Home – A Play

Sydney, March 22, 2015:  You open the gate and walk into the grounds of St Luke’s Anglican Church in Enmore (an inner Sydney suburb) and you come across Sunny and his daughter, Sonya, sitting on the ground.

Sunny is a homeless busker and he is drawing. Sonya is playing a bamboo flute.Sunny

Sunny

Sunny has written notes on cardboard inviting you to take a drawing, sit down and chat, make a donation.

You might sit and chat to Sunny or you might decide to wander into the anteroom of the church hall and you notice someone asleep on a bench with their back to you.

This is Emily.

As you wander further in, you notice another person standing and declaiming to the crowd gathered around them.

This is Jockey.

You have walked into the Kinetic Energy Theatre Company’s production of Home, a play by Jepke Goudsmit and Graham Jones.

But this is just the prelude, the real action occurs within the hall, the doors of which you are invited to enter.

Nicky and Shakespeare

 Nicky and Shakespeare

The play follows the life of a group of homeless people living in the ‘Cross’ their interactions with each other and with Sista Jo who runs the soup kitchen.

Sydney’s Kings Cross is a tourist attraction, red light and club district. Many people first arriving in Sydney, tended to arrive at Kings Cross.

What comes through very clearly, in the play, is their individual stories and the reasons that they ended up on the streets.

Jockey has a degree.

She worked three casual jobs while she was studying, had an internship (undpaid work experience) when she finished, but didn’t manage to get a paid job in her area of expertise – journalism.

Now, she finds that she is too old for some jobs, over-qualified for others.

Her family is in the country and the city is an expensive place without regular work.

Sista Jo and Nicky       Sista Jo and Shakespeare

 Sista Jo and Nicky                                          Sista Jo and Shakespeare

Nicky was sexually abused as a child and ran away from home.

She didn’t finish High School and works as a prostitute in order to pay for her heroin habit.

She would dearly love to go back to High School.

And she tries.

She really does, but the play shows how difficult it is, even with the best of intentions to get out of a situation of homelessness from such a low point.

Even with social welfare life is hard, add to that the fact that you live in a capital city like Sydney and show that the different forms of social welfare, Youth Allowance, Newstart, do not cover the cost of rent, meaning that you need to couch surf, live in a car or sleep rough.

Shakespeare – named for his love of the bard spends his nights on trains or on station platforms.

The reality of how to deal with the cold – stuff your jumper with newspaper and sleep on a double layer of cardboard is just one of the pieces of advice doled out by the young people to each other.

The play also shows the emotional cost of helping homeless people.

Sista Jo finds herself at crisis point, just one too many times of dealing with hurt people damaging themselves, each other and her and yet in spite of that she soldiers on because she believes in them, understands them and sees each of their individual stories and hopes.

In spite of its serious and in some ways harrowing topic, the play is also filled with love, and light and fun through the characters energy, singing, dancing and music.

References to real places and people that work with homeless people, the Reverend Bill Crews in Ashfield, Youth off the Streets, is interspersed into the characters daily existence.

The characters interact with each other and the audience.

Audience members are invited to take up parts in the play.

And they are offered food from Sista Jo’s soup kitchen.

The Kinetic Energy Theatre Company takes this play into schools so the facts and figures are given in a way that allows the information to be part of the play without being forced or didactic. At one point the young people are discussing how much money a household is worth and they use each other to form a graph to show that information visually while making it seem a very natural thing to do.

Emily 1  Emily 2Emily 3

Emily

I found Emily to be the most intriguing character, so beautiful and fey.

She lost a baby but her continued connection to that baby brings colour and joy into the play.

Does the play reflect the reality of homelessness in Sydney?

It certainly highlights some aspects.

Next time you are on a train in Sydney look out of the window between Central and Town Hall stations as you ride past Belmore Park and you will notice the tents along the side of the fence and the belongings clustered in the bushes.

On the street corners for two blocks around the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall station you will not fail to see the homeless men who have staked out a corner with their cardboard signs asking for money, telling you a bit about themselves and asking God to bless you for your kindness.

Some will have a dog with them.

A number of these men have been there for years, others are newcomers.

The McDonald’s on George St, past Town Hall is the haunt for young homeless people.

But you will also see the man on the corner of York and Market Streets, selling his copy of the Big Issue, the magazine sold by homeless and marginalised people in order to make ends meet.

And in your own suburb you are sure to have seen someone who is homeless, you may even know them.

©Suganthi Singarayar

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the perspective Suganthi. Theatre is the best story telling I know of. There a so many people being terrorised by the concept of “home” right now. Prime Minister Howard’s great project was to instilling a tremendous fear around people’s private experiences of home ownership success or failure: winning and losing on competitive terms in the private property market. Our public housing mentality has never recovered from that first 1996 neo-conservative onslaught which accompanied a powerful anti-indigenous purpose which greatly resented Aboriginal people’s sense of home regardless of White (any racial superiority complex) property markets. I work with people who treat jail as their home away from home. Their home is the streets in various parts of Sydney. I was recently discussing a network of people I work with who are homeless with a guy who is likewise homeless on the outside, but there is a sense of family almost among them. There’s so much to learn from people who have less “comfort” than us, in terms of appreciating the value of shelter for general health, but at the same time, sometimes we have to ask ourselves if our appreciation of these things is enough. Appreciation, afterall, is not the same as wisdom and strength. Would we, for example, accept that a genuine attempt to steer ourselves away from the kinds of societal disasters we are forcing upon our future generations might have to involve giving up our comforts and possessions? To become, as it were, “homeless” for the sake of mobilisation towards other ends than the dubiously operating aspirations of property-based liberal self-interest driving our property markets. Sydney is a fine example. Monopoly isn’t in it. Would we cooperate and participate in a radical departure from the home-based individualist consumerism which is carrying us along an increasingly unregulated, and highly pollutive, throwaway mess-up with increasingly desperate measures involved in just having a home. John Howard’s home-base era did us all tremendous damage from which we have not recovered and I would like to retrace those days when he started to get us to think differently about life. I have the old papers and will begin going over those articles in the Australian when he took power.

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    1. Thank you, Stephen, for taking the time to write. I’ve been giving some thought to homelessness and social housing in Sydney. The tents at Belmore Park are growing and there seem to be more homeless people in Sydney than even a few years ago. Certainly the play looks at people who are on welfare benefits being unable to pay for affordable accommodation but there are other people who are in paid work who also find it difficult to find affordable accommodation.
      Your idea about people becoming “homeless” in order to find a different way of living certainly provokes some thought. Not sure how many or if any of us would be willing to do that. Although there are certainly some people who have gone down this path. It also taps into the idea of “less for self, more for others, enough for all”.
      Something that many see as important for a sustainable life for us and for the planet but that not all of us find easy to do.
      Thanks, again.
      Suganthi

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