Kayvon Kelly, Yoshié Bancroft, Kelt Eccleston, Tracey Moore and Kevin Loring express the voices and views of more than 500 Greater Victoria residents on homelessness.

Myriad homeless views exposed in Home

Journalist and playwright brings Homelessness to the stage in rare verbatim theatre piece

Don’t be surprised by worldly goods, or perhaps a pet visible when you head into the Belfry Theatre to see Home Is A Beautiful Word.

Theatre staff plan to protect possessions of homeless folk taking in the show. It’s an effort to maintain the “slice of humanity” the play-slash-documentary presents.

Commissioned by the Belfry, Home is a verbatim play exploring the homelessness situation through the words – including the “ers,” “ums” and “ahs” – as documented and created by playwright and journalist Joel Bernbaum.

He interviewed more than 500 people and used those transcripts from Grade 4 students to businessmen and the homeless themselves, for Home Is A Beautiful Word.

Like many in the region, the issue settled in the back of the Belfry’s artistic director, Michael Shamata’s mind. For years he anticipated featuring it somehow; a verbatim piece seemed ideal.

“I wanted to somehow address this issue. … Everyone in this city has an opinion about it,” said Shamata, the director of Home. “(Verbatim) allows for a kaleidoscope view of a lot of voices.”

A graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism, Bernbaum eventually went door-to-door in neighbourhoods throughout the region.

“It’s about the community and how we’re all wrestling with (homelessness),” Shamata said. “It’s a part of our lives. It’s just people grappling with trying to understand … it feels like a slice of humanity.”

The tales of the homeless, and those who ponder their reaction to that population of our city, promise to be poignant but humorous at times, as well.

“Their stories are remarkable,” Shamata said.

Home Is A Beautiful Word stars Yoshié Bancroft, Kelt Eccleston, Kayvon Kelly, actor/playwright Kevin Loring (who wrote Where The Blood Mixes, a huge hit during the Belfry’s 2009-10 season) and Tracey Moore.

Moore, who has a home not far from the Fernwood theatre but doesn’t often work in Victoria, feels those voices pull her through the performance.

“I just go and let the person talk, and get out of the way of the person. The text unfolds, because it’s a real person,” she said. “As an actor you come with your craft, with this you’re not using that.”

She prepared for her role, disseminating the sentiments of residents with a night at a shelter and immersion in the street community. It created a sense of responsibility.

“It is immensely important to this piece and I feel a responsibility to present this accurately doing it justice. These people are real.”

She’s also thrilled at the option of providing tickets for those likely unable to afford the theatre.

Belfry will distribute 20 complimentary tickets for each performance throughout the run and there will be 50 pay-what-you-can tickets for each performance, available at the door.

Agencies and organizations that deal directly with homelessness can get a 20 per cent discount on single tickets and larger groups qualify for larger discounts.

“I think that’s courageous,” Moore said. “I hope people who it’s about … will come and see that they have a voice, and we want to hear it.

Single tickets for the show are $25, and can be booked by calling 250-385-6815 or visiting belfry.bc.ca.

Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees on Wednesday Jan. 15 (1 p.m.), Saturdays at 4 and Sundays at 2. An American Sign Language performance for the hearing impaired is planned for Jan. 12 (2 p.m.) and a VocalEye performance for the visually impaired Jan. 19 at 2 p.m.

Following every performance of Home Is A Beautiful Word, the Belfry offers Afterplay where patrons can hang out and “debrief” with others sharing views on the play.

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