Good Chance offers refugees a creative outlet for their unheard stories

The theatre company started in the Calais “Jungle” and is about to embark on an 8,000km travelling production titled The Walk, all the while supporting artists to say “whatever they have to say, and in whatever way they need to say it”.

13 May 2021

A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

Good Chance began in the Calais refugee camp in 2015, where artistic directors Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson built their first so-called Theatre of Hope. Their aim has remained the same since: to offer community and creative expression to those who are not being given the opportunity. The company has gone on to work with thousands of refugees and artists, creating award-winning play The Jungle co-directed by Stephen Daldry, and, more recently, The Walk, a travelling festival of art from Gaziantep in Turkey to Manchester in the UK. Here, the founders share their mission, challenges and advice for the creative sector.

It’s Nice That: What about the creative industry are you hoping to change and why does it need changing?

Joe Murphy: Since we started Good Chance six years ago, we’ve worked hard to give a platform to incredible artists from all across the world. From musicians to fine artists and poets to stilt walkers, we collaborate with artists of all kinds who share one thing in common: they have powerful voices which for whatever reason are not being heard. It’s our job to amplify them. 

INT: What have you built, and how does it tackle these industry issues?

Joe Robertson: We see Good Chance’s work in three strands: Domes, Ensemble and Productions. The domes are temporary theatres we build in places where expression is under threat, like the refugee camp in Calais where we started or emergency accommodation centres in Paris. They’re a mixture of town halls, hospitals and boxing rings, which use art to bring people together in the most difficult of places.

The Ensemble is a collective of professional artists, some of whom we met in the Domes, who we help to realise their artistic projects and ambitions. People like Majid Adin, a fine artist and graphic novelist from Iran who we first met in the Jungle, who has worked with us almost non-stop since then, and who now sits on our board of trustees. Or circus star Girum Bekele from Ethiopia, who led juggling and devil stick workshops in our very first dome, and who is now about to embark on an 8,000km journey, bringing a four-metre-tall puppet to life across a dozen countries for our next big international production, The Walk. Which, as you may have guessed, is an example of our third strand: creating world class, large scale productions which join up all the dots in ground-breaking shows for mainstream audiences around the world.

INT: What other organisations are out there like yours, and what sets yours apart?

JM: In the last few years, some amazing companies have grown out of some really difficult situations. Help Refugees/Choose Love are in many ways pioneering the humanitarian response to the crises faced by refugees and migrants around the world. And Counterpoint Arts lead the way in supporting art by and about people from refugee and migrant backgrounds in the UK. When we founded Good Chance, we fought to straddle the line between the Charity Commission’s Arts and Human Rights categories, because we believe strongly that art and expression are fundamental human rights. This joint objective allows us to work with artists at all stages of their journey, and make a big, bold argument about the power art can have in changing the narrative. 

INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing?

JR: Apart from funding challenges, which are as inevitable for most arts organisations as death and taxes, we work hard to ensure that the artists we work with are not pigeonholed. Well-intentioned talk of diversity and change too often leads to tokenistic thinking and decision making, as well as an expectation that the art and stories made by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds must fit neatly into a particular box. This couldn’t be further from our experience of collaborating with people whose asylum statuses are tiny, mostly legal, footnotes to huge personalities and complex, ever-changing artistic identities. We support artists whatever they have to say, and in whatever way they need to say it. 

INT: What can the creative industry do to support your mission?

JM: Be brave and hire amazing artists from around the world. Go that extra mile in supporting them to realise their projects and ideas. Help fill our galleries, theatres, music venues and books with stories which speak of the beauty, difficulties and complexity of our vast, interconnected world. Be bold, fearless and unapologetic, and trust that audiences will come with us on this terrifying, incredible ride.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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