EIP-IIR host outing to "The Jungle" at Shakespeare Theatre Company

EIP-IIR host outing to "The Jungle" at Shakespeare Theatre Company

On Saturday, April 15th, 2023 George Mason University's Early Identification Program (EIP) and Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) brought together over twenty high school students, graduate students, faculty, and staff to share conversation, food, and a moving performance of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's The Jungle thanks to the generous support of George Mason alum Sumeet Shrivastava. The Jungle tells the story of refugees living in a makeshift camp in Calais, France in 2015 as they tried to make the clandestine journey to the United Kingdom.

In a conversation with actor Ammar Haj Ahmed prior to the performance, George Mason participants learned that the actors involved in the production were well acquainted with the joys, perils, and tribulations of the camp, as many themselves had spent time there in their own journeys as refugees. Shakespeare Theatre Company Resident Dramaturg Drew Lichtenberg offered additional insights on the synopsis and details of the play, while highlighting the importance of staging the play in Washington, DC, where U.S. immigration policymaking unfolds. EIP Director Khaseem Davis reflected on the importance of immigrant stories for first-generation and immigrant college students involved in EIP and IIR Director Dr. James C. Witte reflected on the importance of theatre, along with sports, as an outlet for changing hearts and minds about immigration.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company transformed Harman Hall to emulate the camp in Calais. Audience members were seated in national groupings representing the arrangement of living areas and decision making in the camp. The wooden benches and cushioned floor areas where audience members were seated recreated an Afghan Cafe in the camp that served as a central setting for the play. The story unfolded on an elevated platform in the middle of the space, bringing each audience member along as a participant in the struggles and celebrations of the play.

While The Jungle provides a fictional account of the struggles of seeking asylum in the United Kingdom in 2015, it parallels the realities of migration journeys that transcend geographies and time. For example, U.S. immigration scholars documented more than 1,600 migrant fatalities along the U.S.-Mexico border between 1993 and 1997.[1] In 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees documents that 159,410 refugees and migrants arrived to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea; an additional 1,953 died or were missing after attempting this journey.[2]

As countries continue to externalize immigration processing beyond national borders and limit legal pathways for migration and seeking asylum, The Jungle's message of a need for greater national and individual support, understanding, and compassion for individuals seeking asylum, protection, and a safe place to live remains increasingly relevant.[3]

[1] Eschbach, Karl, Jacqueline Hagan, Nestor Rodriguez, Ruben Hernandez-Leon and Stanley Bailey. 1999. "Death at the Border." International Migration Review 33 (3):430-54.

[2] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Data Portal: Situation Mediterranean." Accessed April 17, 2023. https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean

[3] FitzGerald, David. 2019. Refuge beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.