Illumi-Nation Theatre director, Michele McNamara, has brought together five poetic monologues from award-winning Australian playwright, Daniel Keene as part of this year’s Poppyseed Festival. These monologues (A Foundling, Two Shanks, Getting Shelter, The Rain and Kaddish) invite audiences to consider the multi-faceted issue of homelessness through the eyes of those who have found themselves, simply, yet despairingly, lost.
“Last summer I was reading some of Daniel Keene’s work, particularly his monologues. What struck me was the way he seemed to champion the underdog and also they way his writing would take the reader on an unexpected journey. At the same time, the media was highlighting the issue of homelessness on the streets of Melbourne. I heard Major Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army being interviewed in Neil Mitchell’s show and was completely taken aback by his devotion to improving the situation. I thought Illumi-Nation Theatre could help highlight the work of Brendan and the Salvos through a work about the lost souls who, every day, live on the streets of Melbourne, and Daniel Keene’s work was a perfect fit for this project” she said.
Lost: 5 is about five lost souls and about people who live an isolated life.
“Programming these particular monologues was about finding a balance of drama and comedy, pathos and insight. As the director, the interpretation has been informed by staging – a Melbourne street scene – and the requirements of each story told by the different characters we meet, who all exist in one space but do not interact” said McNamara.
Illumi-Nation Theatre is dedicated to illuminating and humanising issues of social justice, giving voice to those in the community to have been misunderstood, unjustly treated or marginalised and promoting greater understanding of the hidden complexities involved.
“We hope to highlight the humanity of the characters in the work. They are each lost in their own way. By showing a window into this world, we hope to raise awareness. We have been inspired by Brendan Nottle’s recent Walk the Walk for the Homeless. His daughter, Kineisha is part of our cast and we will be showing footage of his walk in the foyer of the Irene Mitchell Studio before each performance. With all the media opportunities that come with being involved in Poppy Seed Festival, we are able to keep the conversation going to support his push for a non-partisan national homelessness policy”.
The company was formed in 2016 specifically to explore these real life issues and ethical behavior.
“Illumi-Nation Theatre was formed in 2016 as a vehicle for me, as a director, to promote ethical directing practice which promoted actor wellbeing. As a Master of Arts (Drama) student at Deakin University, I am currently researching ethical directing practice and so combining my academic interests with my passion for social justice resulted in the birth of Illumi-Nation Theatre. Our first work was ‘Leave’; a workshop performance about the spaces we inhabit, the spaces we are allowed to inhabit and those who control our space. This came from the statement about domestic violence which was, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’” she said.
“In 2017, Illumi-Nation tackled the challenging theme of mental illness with an interpretation of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, performed at Gasworks Theatre for the Melbourne Fringe. Each production has a different approach and our collaborators have a significant impact on our productions. We are now attracting people to our company who have a passion for theatre about relevant social issues and therefore feel very optimistic about our future”.
This show is very different to the company’s most recent show, 4.48 Psychosis that played at the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year.
“4.48 Psychosis had a long incubation period. We continued to work on this right up until opening night and we continually made discoveries and had insights into our interpretation of Kane’s incredibly beautiful, yet complex writing. We also worked as an ensemble, which is very different to our preparations for Lost: 5. For this I am working one on one with the actors. We decided that it would be interesting if each performer did most of their rehearsal in isolation and I am looking forward to the discoveries we make in the final weeks when we bring them together”.
For McNamara, she is quite concerned not enough is being done to help homeless people in Australia.
“The homelessness debate seems to be about whether people need support before they become homeless or whether they need help to transition out of homelessness. The fact is both situations need support and funding. What we need now is for more people to be speaking about this, so that our politicians see it as an issue that needs attention. Housing affordability, availability of mental health an addiction treatments, support for entry-level jobs – these are a few issues that, if addressed and the situation improves, would make a difference. I believe that a society is measured by the way we look after the most vulnerable”, she said.
“There are so many issues that are spoken about in general terms. We hear about ‘the mentally ill’ or ‘the homeless’ as if they are one group of people, all with the same issue and nothing could be further from the truth. Each person who is mentally ill, or finds himself or herself isolated, lost or homeless has a personal story. Our aim is to highlight the humanity of the situation with the hope that the audiences will begin to see that the issues are more complex and require empathy, education and consideration”.
Daniel Keene has been described as a ‘dangerous playwright’ as he ‘works right on the moral edge’ (Sydney Morning Herald) – he has been acclaimed throughout Australia, the United States and Poland; and since the late 1990s has established himself as one of Europe’s most notable contemporary playwrights.
“Daniel Keene’s work always surprises me. His scripts take me to unexpected places and he does this by delving, very gently and delicately, into the soul of his characters. You get lost in their stories; you laugh with them, cry with them. Keene is not afraid to address the difficult issues and this is why his work is a great fit for Illumi-Nation Theatre”, McNamara said.
She urges the public to get behind the call for a non-partisan national policy on homelessness, and to talk, discuss and advocate for action to end homelessness by supporting those who support our most vulnerable citizens; those who are on low or fixed income or benefits, those who live alone without support from family and friends; those who have lost their spirit.
Lost 5 plays from 22 November to 3 December at the Irene Mitchell Studio. Bookings and more info- poppyseed.net.au