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.