In 2019, Improv Theatre Sydney began a continuing relationship with the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre in Indonesia. Through a social impact grant from the University of Technology Sydney, ITS Faculty Cale Bain and Tascha Flowers went to work with the community, workshopping improv in order to counteract the significant mental health stresses that can come from living without a nation status indefinitely. The community of primarily Hazara Afghans welcomed Cale & Tascha and ITS has returned several times for more workshops with students, adults and teachers alike.
The CLRC is a volunteer-run community learning centre that was organised by a group of Hazara refugees in 2014 as a means of spending time effectively while they waited for news of their resettlement. Refugees in Indonesia can neither go to school nor can they work and resettlement, if it happens at all, can take many many years. The CLRC offers the teachers a chance to contribute to their community, affords the students a chance to grow as any normal school-aged child should, and helps distract from the obvious stresses for those who live in limbo, uncertain if they’ll be some of the few hundreds accepted out of the 1400 waiting to hear.
Cale & Tascha applied improv theatre skills to workshop resiliency, trust and improved communications skills, as well as provide some opportunity for the students and teachers to be silly and have a play around. Improvised theater is spontaneous and instantaneous, made up on the spot using only the performers’ cleverness and an idea from the audience as inspiration. The techniques of improvised comedy theatre require listening and simple creativity and, as any form of theatre would, need basic storytelling. It’s inclusive and irreverent, it can be goofy and fun.
Students and teachers both reported that the week of fun and laughter and ‘learning to communicate in different ways’ contributed to better ‘physical and mental health’, team building and communication and teachers in particular reported that they could see how to use improv skills in their everyday life to navigate issues beyond their school and within their community.
Their first visit ended with the students and teachers putting on an improvised comedy show for the community. It was a huge success. So much so that the CLRC would like UTS and ITS to visit again and again. The second visit gave the students the chance to grow upon what they learned the first time and for the parents to try it out.
Continuing visits will workshop to support the teachers in their efforts as community leaders.