Invisible in my city
Donning masks and dark-hooded sweatshirts, three young actors strove to portray the lives of the invisible in a production entitled This is My City during week three of Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo.
Produced in collaboration with the City of Calgary, One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre, Joe Media Group and other individual artists within the community, the show depicted a snapshot of the Calgary Drop-In centre, of the people who live there, and their stories.
Actor Jed Tomlinson introduces the audience to a man who, with the misfortune of losing his job and home, falls into the drug scene. He talks emphatically about his Grim Reaper tattoo, and explains how he has plans to move to Fort McMurray to make money. He is disappointed by the fact that no one put him up when he had offered his home to those who needed one in the past. He lives in the drop-in centre, but he is a Calgarian, a citizen.
“These are individuals, individuals are citizens, citizens of a community,” said Dawn Ford, community cultural development coordinator of arts and culture for the city.
“This is my city . . . it doesn’t matter if I live in a house or if I don’t live in a house … I still deserve to be treated with respect, I still deserve to be recognized, visible and cared for.”
The actors rehearsed at the drop-in centre and after 30 days saw firsthand what life is really like for a homeless person in a rapidly booming city.
“ One day you’re walking down stairs and in the middle of 500 people there’s someone passed out with three firemen around them, and then there’s another day where something else happens and it just brings you to tears,” said Tomlinson.
“ I don’t think we could have done this show without rehearsing at the drop-in centre … what we tried to put on stage was a reflection of what is like down there, and we couldn’t have reflected that without seeing it.”
For the last 12 months, the City of Calgary has been developing the This is My City project, and the show was one of its final steps in creating a dialogue.
Also a part of the project was the mentorship program, an opportunity for the homeless population in Calgary to tap into their creative outlets and create the masks that hung on the stage’s backdrop.
“ We wanted to add stories of experience to all those charts and graphs that are presented all the time,” Ford said. “This is a way of personalizing and humanizing the story.”
Ford said the idea behind the project was something that originated just over a year ago when she started reflecting on the way Calgary marginalizes its homeless population, without recognition or respect.
The project has one goal: to bring the stories of Calgarians to other Calgarians, attacking ignorance and creating awareness on a real issue.
“ Every society should be judged by how it takes care of those people who are the least capable of taking care of themselves,” Ford said. “We don’t take care of [the homeless], and what’s even worse is that we let them sidewalk surf in minus thirty degrees.”
“ People are incredibly unaware,” Tomlinson said. “ I was quite surprised as to how little what is a fairly major really issue affects people, so I’m really hoping that this show brings about awareness.”