Home is a Beautiful Word at the Belfry Theatre. A review.

Home is a Beautiful Word, currently at the Belfry Theatre (January 7-19th), is proof positive that contemporary theatre is relevant.

By turns stark, hard-hitting, sad, brave, uncomfortable and funny, this well-researched verbatim-theatre play challenges assumptions about homelessness by reflecting the points of view of a wide range of Victorians.

Playwright and journalist Joel Bernbaum was commissioned by the Belfry Theatre, and has spent the last two years interviewing over 500 people, then transcribing, writing, editing and work shopping the play (SPARK Festival 2012) in order to produce two hours of thought-provoking dialogue. Every word, including pauses, hesitations and interruptions, was spoken by an actual individual—nothing has been changed.

From homeowners to the homeless, children, teens, residents and business owners of the downtown core, people working in the “homeless industry”, police officers and local politicians, Bernbaum has carefully selected the vignettes to reflect the broadest spectrum possible.

One of his innovations was to do follow up interviews asking the interviewees (his sources) to pose questions. These questions were then themselves posed back to the community. In so doing, Bernbaum says he wanted to “create a dialogue between people that may not ever otherwise meet, except for their exchanges onstage.

Some of the work was funded through a Victoria Foundation grant. According to the foundation’s Victoria’s Vital Signs® 2013 report, homelessness ranks in the top five issues of local citizens.

Five actors (Yoshié Bancroft, Kelt Eccleston, Kayvon Kelly, Kevin Loring, Tracey Moore) portray the various roles. Costumes (Mara Gottler) reflect a middle class sensibility and a monochromatic and subdued colour scale. (During the talk back after the show, one of the audience members reflected that this choice allowed equal weight to all of the voices).  Set design (April Viczko) is austere, featuring a back wall comprised of black-and-white prints of Victoria-area landmarks and cut-outs of faces. Lighting (Rebekkah Johnson) is subdued; the actors are often in shadow. Director Michael Shamata employs an extremely light touch, with deft subtleties and transitions between the multiple characters—nothing is forced.

belfry-beautifulhome-DB-jan2014-10Kayvon Kelly, Yoshié Bancroft, Kelt Eccleston, Tracey Moore, and Kevin Loring / Photos by David Bukach

Overall, Home is a Beautiful Word is weighty, ponderous—there’s a feeling that what is being said matters a great deal—and, surprisingly, humourous.  The humour transforms the piece.  Rather than a sledge-hammer, playwright Bernbaum employs a small flashlight, shining his beacon to surprise us with stories of mothers with children on the street, business owners who find themselves homeless, church-goers who only want to help, politicians overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, people who search for the moment when their life began to slide. You’ll meet the individuals behind the generic title of “homeless” and what they have to say will challenge and conflict.

belfry-beautifulhome-DB-jan2014-29Tracey Moore, Kevin Loring, Kelt Eccleston, Kayvon Kelly (foreground), and Yoshié Bancroft / Photos by David Bukach 

In true documentary fashion, there are no tidy answers, no neat endings—it’s up to us now as a community to take the next steps.  Thank you to all involved in this remarkable project—it’s a turning point, a defining moment in the cultural and civic life of our city.

Please go—the Belfry has made the production accessible to all, regardless of income.

Home Is A Beautiful Word
Collected and edited by Joel Bernbaum
January 7-19, 2014
Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue, Victoria, BC
$25 at 250-385-6815, or online at www.belfry.bc.ca
Starring Yoshié Bancroft, Kelt Eccleston, Kayvon Kelly, Kevin Loring, and Tracey Moore
Director Michael Shamata
Set Designer April Viczko
Costume Designer Mara Gottler
Lighting Designer Rebekah Johnson
Associate Set Designer Erin Gruber
Choreographer Laura Krewski
Stage Manager Jennifer Swan
Apprentice Stage Manager Sandra Drag

 Ticket Information

To ensure that this production is accessible to all members of our community, regardless of income, the Belfry is offering:

20 complimentary tickets for each performance throughout the run. We will be distributing these tickets.

50 ‘Pay-What-You-Can’ tickets for each performance. These will be available at the door.

Agencies and organizations that deal directly with homelessness can get a 20% discount on single tickets. Groups of six or more from these organizations can get an additional discount, with each ticket being $15.

Engaging Audiences
Prior to and throughout the run of Home Is A Beautiful Word, the Belfry is producing a number of audience engagement events designed to extend the conversations the play will start.

B4Play – Saturday, January 4 at 11 am
CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie will host a live talk show featuring artists from Home Is A Beautiful Word and some very special community guests. This free event is at the Belfry Theatre.

Following every performance of Home Is A Beautiful Word, we’ll host Afterplay where patrons can stick around and chat with fellow audience members. It’s a chance to “debrief” after a show and hear how other audience members interpreted the play.

Library Events
In collaboration with the Greater Victoria Public Library we’ll be hosting Belfry at the Library where we delve into the themes of the show and give people a behind the scenes look at the making of Home Is A Beautiful Word.

We’ll be at the Bruce Hutchinson Branch (4636 Elk Lake Drive, Saanich Commonwealth Place) on Friday, January 10 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am and at the Central Branch (735 Broughton Street) Friday, January 17 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am.

Home Is A Beautiful Word: Kids and Teen Art Contest
Throughout November the Greater Victoria Public Library hosted a Kids and Teen Art Contest asking children between 6 and 18 the questions “What does home mean to you? What would it be like to live without a home?”

All of the drawings and paintings from the contest will be displayed in the Belfry’s lobby before and during the run of Home Is A Beautiful Word.

ASL Performance – January 12 at 2pm
An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performance for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Certified interpreters, standing to the left side of the stage, interpret the script and language used by the actors at the same time it is being performed.

VocalEye Performance – January 19 at 2 pm
Audio describers provide descriptions of the visual elements of the show, allowing people with low vision to enjoy the theatrical experience without missing any of the details. Following the performance there is a touch tour of the set.

 Special Thanks
Home Is A Beautiful Word has been made possible by the financial contributions of The Victoria Foundation, The Vancouver Foundation and The Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation.

Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend Home is a Beautiful Word. 

About @lacouvee

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