Good Chance

In an old rail yard in north Paris sit three huge domes. The largest, La Bulle (left), is France’s first “welcome center” for asylum-seekers who have just arrived in France. Like most temporary shelters, La Bulle is a place of transitional survival, designed to meet its inhabitants’ basic needs until they can access longer-term accommodations.

The two conjoined domes alongside La Bulle (right) are called simply “The Dome” and belong to Good Chance Theatre, a British organization that sets up temporary theaters in places such as this in the name of “promoting freedom of expression, creativity and dignity for everyone.

La Bulle and The Dome visible from the top floor of the accommodation center, which houses people staying at the shelter. Most of the migrants and refugees staying here spent several nights sleeping on the streets in and around Port de la Chapelle before being allowed in due to space limitations.

Though it’s referred to as a theater, at times the Dome looks more like a community center devoted to collaborative art. It brings together artists, migrants, refugees, and volunteers through workshops that explore a variety of art practices. Through these workshops, participants are able to escape from the stresses of daily life in the shelter, try on new ways of relating, process what they’re going through, and connect with people across linguistic and cultural divides.

In a world where refugees are often regarded as either charity cases or social parasites, The Dome stands apart. There, everyone is treated as fellow artists and humans first and foremost. That foundation of mutual respect creates an environment where people can experiment and take creative risks without judgment, and where collaborative artistic exploration is possible.

Brass band Tyrassonores leads that afternoon's Hope Show attendees out of the Dome, starting a brief dance party to conclude the show. Zmary Zahyre (center left), an Afghani man residing at La Bulle, dances with Italian visiting curator Elisa Giovanetti (right) and a young boy. Elisa's role as visiting curator involved bringing in artists to lead workshops, but—as with virtually everyone else involved in Good Chance—she also wore many other hats with less official titles. One evening after a long day at the theatre, I complimented Elisa on how naturally she makes everyone around her feel welcome. "My special skill is loving people," she replied, laughing.

Men staying at La Bulle model hand-painted paper machet masks made during workshop led by Italian theater artist Anna Cappellari.

French breakdancer and choreographer Sofian Jouini (bottom) performs with another man during the March 3 Hope Show. Just moments beforehand, Sofian had collapsed on the ground dramatically in the middle of a group performance. The crowd reacted by falling silent and clearing away from him while others, including the man pictured here, appeared to rush to his aid. For a time it was unclear whether this was part of the show, but slowly the man massaged, pulled, and prodded Sofian back to life. People watched rapt as the playfulness returned and Sofian's performed self was revived.

Visiting artist Sofian Jouini breakdances in The Dome during the March 3 Hope Show. Just moments beforehand, Sofian had collapsed on the ground dramatically in the middle of a group performance. The crowd reacted by falling silent and clearing away from him while others, including the man pictured here, appeared to rush to his aid. For a time it was unclear whether this was part of the show, but slowly the man massaged, pulled, and prodded Sofian back to life. People watched rapt as the playfulness returned and Sofian's performed self was revived.

Arifullah "Arif" Fana—a 27 year-old Afghani man living at La Bulle—wears a mask he made in a Good Chance workshop. Arif, who speaks six languages, came to Good Chance's workshops nearly every day. “I was a Thaï boxing teacher back in Afghanistan," he said. "In the dome, I have been able to give some Thaï boxing lessons and it felt great."

Participants in a contact improvisation workshop in Good Chance's larger Dome gather close together and reach skyward, forming a single, collective gesture with their bodies.

Drawings by workshop participants, children and adults alike, cover the wall and window space of Good Chance's cramped office space in La Bulle. The theater sometimes holds workshops on drawing and other 2D art, but paper and art supplies are nearly always available in the small dome for anyone who wants to draw. 

Visiting artist Pierre-Yves Massip (right)—one half of the French theater company Compagnie Mangano-Massip—co-leads a February 15 workshop on physical theater. 

Elvira Hsissou, a 27 year-old French artist who spent a month working with Good Chance, said of her time at The Dome: “The whole experience is balancing between the human chaos that comes with immigration history–which is also our history–with what we are able to give and create together. Maybe what I am getting at...is another meaning of being together through theater and creativity. We looked every day to learn from that space what's happened to us, and how to live with each other here and now, because it's necessary. " 

Abdul Saboor models an outfit made by Papa Bocar Ndao—a 31 year-old man from Senegal living at nearby refugee shelter Jean Quarré. Ndao designed the coat for a fashion-themed Hope Show, which featured outfits made from clothing that had been donated to La Bulle but deemed unfit to give out. Abdul is a 26 year-old photographer who was granted asylum in Paris. In his home country Afghanistan, he worked as a mechanic and crane operator with the US Armed Forces. He said of the Dome, "It’s a place where we can forget, and where we can feel like we’re not alone. We can feel like we have a family and people who take care of us and who show us their love, and who don't think they’re different from us."

During a February 15 workshop in The Dome, people take turns doing group trust falls. One person teeters slightly and the group catches them, then falls slightly more, and then at last falls fully into the waiting hands of the others who lift them up and carry them around the space. 

Faiz Mohammad Bashardot, an Afghani man staying at La Bulle, poses next to washing machine inside La Bulle's accomodation center. His outfit was designed by fashion designer, veterinarian, and competitive kick-boxer Papa Bocar Ndao—a 31 year-old man from Senegal living at a nearby refugee shelter—for a fashion-themed Hope Show. The show featured outfits made from clothing that had been donated to La Bulle but deemed unfit to give to residents. The washing machines on which Rezai is sitting are used to wash clothes donated to La Bulle. 

Hand-painted paper machet masks from a mask workshop led by Italian theater artist Anna Cappellari. 

Visiting artists Silvia Ribero Rottensteiner (center) Angela “Angie” Rottensteiner (not pictured) of the Italy-based Biloura Intercultural Theatre Collective leads a February 16 workshop involving group dance and beat-making. After several weeks spent with Good Chance, the two artists recalled: “We have seen young men used to acting hard for survival playing with paper-puppets delicately as six year-old children. We have seen sad man laughing. We have seen big man crying at the goodbye moment. We have seen artists sweating until death to lead the group and never giving up, and all the Good Chance people working tirelessly to arrange and solve and organize and listen and answer and translate. It has been so precious... We believe the power of Theatre is huge, subtle, astonishing, that it left a mark in all of us.” 

Bits of fabric, banners, balloons, and other decorations line the inside of both domes. Decorating is meant to make the space feel more welcoming, and to help give people the sense that they have some ownership over it. 

Yosef Hakimi, a 19 year-old man from Afghanistan, wears a shirt he screen-printed with the words "IF NOTHING GO RIGHT YOU GO LEFT" and a paper machet mask, both made during separate Good Chance workshops.

Abdi Haybe-Ali, a 28 year-old Somali man staying at La Bulle, models a coat made by Papa Bocar Ndao—a 31 year-old man from Senegal living at nearby refugee shelter Jean Quarré. Abdi runs a comedy Youtube channel with almost ten thousand subscribers.

Hope Show audience members, including many who had already performed that afternoon, watch as people take the stage for a special open mic Hope Show on March 3. Anyone who wanted to was encouraged to perform. Usually Hope Shows take place in the round, with the audience sitting around the outside of the dome and performances happening in the center, but no two shows are alike. 

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