The Audition  is an intriguing new work to be staged by Outer Urban Projects at La Mama early next month. Exploring the implicit  parallels between art and life, the work posits a profound relationship between what it takes for an actor to successfully enter  onto our stages and refugees seeking asylum to successfully enter into our country. Mosaic-like, the work is  multi-authored with creatives both new and established contributing and is led by  director Irine Vela (concept and dramaturg and Outer Urban Project artistic director)

A dynamic and bold venture, Outer Urban Projects is interested in telling the stories that affect the youth from Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs. Their desire to give voice to the experiences of many that come from migrant backgrounds is one of the significant drivers of The Audition.

” As Artistic Director of Outer Urban Projects and part of my job is to initiate and realise projects that responds to the needs and talents of our emerging artists and their communities,” says Vela. “In the last few years we have been working with people seeking asylum who are also performing artists and writers with stories to tell. This was the really the genesis of The Audition.”

“The conceit of The Audition came from the direct experience from our community.   The company’s remit is to take these powerful stories to audiences in works and as provocations within the national dialogue.  It is significant for the company to have its young associate artists premiering this work at Melbourne’s  iconic La Mama theatre.”

The themes explored in the Audition are far-reaching and universal.  Vela is steadfast in her view that the world is undergoing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and that the challenge, then, to OUP and its artists is to make sense of it.

“To understand what ordinary people are prepared to endure to reach new lands and safe havens is important – but more importantly we need to understand the forces that combine to administer cruel policies, to prevent access to our democracy and resources,  Who gains from these policies  – what purpose do they serve – what drives them .. and what cost to our society – to our democracy. Do these policies have echo in our cultural life.. I think they do.”

“As a country we are known again for our racism and our culture casts doubts on the “illiterate” and “innumerate” immigrant and refugee artists and the strain they put on our society – Xenophobia abounds. But Melbourne abounds with migrant cultures rich in written and oral literature.”

The driving force behind OUP  is our emerging artists and their community. “Outer Urban Project’s (OUP) is a performing arts company and our artistic vision is to facilitate the performance and storytelling of youth from Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs who come from working class and ghettoised migrant backgrounds,” says Vela. “However, even though the North is our focus we also work with young people from other areas as well and much of our work is intergenerational. It is not unusual for our major work productions to have veteran artists alongside our young emerging artists as creators and performers. We provide a number of pathways and approaches to achieve that vision. One of those is to create Major Performance works such as The Audition. I am the Artistic Director of Outer Urban Projects, and also worked as an artist and a creative producer with the company as well.”

With the daily news of world- wide displaced individuals, families and communities, the people of ‘uncertain status’ is a human tragedy growing at an exponential rate. The Audition seeks to generate discussion on the conceit and issues in the piece and has q&a’s programmed . These q&as and the work itself gives Outer Urban Projects and its artists an opportunity to engage directly with the public on the stories and issues of those seeking asylum in our county.

Vela explains that the impetus for  the Audition was inspired by a couple of artists who OUP has worked with and who are also asylum seekers. One of those artists’   creative  life began in the underground rap studios of Tehran. It ended  there with his arrest by the  Basjian (morality police) and  subsequent  incarceration. He  was 16years old. Forced to seek  asylum he  risked a perilous journey by sea to Australia followed  by isolation being of an “uncertaincstatus”. His ability to touch and  move an audience to  experience his story  as a  story of humankind, hat  embraced humour as well as trauma, inspired OUP to create  a  show that could delve deeper into the experiences of the refugee who are also artists. Behrouz Boochani comes to mind.

“Asylum seekers, just like actors, are forced to become an expert at waiting whilst remaining forever hopeful,” says Vela. ” But what if you are both an asylum seeker and an actor?”

Another inspiration is Vela’s father who was a refugee from World War 2 and the subsequent geopolitical changes after that war.  After years in refugee camps he was given passage Australia in 1949.

“Outer Urban Projects is no stranger to multiauthored works,” says Vela. “Most of our works are multiauthored!  Given this was always going to be a text based work I approached writers within our the OUP community with direct experience of migration and seeking asylum as well and writers from the broader theatre community I have worked with before. When I approached these writers. some of whom are highly respected in the theatre community, (Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Tes Lyssiotis  I was emboldened by their excitement around the  concept of the work  and their delight in taking part in an OUP production.”

An exciting venture backed by some hefty players, the work has taken three years from concept, to application, to creative development, to final draft, to rehearsal and production.

The Audition offers a sharp and insightful perspective into the protocols and powers that permit or veto entry into our country and onto our stages.

“Audiences will see a unique theatre work that explores the universality and particularity of the experience of gaining acceptance – or recognising merit where it is due,” says Vela “Each writer brings a unique language and world view to their work.  I hope the audience comes out of the show thinking about concepts such as respect, empathy, history and discrimination.”

November 13 – 24

Bookings 03 9347 6948 or


Images: Sarah Walker