Mike Auger

The artistic director of Displace Yourself Theatre on challenging social injustice

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In 2012, Jennifer Nevin and I ran an arts programme along the border between Thailand and Burma, where many people lack proper healthcare or education. Our creative sessions aimed to help build confidence, communication and creativity while also teaching skills in different art forms. On our return to the UK we wanted to continue this work and have since built relationships with many organisations in the north that support those with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues or homelessness.

As a theatre company, our making process has always been about working closely with the people that are at the heart of our shows and so facilitating workshops and creative sessions for these groups is always a big part of making the show. Our first show, Eden, explores the many challenges that homelessness brings. We knew there were different yet equally powerful stories that we had yet to explore, so in 2014 we returned to Thailand for a second programme, this time for young children, teenagers and single mothers.

We saw confidence grow in the groups we worked with for six months, which solidified our belief in the power of theatre to change lives. Back again in the UK, we saw a surprising lack of coverage in the news about the issues in Burma (Myanmar) and the large number of refugees who were left with very little hope for the future. We began our research into statelessness as a global issue to find that there are approximately 10 million stateless people in the world. Loss of nationality and identity has a huge impact on a person’s state of mind and wellbeing.

This became the inspiration for Free to Stay and the focus of our creative sessions, specifically working with groups of refugees and asylum seekers here in the UK. It has been their honest stories and experiences that have informed and shaped the show and now continue to run as we have secured funding for monthly Creating Together sessions in six locations across the country. These sessions are currently running at ARC Stockton Arts Centre, Barnsley Civic, Theatre in the Mill in Bradford, York Theatre Royal, Camden People’s Theatre and the Albany in Deptford. These sessions are for anyone who has experience of social exclusion.

Part of our project is to encourage people to discover their passion or talent in the arts, and to find opportunities to learn and be involved in theatre. We also hold a week-long creative residential retreat once a year, where we invite regular participants to one location to come together and be creative.

One of our regular participants, Jamie, recently spoke to us about his experience of the sessions. He said it had been life-changing. Before them he said he felt very alone with only one good friend. He now feels healthier and more positive and like he can lift anyone’s spirits now.

Free to Stay is touring and will be visiting York Theatre Royal on 9 October and Theatre in the Mill Bradford on 13 October. For tickets and dates and times of the Creating Together sessions visit

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