It was a full house last night at the Joe Dutton Theatre for the live recording of The Eviction of Stuart Block, a radio play written and created by people experiencing homelessness and people who are working to make a difference in the homeless sector. Created by This is My City for this years High Performance Rodeo, The Eviction of Stuart Block tells the storied history of a three storey former rooming house in Calgary’s downtown core that now sits empty, awaiting demolition.
The cast was primarily actors from the homeless shelter where I worked for almost six years until I resigned at the end of 2011. A motley crew of troubadours, actors, writers, misfits, down and outs and up and comers as Col Cseke, co-director of the piece called them in his introduction. And everyone laughed and for the next hour and a half, everyone was enchanted. Seriously enthralled by this motley crew who brought the real life comings and goings, joys and traumas of a rooming house’s slide from inner city influence into skid row dereliction to life on the stage.
It was a moving, touching and compelling evening for me (and everyone there). As Max, one of the actors said to me after the play, “There will always be a bit of you up there on the stage Louise. This would never have come to be without you.”
I was touched by his words. Touched by the grace of this man whom I first met sitting on the second floor of the shelter painting by himself at a table, surrounded by the chaos and hubbub of the busy day area of the shelter. “Why don’t you come up and paint with us on the sixth floor?” I asked him almost everyday for a month after starting the arts program. “It’s much quieter up there and the view is awesome.” (and the view of the Bow River and the valley to the north of the shelter is awesome!) And eventually, Max did come and join the group that met every Thursday evening in the multi-purpose room. And eventually, he opened up to his creative urges to explore more, to give more of himself to not only his art but also to creating music at the shelter and in the community. And in his sharing, songs have been written, a singing group formed and performances shared all over the city.
In May 2006 when I began working at the shelter, I started an arts program which, over the years, evolved into full spectrum arts-oriented programming that encompassed all the arts from visual to theatrical to musical and written/spoken word. Over the years, the Possibilities Project, as it became known, created opportunities for clients, volunteers, staff and the community to connect in ways beyond the traditional “Let me help you” model prevalent throughout the homeless service sector. The Possibilities Project made it possible for people to connect on the common ground of creative expression — no matter the medium, no matter their address.
I had a lot of ‘me’ invested in the Possibilities Project and no longer being involved, I felt the sadness and the pull of separation anxiety when I arrived at the theatre last night. And then I walked in as the DI Singers (the singing group Max continues to sing with that co-director of the play, Onalea Gilbertson started in 2009) began to perform their pre-show concert. The performers waved and smiled when they saw me and I waved and smiled back. I sat in the front row (a place I never sit) and became immersed in their performance.
It was a night of magic and wonder. Of witnessing the human spirit in flight. It was a moment to let go of regret and savour the wonder of what happens when an idea takes wings on the spirit of human beings celebrating their magnificence.
I was touched by Max’s words to me last night. Touched and awed by the splendor of the people on that stage. And, I was humbled. Years ago I created a space for people to explore their creative yearnings. Today, they are still exploring those yearnings, still expressing their creative impulses and still creating special moments for all of us to witness and experience and enjoy.
As my friend Rachael said after the performance, “You made a difference by turning up tonight, Louise. It was important for everyone on that stage that you be here.”
I am blessed. I didn’t have to ‘do’ anything to make a difference. All I had to do was turn up and be part of the magic.
It’s all any of us have to do. To make a difference begin with turning up. Turn up and let the magic happen.
And here’s a great article by Stephen Hunt in the Calgary Herald about the play. Homeless build show from century-old building.