Arts & Entertainment

You Are Here

By Sean May

It’s late Friday afternoon and the Wayside Chapel in Potts Point is packed. People have congregated out the front, chatting amongst one another, while some line up at the café for a meal. Off to the side, a photo shoot takes place for an upcoming play titled You Are Here.

The Wayside Chapel is a community services centre that provides social programs for the Sydney’s homeless, drug dependent and socially disadvantaged. The Wayside Chapel is also one of three venues in which You Are Here will be performed.

“It investigates blindness in our society and our willingness to ignore people when they’re experiencing crisis,” director Sarah Emery says of the production. You Are Here, by Milk Crate Theatre, is a collection of stories exploring social marginalisation.

“The main protagonist is a character called Hood, who’s a young person experiencing homelessness for the first time. So we travel through that character and then think on a more societal level how we might approach this issue if we see it in our everyday life,” Emery says.

You Are Here is performed in a style of theatre known as ‘forum theatre’. Created by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal, forum theatre is an interactive style of performance in which the members of the audience and the actors can stop the play to analyse particular problems acted out onstage.

“It opens up a conversation with the audience through forum theatre, to invite people on the stage to problem solve solutions to issues we see everyday,” says Emery.

The audience plays an integral role in You Are Here, opening up a dialogue to discuss the issues of homelessness. The play is performing at the Wayside Chapel and Newtown Neighbourhood Centre in front of a community of people who have experienced homelessness in the past or are currently experiencing it. The play then moves to the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta for an education season, performing in front of high school students.

“It invites young people into the problem solving and the process in finding a solution to youth homelessness,” says Emery.

Youth homelessness is an issue that often does not garner enough attention despite its prevalence. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, of the 105,000 people who are homeless on any given night in Australia, nearly half are under 25 years old.

Perhaps the reason youth homelessness remains invisible is due to the varying degrees of homelessness. While the notion prevails that the average homeless person is living rough on the streets, homelessness by definition does not equate to whether someone has a roof over their heads or not. Those who move from one temporary shelter to another, including people at refuge centres and couch surfers, also experience secondary homelessness. It is also referred to as ‘hidden homelessness’ and the majority of young homeless people fall into this category.

“I think when people think of homelessness, they tend to think of old blokes sleeping rough,” says Michael Coffey, the Chief Executive Officer for Yfoundations.

“I think there is a blindness in the community to recognising when youth homelessness is happening. For example, most of the kids that are homeless are most likely couch surfing or hanging around friends places for long periods of time.”

Yfoundations is a peak body seeking to end youth homelessness through policy and structural advocacy. Raising public awareness about youth homelessness is also at the core of Yfoundations’ work, and they are involved with the annual Youth Homelessness Matters Day held on April 9th this year.

“The main reason why young people are out of homes without care is because of family breakdown. I don’t say that to blame the parents, but there are a whole lot of conditions to cause families to breakdown,” says Coffey.

Some members of the ensemble of artists at the Milk Crate Theatre have personally experienced homelessness or social marginalisation. Michael, an actor who has been involved with the Milk Crate Theatre since 2010, is one of them.

“It’s kind of like walking a tightrope,” Michael says about performing in front of an audience.

“You’ve got to get it right and convey something to the audience. And when you get a positive response, where people are clapping and even crying sometimes, it’s really, really rewarding.”

For Michael, it seems, there are few better places to call home than the stage.

Mar 26, Wayside Chapel, 29 Hughes Street, Potts Point, free, Mar 28, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, 1 Bedford Street, Newtown, free, (02) 9331 0555, milkcratetheatre.com

Editor’s Note: The print version of this story, appearing in the March 20 edition, said that Milk Crate Theatre is donating money to The Wayside Chapel. This is incorrect – the funds raised through tickets goes to pay the ensemble artists. We regret the error.

Related Posts