Challenging the Centre: Asylum Seekers Encounter Native Citizens


  • Pirkko Koski Helsinki University



asylum seekers, centre / periphery, national theatre, reception, community theatre


In Paper Anchor (Paperiankkuri) at the Small Stage of the Finnish National Theatre in 2011 a group of actors, dancers, asylum seekers and eventually also stage technicians (re-)enacted the asylum seekers’ stories: how they had fled their home countries, feared for their lives and faced problems in their country of destination, Finland. It brought the spotlight on asylum seekers, who occupy a marginal position in society and made them visible on many levels: they were present in the stories that were told on stage, in the encounter between performers and spectators and in an art institution that has great national significance. The periphery and the centre, in this case the asylum seekers and the native Finns, met in shifting circumstances and also in a way that is characteristic of the theatre: the performers and spectators were simultaneously physically present, whereas the public debate on refugee issues usually takes place in written texts. In Paper Anchor, the asylum seekers also assumed the role of a witness, whereas in official processes they are obligated to defend themselves and search for evidence. The impact of Paper Anchor was largely based on the aesthetic form of the performance. Although the dominant power structures between the centre and the periphery remained untouched, theatre testified to its ability to affect the spectator through the presence of individual subjects and consequently their subject positions. The debate was shifted to differences within a culture instead of between cultures, as Rosi Braidotti writes: “It is the syntax of social relations, as well as their symbolic representation, that is in upheaval.” (Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects. Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, Columbia University Press, New York 2011, p.8.)

Author Biography

Pirkko Koski, Helsinki University

Professor emerita Pirkko Koski was responsible for the Department of Theatre Research in the Institute of Art Research at the University of Helsinki and was the director of the Institute of Art Research until the end of 2007. Her research concentrates on performance analysis, historiography and Finnish theatre and its history. In addition to scholarly articles, she has published several books in these fields, the most recent of them Näyttelijänä Suomessa (Acting and Actors in Finland) in 2013. She has also edited and co-edited several anthologies about Finnish theatre, translated Christopher B. Balme’s The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Studies into Finnish (in 2015) and edited volumes of scholarly articles translated into Finnish.


Elaine Aston, “The ’Bogus Woman’: Feminism and Asylum Theatre” in Modern Drama, vol. XLVI, no. 1, 2003.

Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects. Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, Columbia University Press, New York 2011.

Taija Helminen, Jussi Lehtonen, Vastaanotto, Kirja kerrallaan, Suomen Kansal- listeatteri, Helsinki 2012.

Alison Jeffers, Refugees, Theatre and Crisis. Performing Global Identities, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke 2012.

Jane Goodall, Stage Presence, Routledge, London and New York 2008.

Laura Huttunen, “Historialliset kontekstit ja asioiden kansallinen järjestys” in Kulttuuri, paikka ja muuttoliike, Liisa Malkki, ed., Vastapaino, Jyväskylä 2012.

Joseph R. Roach, It, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2007.

Joseph R. Roach, “It” in Theatre Journal, vol. 56, no. 4, 2004.

Bert O. States, Great Reckognings in Little Rooms. On the Phenomenology of Theater, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1987.

Hanna Suutela, “Who Can Testify on Stage about Finnish Reality? Rainbow and the Kassandra 2000 Program Challenges National Hegemony” in Nordic Theatre Studies, vol. 15, 2002/3.

Agnes Woolley, Contemporary Asylum Narratives. Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke.




How to Cite

Koski, P. (2015). Challenging the Centre: Asylum Seekers Encounter Native Citizens. Nordic Theatre Studies, 27(1), 42–54.



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