Thursday, October 10, 2019

1010OI – an audio walking tour offering fresh voices and perspectives on homelessness (Three’s Theatre Company until Sunday 13 October)

Today, 10 October, is World Homeless Awareness Day. 1010OI is the fourth such audio walking tour I’ve covered in recent years. This time it’s the Simon Community and Outside In streetwear company who have partnered with audio-specialist Three’s Theatre Company to tell the story of people who have been homeless.

Selecting to join the ‘Dinosaur’ tour over the ‘Ice Cream’ one is the last choice I have to make. Each of us in the small group of walkers pops on our headphones and hits play at the same time, before strolling across St Anne’s Square and up towards the Albert Clock. My tour left the warmth of The MAC at 6pm, as the glow from golden hour was beginning to dim. The wind off the Lagan cooled the streets.

“It just happened …” is how the story begins as the male voice in my ears describes his Dad’s landlord giving them a month to move out of their rented flat. There’s a mention of someone’s job in the Royal Mail as we pass by the distinctive sorting office. He talks about the blue windows of Centenary House, the Salvation Army hostel on the corner of Victoria Street and Albert Square.

As we continue, our guide helps us safely navigate the pedestrian crossings. Sound effects sitting under the narration blend with the sound of actual ambulances in the distance. We pause at Cornmarket and gaze across at the Spirit of Belfast public art and there’s a busker in our ears. The immersion is powerful. “Everybody has somewhere to be” seems very true true as I look into the earnest faces walking towards me. I begin to wonder if any of them have been homeless, or if I’ll lose my home one day.

Belfast is well-suited to theatrical tours. Many of the city centre pavements are wide enough to accommodate a bunch of headphone-wearing flâneuses, pausing on corners while they hit the next cue on their journey. The alleyways are atmospheric. And active listening seems to free my eyes up to watch the people and begin to imagine.

It’s a story of dealing with no fixed home, low self-worth, the lure of drugs, the lack of support from ‘the system’, the strategy to choose a spot in which to sleep rough, the verbal and physical abuse from passers-by, and steps taken to change the path being travelled.

My ‘dinosaur’ story was an amalgamation of three people’s interviews, written by Colm G Doran and voiced by Brendan Quinn. The other group were listening to two people’s stories fused together by Gina Donnelly and spoken by Adele Gribbon.

“You don’t know me; talk to me; ask me; look me in the fucking eye,” the man inside my head implores. He’s gentle, never preachy or judgemental. The story circles back as it concludes, the two ends not quite meeting, but with a sense that there is hope, relationships are being restored, security has been re-established.

1010OI gathers inside The MAC. Tours continue several times a day until Sunday 13 October.

No comments: