7,581+ People:

The work of Anna Deavere Smith and her verbatim performances, which display controversial and destructive issues regarding humanity, influenced me to create 7,581+ People, a solo performance written about the homelessness epidemic.

The name of my performance, 7,581+People, derives from a statistic stating that 7,581 people slept rough in London at least once between April 2014 and March 2015, a number which has been ever increasing since. I included this statistic in my performance as I wanted my audience to be aware of the extent that homelessness has become an issue which has increasingly gotten worse over the past couple of years. The line in my performance read:
Did you know that 7,581 people slept rough in London at least once between April 2014 and March 2015 and that figure has been ever increasing since…It’s crazy isn’t it, especially for me to think that so many people are in the same position as I am… lonely and afraid and just trying to survive another day

When receiving feedback from my peers after my performance, many of them discussed how this line was one of their favourites of the entire performance, as it emphasised to them just how many people had no other option but to sleep on the streets.

The concept of my performance was to show ‘a day in the life’ of a homeless woman, the character I created was quite happy and smiley and appeared to be in a good mood, however as the performance went on I wanted to showcase the fact that perhaps she wasn’t so happy and that it was all a front to help her to cope with the painful life that she leads. Breaking character to speak 2 separate testimonies at different points in my performance allowed the audience to hear what it is like to be homeless from a first person perspective. I wanted my performance to be thought-provoking, giving audience members an insight in to difficult being homeless is, not just in winter but in the summer too.

I developed the idea for my piece from an exercise which we did in the very first week of workshops. When I first came up with the idea it was very rough and lacked detail. As the workshops went on, I began to realise that the little story that I devised in the first exercise of the module was something that I wanted to explore further and possibly turn in to a solo performance. I went over the notes that I made regarding this exercise and began to see where I could expand on the idea further. I began to research in to the work of Anna Deavere Smith, which inspired me to use include testimonies in my performance, as I found that verbatim theatre was a good way of portraying ‘tabboo’ subjects on stage. I didn’t want to be distasteful or disrespectful in my portrayal of a homeless character and therefore began to look at ways that this could be avoided.

I found that improvising little scenes and then turning these scenes in to script once I was happy with them, meant that the script writing process was much easier and enjoyable for me. Devising a script in this way also allowed me to have a better understanding of what action would work on stage, before writing the lines down.

Once I had the script written, I tried rehearsing it in various different ways, speaking with different tones and at different paces, playing around with the script until I found a way which worked for me. My tech rehearsal and meetings with Martin really helped to take my piece in the direction that I thought best, allowing me to view my show as a performance instead of a script. I continued to push and develop my character right up until my performance, where I attempted to portray this character the story of my piece in the best way yet.

Receiving feedback from my peers after my performance was amazing, 7,581+ People is the first solo performance I have ever done, excluding monologues, and also the first script I have ever written and so to receive positive feedback from my audience members made me extremely happy. If I were to sit this module again, I think that the one thing I would change about the process of developing my performance would be to show it to people earlier and more frequently. I think that receiving feedback guided me most when devising this performance and if I were to have received more feedback from my housemates, peers and spectators in general, then my solo performance could have advanced much sooner in the rehearsal process, creating a performance that was both entertaining to an audience and politically driven, this is a balance that verbatim playwright’s, such as Anna Deavere Smith, must take in to consideration when devising a verbatim piece of theatre.

7,581+ People is a performance that I will always be proud of, however I feel as though with more rehearsal time and feedback, it could turn in to a show which has the ability to spark a change in society, surrounding the issue of homelessness.

Tutor Feedback:

After performing my show to my tutor, Martin Curtis, in hopes of some helpful feedback, I found that his suggestions on how to better my show were extremely beneficial. Martin suggested to me that I should make more of an entrance when I first enter the stage, as this is a solo performance it is important to engage with the audience immediately. Taking this in to consideration, I decided to acknowledge the presence of the audience immediately, as opposed to acknowledging them later in the performance which I had previously done.

Another change that Martin suggested was related to the way in which I was performing two testimonies included in my performance. Martin made a suggestion that I slow down when reading each testimony, speaking the words in a way which was more likely to leave an impression on audience members. The first time I tried speaking the testimonies in this way it felt very unnatural, however, I found that as I continued to rehearse them in this way, I understood how effective it was to just simply slow down when speaking, allowing the audience to really hear and understand every word of each testimony.

Another change that I made to my script after hearing Martin’s feed back, was the wording of lines such as:

Excuse me love have you got any change? Any change mate? Excuse me have you got any change I just need to buy a drink? No worries have a good day love!

These lines where I was asking imaginary ‘passersby’ for spare change felt very performed and unrealistic, therefore Martin suggested that I maybe change the lines and approach the question differently.

These lines of me begging for change evolved in to me talking to specific audience members, one at a time speaking lines such as:

Hi you alright? It’s quite a nice day isn’t it…a bit hot though. Look I hope you don’t mind me asking but do you have any spare change just so I could get a bottle of water. I know it’s rude to ask but it’s just that I’ve been walking for hours and I feel really dizzy being out in the sun constantly….

By asking for spare change in this way and directing the lines straight at the audience, I feel though the audience are much more engaged and involved in my piece, allowing to build connections with the character and feel truly immersed in the world of the play.

Martin’s feedback really helped me to develop my performance significantly, as I left the tutorial feeling much more confident and happy with my solo performance. The importance of getting feedback from a spectator of the performance is crucial, particularly as this is my first time ever performing a solo piece of theatre. The feedback given helped me to consider the way in which my show would be received from an audience’s perspective, allowing me to develop my show further in a way which was audience-focused.

Technical Rehearsal

Going in to my technical rehearsal I had a few questions to ask the technician, as the tech for my show would depend on what was possible and if the tech that I wanted would be able to be created. After asking these questions I found that all of the tech that I primarily wanted was able to be done and this meant that I was able to have my first choice with the tech for my solo performance.

For my pre-set I wanted a cool wash over the entire stage with Summer Breeze by The Isley Brothers playing as the audience enter and take their seats.

Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
See the curtains hanging in the window
In the evening on a Friday night
A little light a-shining through the window
Lets me know everythings alright
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
When I come home from a hard days work
And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world
See the smile a-waiting in the kitchen
Food cooking and the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

I chose this song as the lyrics romanticise Summer in a way which makes the season appear extremely beautiful and relaxing, these connotations of summer are very different to the topic of my performance and I think it would be a nice contrast from the pre-set with this song in to my action of my show.

Once the audience are seated, the lights and music will fade to black and silence. I will then enter the stage and the lights will come up with a warm wash, similar tones to that of a summers morning. This lighting state changes when I begin to read my first testimony, prior to walking centre stage, the warm wash will snap in to a back spotlight allowing the audience to see a silhouette of my body, however my face would be shadowed. My reasoning for this choice of lighting when speaking my testimonies is that Paines Plough did a similar lighting state for one of their shows which involved verbatim. The use of this lighting allows audience members to focus more on the words that are being spoken than the ‘character’ that is speaking them. I think that this is a very effective way of lighting a verbatim monologue or testimony and therefore wanted to include this lighting state in my own solo performance.

Once the testimony has been read, the LED lights will snap back in to a warm wash over the stage, however this time the wash is more yellow toned to signify mid-day on a hot, summer’s day. As I begin to read the second testimony of my piece, the lighting will snap back in to the back spotlight as before, to signify to the audience that the words being spoken are not my own. After this testimony, the action of the play continues and the LED lights change to a blue toned wash over the stage, representing the passage of time throughout a singular day.

At the end of my piece, my character lies down and begins to sleep. As this happens, the lights will fade to black and the sound of chirping birds will begin to play and continue on until all of the audience have left the performance space. The sound of birds chirping is again, contradictory to the tone of the piece as I wanted the audio used to portray summer and happiness as this contrasts well with the theme of my show.
The last section of my script reads:

The suns gone down…a lot less people are walking past me…this is when I start to feel alone again…that’s when I know it’s time to sleep…I hope that tomorrow is a better day for me, all I can do is hope ….All I have is hope.

​*LIE DOWN ON FLOOR AND GET IN TO BED*
Birds begin chirping and fade to black – audio continues to play as audience exit.

 

After my technical rehearsal I felt much more confident with my show and wanted to get on with rehearsing it, as I now had the technical aspects of the show visualised in my head.

 

Anna Deavere Smith:

The work of Anna Deavere Smith has heavily influenced my final piece. With her one woman explorations of humanity in turmoil, her use of verbatim throughout many of her works has been of interest to me throughout university, particularly in this module. Anna Deavere Smith has devised and starred in many verbatim plays , especially in the 1990’s, focusing on a lot of the riots which took place in America throughout the decade. Her work of verbatim heavily inspired the structure of my performance, giving me inspiration on how to fit the testimonies that I wanted to use in with the narrative of my performance.

The two testimonies which I have chosen for my performance were found on an article written by The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/06/homelessness-rough-sleepers-interviews-westminster-london

Wolfie, London:
I’m from Glasgow, but I’ve got no family left and I’ve been homeless for two years. I met these two guys in London and we stick together. You need friends when you’re on the street. You become more than friends; you become family. There’s a lot of hostility towards the homeless – people who call you scum, drunks who piss on you, people who try to set fire to your sleeping bag at night while you’re inside it.

Homelessness isn’t just a problem any more – it’s an epidemic. It’s a virus that’s spreading rapidly and soon it’s going to blow up. I’ve seen the lives of homeless people in Manchester, Newcastle, Hull, Birmingham, and the general feeling among those on the streets is that something has to be done. We’re not just going to lie down and die on the concrete any more – revolution’s on its way.

It isn’t just the Tories either, it’s the way the problem’s been handled for the last 50 or 60 years – there’s been a lot of “brush it under the carpet” sentiment, and it’s getting worse. They want to get rid of us and the police are everywhere. I sat down to roll a cigarette the other day and I was told I’d get a fine for vagrancy. That said, they’re not all like that. I’ve known police officers who will look for you if you’re not in your usual spot to make sure you’re OK. I suppose some roses grow from shit.

The hardest thing is staying off the drugs and booze. It’s so easy to succumb to those things when you’ve got nothing left to lose but your sleeping bag. Life is especially hard for the homeless in London because of the migrant problem. Immigrants think there’s a good life here and they descend in these huge numbers. We don’t beg, we don’t ask for change, that’s not how we live, so we get our food from food vans, but imagine the three of us having to fight our way through 90 big Polish guys just to get something to eat.

That’s why we stick together and watch each other’s backs. We spend our days wandering the city and we always have a laugh. When you’re walking around like this, you see more of the world than most people do. You can’t spend your life with your eyes closed and your ears shut. I’ve been educated by the world and from my perspective, there’s something terribly wrong with this country.

That’s why I want to get out. We’ve been to Dover to suss out the ferries, see how much it might cost, and we’ve had a whip-round among our friends around the country so we can nearly afford passports. I want to make it to Europe and just travel. Put one foot in front of the other until I die.

Mark, London:
I’ve been homeless for 18 years – in Middlesbrough, Edinburgh, Manchester – but this is the worst it’s ever been. Up north, it’s much easier to get accommodation, to get housing benefits; there are cold weather shelters and more support from churches. Down here, practically all the support you get is the odd outreach worker prodding you to check you’re alive. Why is the government closing down all the hostels? The main hostel in Covent Garden is closed; Dean Street, beside the NHS centre, that’s closed; the Parker Street hostel, which had 100 beds, has closed. That’s why there are more homeless people than ever. I’ve written letters to MPs, I’ve tried to talk to people about it.

I’ve got epilepsy from a head injury, after I was seriously beaten up in Newcastle, so I can’t work easily. I’m on disability benefits, but the red tape for accommodation is unbelievable; endless forms to fill out. I want to be put in a hostel in Tower Hamlets, where my dad lives, but they won’t listen. I’ve got a court case outstanding; one of the local churches had me locked up when my sister died and that makes things more complicated. I just hope I don’t end up in jail.

You get the odd few people on the street who you can trust, but things have changed over the years and generally I keep to myself. There are so many fights and arguments, more new faces every day, people waking you up in the night. Passersby mostly just want to get away from you. And with the police, it’s out and out harassment – they seem to want to attack you, like they want an excuse.

Everyone thinks living on the streets is easy. It’s not. Worst of all is the cold, at 4am, when it’s banging through you.

I chose these two testimonies out of all the ones included in the article as, when I was reading through them, I personally felt that these were the two most thought provoking testimonies. I felt an emotional connection to these two testimonies in particular which is why I chose them for my performance, as I felt that this connection would help me to portray said testimonies in an authentic and real way. Anna Deavere Smith has discussed in many interviews the importance of understanding and truly feeling the words of a verbatim script, in order to do the real people who provided the testimonies justice. Keeping this in mind, I feel as though these two testimonies are the ones which I will be able to perform in the most ethically sound way, because of these reasons.

Smith’s performances are often based around controversial subjects, as with most verbatim theatre. This guided me towards to decision of representing homelessness on stage, as I feel it is an issue that many people are aware of yet only a fraction of those people choose to fully acknowledge the extent of the issue. By representing the homeless epidemic to a theatre audience, along with the use of verbatim, I aim to create a solo performance which is thought provoking and interesting, bringing to light many issues and statistics that audience members may not previously be aware of.

Progress so far…

I am still wanting to stick to my idea of representing homelessness in my piece, however, I feel as though I have hit a wall in regards to my ideas. I have been struggling recently to develop my ideas further, as I am unsure on which direction to take my piece. I am still wanting to include testimony within my piece and have found a great article which I think could help me with that:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/06/homelessness-rough-sleepers-interviews-westminster-london

I also have a few lines written down which I know I want to use as a starting point for my dialogue, such as:

The suns gone down…a lot less people are walking past me…this is when I start to feel alone again…that’s when I know it’s time to sleep…I hope that tomorrow is a better day for me, all I can do is hope ….All I have is hope.

Sometimes I just feel so invisible, ignorance really is bliss. I’ve been called a druggy and all sorts, it’s like people forget that I’m a human too.

excuse me love have you got any change? Any change mate? Excuse me have you got any change I just need to buy a drink? No worries have a good day love 

Finding statistics on this topic is proving to be more difficult than I had imagined. I am hoping that after meeting with my tutor, I will gain guidance and inspiration on how to develop my piece further and make it suitable and engaging for the stage. I feel that by discussing my ideas surrounding the topic of my piece as well as my visions thus far regarding staging, lighting and sound, will help me to decide on a direction for my piece, aiding me to devise a performance which I am happy with.