for your school or group at Mi Mundo and the Arrivals 3D Roadshow at a venue near you contact: email@example.com.
Mi Mundo – the Arrivals 3D Roadshow opens at the Crescent Arts Centre on January 20th, the Down Arts Centre on Jan 25th, Ard Arts Centre on Jan 27th, the Courtyard Theatre on Jan 29th and the Spectrum Centre on Feb 3rd.
Twitter: @TerraNovaDrama #MiMundo