WHEN John Kachoyan began working on a play looking at the plights of LGBTI refugees from the Middle East, he realised he hadn’t known just how badly they were persecuted.

“Things have gotten worse and in the chaos of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, people have started to persecute moral issues,” he told the Star Observer.

“You assume that all asylum seekers are talked about in the same way, but queer refugees face persecution from within the refugee community itself.

“When we intervene in these wars we assume we’re doing good, but in fact it destabilises the region and people are forced to leave their country… and we’re privileged here in Melbourne so we wanted to convey these horrors to people through theatre.”

Kachoyan’s play, Elegy, was inspired by a number of interviews with gay Iraqi refugees, and follows the journey of one young man coming to terms with his sexuality and the persecution that follows his search for asylum.

It will have its Australian premiere as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.

“It’s a moving love story of sorts, it’s not a lecture,” Kachoyan said.

“But hopefully we open people’s eyes and help them to think about what they can do to help, and also to realise how lucky we have it here.

“For each audience member it’ll be a different experience, because our play helps to humanise things.

“Someone once said that the theatre is a gym for empathy… it’s like stepping into someone else’s shoes.”

Elegy was backed by Regional Arts Victoria and will tour nationally after Midsumma, with the team hoping the show will also travel to regional Australia and schools.

Images taken by award-winning photojournalist Bradley Secker in Istanbul, of the gay refugee interviewees, will also be exhibited as part of the show to complement the performance.

“The character in the play is fictitious and the story is anonymous, but it’s based on these real experiences,” Kachoyan said.

“These men that were photographed in Istanbul – it’s not our job to tell that story, it’s our job to make pieces from the story that touches people.

“It’s great to be playing at Midsumma, where we’ll find an audience that’s sympathetic but might not know the full details of the persecution faced by LGBTI refugees.”

Elegy has already won critical and audience praise throughout Europe, receiving a Royal National Theatre Playwright Award.

The play is presented by Lab Kelpie in association with Gasworks.

Elegy will run as part of Midsumma at Gasworks’ Studio Theatre between January 19 – February 6. Grab your tickets here.

The Star Observer is a proud media partner of Midsumma.

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