Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12, 2014

I don't know how it got pulled off, but it did.

A weird dream to try and pull off a multimedia production about the problems facing Austin's homeless community. It involved an overeager Israeli theater director, a few UT students, a couple of professional actors, numerous contributors from the ARCH, and a certain aspiring music producer with bad stage fright who had the misfortune to have experienced homelessness in Austin and New York in 2013.

It took over 6 months of short videos, interviews, monologue creating, and rehearsing and more rehearsing. Several dropped out of the project due to creative differences or out-of-area job offers. A couple of people were added late to the project, including the music producer. He even created the theme song for the project, titled "Am I Invisible".

An arts grant was provided for the project. St. David's Episcopal Church offered their gymnasium as the first performance site for the project. Sets were built, rehearsals were practiced and practiced. The music producer got a warehouse job in Tech Ridge and a short term rental in East Austin. A short play detailing how a man went from housing to eviction to arrest for sleeping on the street was added. One of the ARCH participants had way too much fun with the baton during the arrest scene. April 12, the day of the performance, arrived. More rehearsals, more intensity, more flashlights, and costume changes. A big pizza lunch about an hour before the performance. Most were expecting about 20-60 viewers for this performance. Instead, about 150 showed up, ready to witness either disaster or a theatrical statement.

The music producer slightly overcame his stage fright. And due to some pre-production technical glitches, his music wasn't even featured in the production. But somehow the thing was pulled off, with loud applause after each monologue and the final scene. Hopefully this project will lead to changes in the way Austin treats its homeless population, preferably doing away with the tight restrictions on shelter and policies that make housing more unaffordable for at-risk low income people. And hopefully those theater participants that are still homeless can use their exposure in this project to get out of shelter alley.

As for the music producer (who if you haven't figured out by now is me), he walked home after the performance to his modest dwelling in East Austin and wondered whether it was worth it or not to have moved back to Austin after his disastrous 3 months there (mostly in shelter alley) in 2013. Yes, he got 2 jobs in 2 months. But all his friends are back in the tri-state area along with a few politicians who probably deserve to get impeached or worse for their views on religious Catholics and conservatives. And his hometown of Colorado Springs is a lot more affordable on housing than Austin is. But their economy is in bad shape, and moving there now without job offers or a car would probably lead to a lengthy stay on Sierra Madre St (the shelter alley of the Springs). Many with money in this town would enjoy 6th Street. But it is too close to shelter alley, and brings up a lot of bad memories I associate with this town.

Photos of the rehearsals below:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

April 3, 2014

What a difference a month makes. Last month, I thought I would have a quick 2 week warehouse assignment and still be stuck in Austin's shelter alley until something else came along or until I got tired enough of Texas to move back to Colorado or the Northeast. Now, the Pearson assignment is still going on, I am now in a house share in East Austin, and literally have 2 jobs. The other job was at first a hobby I volunteered with last year (see my 6th Street video on Youtube for some of the results of that project) that morphed into a multimedia/theater/art project about homeless life in Austin called Am I Invisible. When the director, Roni Chelben, found out I was moving back to Austin, she invited me to join the project even though I was not homeless at the time and had no intention of reliving my shelter alley nightmare from 2013. I ended up writing a monologue about my own views on homelessness in Austin (and how different it is than in New York) and contributing original music compositions to the project. For about a month, I was as much in the homeless shelter nightmare as the other 4 primary participants. But now, I am housed, in better conditions than I had in Rockaway. But that shelter alley/ARCH nightmare still goes on for hundreds of people in Austin- not counting the 1000-2000 who are camping out in vacant lots and park benches because of the extreme lack of shelter space. Most of the ARCH participants in the Am I Invisible project have gone through this nightmare of homelessness and unemployment for years- and were involved when I participated last year. By the grace of God, I was able to get employment and get out of that Hell. But most in shelter alley can't. This in a city with 4.8% unemployment and rising (but nowhere near NYC-level) housing costs.

Got off the train from New York, wonder why I'm back in the place where I was most invisible
where they who pledged to help told me to sleep on the streets
In New York it's illegal to sleep on the streets, and all who need it (by law) can get shelter
In Austin, there is not enough shelter space, and the police chief wants those than can help to move out of town.

Want to hear the rest, go to the Trinity Center gym on Saturday, April 12, at 3PM. This could be a boon for my self confidence and music career as well as helping others who are still in that nightmare get employment and housing.