"Do You Know Me? is a collection of stories, scenes, song, animation and puppetry that explore the experience of homelessness," Barton tells me. "It's based on interviews I conducted with 12 homeless and ex-homeless participants and contains a lot of verbatim material. I mainly focused on their resilience and relationships as I didn't want the play to be poverty porn, so there's a certain lightness in the material to counterbalance the heaviness of the topic. We don't shy away with the darker stories however, we just try to temper them with some lightness and hope."
Barton had never worked with Ho before and their collaboration was borne from a chance assignment during their Master of Performance Writing studies at VCA. "We were sent on a field trip to explore an area in the city and come back with a pitch for a site specific play. We went to Degraves Street and got talking to two homeless men who impressed us with their clarity and likeability," she recalls. "We pitched the idea for a site specific play about homelessness and the idea stuck."
The dozen interviews Barton undertook in preparation for writing the show, while eye opening, also resulted in some personally difficult moments in witnessing the effects homelessness had had on her participants. "Interviewing rough sleepers was rich at times and heart breaking at others, but it enabled me to drop a lot of judgements and preconceptions of rough sleepers. I met so many good people, who are warm, kind and generous and I had many epiphanies about how utterly wrong it is that this is still a problem in a country as wealthy as Australia."
"It was really hard to witness the suffering of one of my interviewees in particular. He's been homeless for five years and suffers terribly from the cold," Barton explains. "He says he was bashed his first year on the streets and his ID was stolen so he couldn't get Centrelink. I find it hard to believe that in all that time social services have not been able to help him replace his ID and get some welfare. His goal every day is to make $25 for a room in a shelter that night, but he's so exhausted he often doesn't make it. He suffers terribly from the cold and spends most nights walking around to stay warm, and sleeps during the day on Degraves Street or in the library where the security guard regularly tells him he can't lie on the floor. One day I took $100 in to him in the library and he honestly looked like he was dying. He was so pale and weak he could barely talk. He looked utterly broken by his situation and I wondered how he continues to survive like this."
Ultimately, Barton hopes audiences see Do You Know Me? as a call to action for people to support those who are homeless and become their advocates. "I want people to consider what they can do to help the homeless. These people have no voice and little agency, so we can start making a difference just by talking to them." Barton tells me. "From posting regularly on social media about their struggles, Kim and I were able to raise $2,500 to help the participants in our show. I was amazed at how quickly and generously the community was moved and felt compassion for those sleeping rough once they had a little information about how much people I interviewed were suffering."
Five Quick Ones
1. Art is the shit.
A lion, so I could roar loudly whenever I like.
3. What song would you play on repeat to torture someone?
"Barbara Streisand" by Duck Sauce.
A couple of days at least! I'd like to think I could give a few zombies a run for their money.
Venue: Meet outside Hamer Hall, St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
Season: 20 - 30 September | Wed - Sun 6:00pm
Length: 80 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $20 Conc
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival