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89 Chapter 3 The Integrated Actor In 2007 Réseau Education Sans Frontières (RESF) or Network for Education without Borders, a web of nationwide aid collectives that support undocumented youth educated in France, produced La Plume sans papier (The Pen without Paper). A wordplay on the colloquial reference to undocumented immigrants, the paperless sans-​papiers, the performance was composed of testimonies written by undocumented youth awaiting evaluation of their residency applications. Initiated by RESF 91 of the Ile-​ de-​ France district of Essonne, the project had begun as a writing workshop, with an eye to providing a creative outlet for youth struggling with undocumented status. Soon afterward, the young authors found themselves rehearsing for a theatrical performance of their work with the popular film and stage actor Rachida Brakni. By the time I met the North, West, and sub-​ Saharan African men and women involved with staging La Plume sans papier, they had performed their work several times and collected much media attention. At the time, several members of the original cast were no longer with the group and had been replaced by other, eager RESF youth. Sofia, an active member of RESF 91, interpreted this readiness as the reflection of a generalized awareness on the part of the aid community: the efficacy of public performance. Referencing one recently joined actor, a teenager with a few years in France under his belt but grim prospects for his application, Sofia related that he had probably joined because the activity would bolster the chances of his residency application. When I inquired as to why that was, Sofia’s reply voiced a belief that became commonplace in my conversations in Paris. For many of my interlocutors, public performance served as the sign of an attachment between the applicant and their social world. One of the key criteria in the French state’s offer of residency was intégration, an affective attachment to French culture and the outward exhibition of a desire to be enmeshed in its values, ideals, and practices. The teenager’s theatrical work wasn’t a mere addendum to his application for residency status; rather it would fundamentally shape the process of proving to the authorities that he was sufficiently acculturated. Put simply, theatrical storytelling functioned as evidence of integration. 90 Chapter 3 This connection is clear in Libération’s coverage of an early performance of La Plume sans papier. As the reporter’s narrative demonstrates, political efficacy is uniquely central to the audience’s experience of this event: On Saturday, the Viry-​ Chatillon theater (Essonne) played to a packed audience.The program: a performance by eleven undocumented immigrants , aged 16 to 24, whose origins are either from the Maghreb or sub-​ Saharan Africa, and directed by the actress Rachida Brakni. In the auditorium, the air is festive. The militants of Réseau Education Sans Frontières, a network that defends undocumented youth educated in France and their families, are present, both from Viry-​ Chatillon and beyond. From one end to the other, they call out to each other and give each other news of foreigners supported by the network. “X did a very stupid thing: he went to the Comissariat without us. He was arrested,” says one female spectator to another. “Oh, he was already deported four times and he always came back,” replies the other. On the stage, a young black man comes forward: “You, who don’t want me, I chose this country, not you.” . . . Wednesday, the militants of RESF Essonne are going to submit some fifty-​ plus applications for regularization to the local police, all of them for youth who have been educated here, including those of the amateur actors.1 The particular configuration of theatrical practice that characterized the Viry-​ Chatillon performance resonates with what I have elsewhere called theatrical aid work, that is, theatrical projects that join a wide range of associated aid practices that seek to support undocumented immigrants’ claims to permanent residency in France.2 Often premised on the delivery of personal narrative, theatrical aid work is permeated by the uneven forms of political and social authority that pattern the relationship between undocumented aid recipients and native aid workers. In the excerpt above, the joining of the aid worker’s blasé reference to X and the young actor’s defiant address to an ambiguous “you” capture the tensions of this domain. Theater may serve to support this young man’s application for regularization, the article seems to suggest, but undocumented status...


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