Real Lives, Real Theatre.
Theatre, in many ways, is all about being what you are not. Actors research and rehearse hard in order to embody characters that are nothing like them, playwrights write ‘fictional’ stories… all in the hope of being able to portray some sort of ‘truth’ onstage.
It was revelatory and refreshing last night to see Homeless Economics, which removes these extra layers. This was theatre, direct. These are the real people, and the real stories, of those that are part of the City Mission community who have lived rough and been homeless – a world far removed from many people’s experience, and certainly mine.
We are invited to experience a ‘slice of life at the mission’ and to ‘experience homelessness first hand’. The Hobson Street Drama Club was an initiative between City Mission and The EDGE, and three volunteer tutors have been working with the group to develop theatrical skills. Clearly, these guys benefit – they are confident, hilarious and engaging performers, but we the audience benefit hugely as well, gaining insight and understanding into a different world.
The show is performed at the City Mission home base on Hobson St. Chairs have been laid out in front of the kitchen area. They make excellent use of the space, performing in front and behind of the kitchen bench, and also use the adjoining office window. Some of the actors mill about as we wait for the show to begin, cheekily interacting with the audience (they claim one of the audience is trespassing – they have his photo on the wall!). It is a homely and welcoming atmosphere.
The show treats us with a varied and fascinating ‘menu’ – the show is told through sketches, poetry musical performance and real life stories. A series of sketches revolve around the theme “What’s for dinner?” – Jem and Maeve list us some ‘basic techniques’ for how find food (I particularly like their tip of attending Gallery openings for free food!) and Brian tells us how to accept donations with a smile.
Huia performs an ongoing comic sketch about the frustrations of applying for the benefit from WINZ (our “top government department”). Huia humorously plays the characters – a Winz officer, a bank teller, a court clerk – who repeatedly turn him away. He gets the light turned on and asks us what we think is most important for getting the benefit – is it a photo ID? A bank account? He tells us this answer, and his quip “I’ll go back into character” gets a large laugh.
The performers share their stories, and their talents. Shadow (who you may recognise as “the guy that plays the harmonica” on Queen St) comes on to tell us his story about how he learnt this skil, then plays an awesome song with Jem on the guitar (who also busks with guitar). Brian tells about his alter-ego Excalibur, international Rockstar, and the day Frankie Stevens went around telling everyone about hell well Brian could sing. He gives a great rendition of James Morrison’s Wonderful World , his cast mates rushing on to support him with costumes and lights! Daniel tells us about the day he went to parliament for the Duke of Edinburgh awards and the all the cheeky things he got up too.
At the end of the show they come out to sing a rousing song about being “happy, broke, and free”. The cast have a joyous giving spirit, and I felt privileged to watch them share their lives and experiences. Homeless Economics was genuine, unpolished, and truthful. We are reminded that the “park bench could be for anyone of us”, and it’s great that we live in a city that supports and cares about people.
Homeless Economics plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival until at the Auckland City Mission until 5th March.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.
Renee Liang interviews The EDGE’s Public Programmes Producer Bronwyn Bent on The Big Idea.