At the Pulse Meeting on 27 February attendees were treated to a reading from Tiffany Barton's site-specific play about homelessness called 'Do You Know Me', which features real stories of homelessness in Melbourne. Breakout discussions focused on Youth Homelessness and shared data, and the role of arts and storytelling in community education and advocacy.
‘Do You Know Me’
Tiffany Barton first developed her interest in working with marginalised communities after a stint at the Barking Gecko Theatre Company.
“Around 10 years ago Barking Gecko sent me on an amazing journey traveling around remote communities to write scripts with children,” Ms Barton said.
“I worked with a lot of Indigenous kids in Roebourne and Marble Bar and it was a rich and rewarding experience. After that I got a job teaching creative writing to Indigenous prisoners at Acacia Prison.”
Surrounded by a backdrop of personal stories attached to inmates in the prison system, Tiffany developed a passion for social justice issues. While doing a Master in Playwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts she was sent out on a field trip one day to go out to a part of Melbourne and come back with an idea for a site-specific work.
“Site-specific is theatre which is set out in an open space or a non-traditional theatre space,” Ms Barton explained. “We went to Degraves Street in Melbourne a funky street with lots of graffiti. We then met a homeless man, Craig, he was humble, very sweet and very open. He charmed and disarmed us with his honesty and his vulnerability.
“He didn't fit into the stereotypes. He didn't try to hustle us he didn't have substance or alcohol issues. So, I went back, and I pitched the idea of a site-specific play about homelessness, that could be done on the streets of Melbourne and be based on verbatim interviews, using their actual words not fictionalising it.
“I found amazing interviewees in a very short space of time.
“Some of the outcomes were very unexpected. I was using social media, to share the homeless stories I collected, and friends started to give money. This was after I shared bits of Craig's story.
These stories also struck a chord with the media. Ahead of a performance at last year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, several interviews involving Tiffany and participants were carried out. Although initially Tiffany’s plans were to have actual homeless people perform, safety was an issue and professional actors were used to perform at Fringe.
“As the play developed, I realised it was a big ask,” Tiffany said.
“They were too (those homeless who shared stories) vulnerable.
“We have had some homeless people become involved actually during a performance. When we performed at Hosier Lane three homeless people intervened and improvised with some addressing the audience. In these cases, it has been the most exciting theatre, so I have just let them go and have a voice.”
One of the centrepieces of the show is a piece by a homeless war veteran who sufferers Post-traumatic stress disorder. Attendees at the Pulse Meeting heard an actor perform the story. The powerful delivery ignited a breakout discussion on the role of this type of storytelling to create community engagement and challenge the stereotypes of how we perceive homeless people.
A breakout discussion around Youth Homelessness was led by Sharon Gough from Indigo Junction, and Andrew Kazim from Anglicare WA.
Sharon brought her experience of the youth homelessness system in Calgary where she visited a couple of years ago, in particular the use of an acuity scale. In this Pulse Meeting, a group of almost 20 people working across various parts of the WA youth homelessness system discussed topics such as:
• Creating a working group to explore the use of an acuity scale and improve the youth homelessness system in WA;
• The issues around transition from youth to adult homelessness systems;
• The need to establish common language across all organisations; and
• Training to support common language and new ways of working.