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Am I Invisible?

04.08.14 | Comment?


CATEGORIES #stealthisidea, Applied Theatre, devised work, engagement, steal this idea

ED NOTE: I have a love for applied theatre (as exemplified by longtime friends Rehabilitation Through the Arts and Conspire Theatre and in the interest of shining a light such programs I’ve asked Am I Invisible to write about their program and their project. If you have an applied theatre program I’d like to talk to you about it. Contact me @TravisBedard.
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“So many days in this life we pass by people and look at their existence in envy without actually taking the time to truly examine their lives.” – James Mosley

Austin, Texas. Recently, the name of our city is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. It’s the “Live Music Capital of the World”. It’s where standing in line for your BBQ is as important as eating it. It’s an “oasis of weird” in a sea of conservative norm. It’s the place with a “highly diverse” population.  It’s also where approximately 4,000 Austinites struggle to find permanent dwelling every year.

From its inception in April 2013, Am I Invisible makes space for members of the city’s homeless community to tell their stories. Inspired by the work of John Malpede with the Los Angeles Poverty Department, as well as Cardboard Citizens in the UK, Am I Invisible uses theatre in seeking to transform personal experiences of homelessness into a shared interaction and theater expression.

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The project began when Roni Chelben, a performance artist and graduate student in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin, started facilitating Your Camera Your Story, weekly video workshops at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH). That spring, the participants shared their experiences of homelessness and learned various cinematographic skills. The workshop concluded with the participants devising, shooting, and editing an original video depicting their daily lives experiences.

Am I Invisible grew directly from the passion and excitement of that video workshop. Our production explores the issues of visibility and invisibility within and outside the homeless community of Austin. Our participants created a performance event aimed to spark a conversation about homelessness in Austin, driven by the participants and their voices. It includes original monologues, short films shot around town, and a forum theatre scene.

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Working on such project invites various challenges. The work toward the performance is taking place in various places since we don’t have a regular rehearsal space. Group members need to invest long hours in practicing their roles in addition to their daily pressures. And there’s the issue of how to attract a wide audience to a performance dealing with a topic that is usually ignored by the majority of the city residents. Yet this is a learning process for all of us.

Am I Invisible will take the stage on April 12th. After long and hard work, we are excited to bring to our audience an unmediated story of homelessness, told by those who are experiencing it. Through that performance, and the ones to come thereafter, we’d like to use theater as tool to promote civic dialogue and social change.

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Roni Chelben & Rachel Gilbert

Roni Chelben is the founder and director of Am I Invisible, as well as a performance artist and graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.

Rachel Gilbert is Am I Invisible’s producer, a dramaturg, performer, and theatre maker figuring out Austin. Gilbert is a recent alumnus of the Performance as a Public Practice program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Latest posts by Roni Chelben & Rachel Gilbert (see all)

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