A controversial theater piece about two refugees, one from Syria and one "from Africa," has been canceled hours before its public premiere. But the government-commissioned play has been seen by thousands of children.
The Weltmuseum in Vienna on Friday canceled the first public performance of "World in Flux" ("Welt in Bewegung"), a play about migrants in Austria, shortly before its premiere following criticism that the government-commissioned work was "crude propaganda" and full of racist stereotypes.
The work had already been seen by thousands of schoolchildren as part of a special free viewing program.
The play is about two asylum-seekers: Nadim, a Syrian fleeing war, and Mojo, "from Africa," an economic migrant. The polite, educated Nadim has proof he is fleeing war and, after efforts to integrate into Austrian society and learn German, he is granted asylum.
Mojo, in contrast, leaves an unnamed home country after seeing human smugglers' YouTube video promising a life of easy money, cars and houses in Europe. After having being captured by the "Islamic State" terror organization, he is picked up by police and deported back to Africa — where he finds a happy end after starting a business and a family.
Museum to review the play
The museum justified their decision to pull the plug on the play in a Facebook announcement: "After closer examination … the play does not fit the program concept … we are a meeting point for people and cultures, where appreciation and excitement for cultural diversity are transmitted. We fight racism and fear of the foreigner in our museum work."
The museum's director also said in a later statement that the museum regretted that the program advisory committee had not reviewed the work ahead of time and would do so as soon as possible.
Political positions on stage
Critics of "World in Flux" ranged from teachers whose students had already seen the work to members of the play's creative team.
Director Tina Leisch described the show as "crude propaganda" in an interview with Austrian radio FM4.
"It is a rape of what theater or art should be, and that is a call to thought, and not to say, 'We are the ministry, and we are beating children over the head with our political positions.'"
Dramatist Edmund Emge wrote the play in 2017 after being commissioned by the Interior Ministry when it was still under the control of the conservative Austrian People's Party in the last government. He told Austrian radio Ö1 that the ministry's intention was to confront children with migration and refugee policy through the play.
Migration and refugee policy has been a major political topic in Austria since 2015 (above), when thousands crossed into the country over land
Emge also said the response from the roughly 350 teachers who had seen the play thus far had been mostly positive. Ö1 estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 11 to 17 years old in eastern Austria had already seen "World in Flux."
One anonymous teacher who had seen the play with her students told FM4, "It has put in danger all my years of integration work."
Mojo is also voodoo practitioner, and the play's other characters include two xenophobic old ladies, a quote-hungry journalist and a naive do-gooder who starts a yoga course for refugees.
Gerhard Ruiss, the head of a writer's collective and who had also seen the text, described it to FM4 as "not a play, but an indoctrination that should result in the right way of thinking."
A spokesperson from the Interior Ministry, current under the control of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), rebutted the stereotypical criticism.
"We have to simplify things," he told Ö1, "because integration is a very complicated topic. We simply have to break down the message."
The International Center for Migration Policy Development and the Pedagogical Secondary College in Lower Austria were also involved in the development of "World in Flux."