Many different opinions have been voiced on this topic, even from an artistic perspective.
It takes a great deal of talent and strong character to turn a reform like this, which has the potential to radically change lives, into a source of inspiration for a theatrical performance.
This is the case of In Helvetica, an independent theatre company founded in 2014, made up of three members who are self-managed and directed.
They are Sara Di Segna, a dancer and choreographer from Rome who has been in Australia for six years, actor and producer Toni Main, and musician Gene Holland.
The shows they produce are inspired by their life experiences, and this is certainly the case of ‘Citizen 457’.
Proposed in the context of La Mama Theatre’s 2017 Explorations season, in which shows are performed while still in development, this play explores the theme of immigration in a serious and slightly provocative manner.
Ms Di Segna is the only foreign artist in the company, and the only one on a 457 visa, while her fellow performers are Australian.
The government reforms on visas shocked all three artists and led them to ask questions about what it actually means to be citizens, especially in a nation like Australia which is primarily constituted by migrants.
The performance’s title, ‘Citizen 457’, plays on this very idea: it’s an oxymoron which connects two terms in strong antithesis.
“Citizen” is a human subject by definition, and is in contrast with a number - 457 - an object which is not at all “human”.
In addition to the number, the bureaucratic process alienates the person.
The performance considers the perspective of both a migrant and an Australian.
In the first phase of the production’s conceptualisation, the group questioned what it means to be citizens and what makes them proud of their country.
On one hand, Ms Di Segna found the answer immediately: “The conviviality and the way in which food is experienced as a sociable moment in Italy.”
On the other hand, her Australian artistic partners struggled to find an answer.
From this stemmed an analysis phase in which the artists explored Australian traditions and tried to discover the country’s “heroes” who make its citizens proud.
“During planning we also realised that many Australians tend to avoid these topics, which can be uncomfortable and delicate,” Ms Di Segna explained.
“My colleagues felt a sort of unease towards their country, which has always placed great importance on immigration and has always had an integration plan.”
With the training of a classical dancer, today Ms Di Segna identifies as a ballerina with a contemporary twist and, thanks to In Helvetica, she has discovered other disciplines such as acting.
This is in fact one of the distinctive characteristics of the company: the presence of different disciplines at the same time, such as dancing, live music and acting.
The performance also touches on the idea of acceptance which often makes new arrivals feel a little more at home, because “home is not a feeling”, but all in a very subtle manner given that there is no verbal communication.
It’s not the first time the group has brought the theme of the “foreigner” to the stage: ‘Speachless’, their first work performed at the Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth Fringe Festivals, used comedy to explore the misunderstandings that can arise between two people who don’t speak the same language.
‘Citizen 457’ will be performed at La Mama Theatre from December 13 to 15 and runs for around 45 minutes.
For more information or tickets, call (03) 9347 6142 or visit In Helvetica’s website.