UNF students brought William Shakespeare's Othello to life in three places--University Green, Church of the Good Shepherd, and Russell Park at Atlantic Beach. Story coming soon via the newsletter. Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV to view the majority of the final performance on April 2013.
The University of North Florida's Department of English presented a staged reading of "Word for Word, Homeless Voices: A Community-Based Documentary Playwriting Project" at two evening performances, Dec. 5 and 6, in the Student Union. A panel discussion followed the Dec. 6 reading.
Written by students with their professor, Dr. Pam Monteleone, associate professor of English and Drama, the script is a work in progress and the product of a community-based Transformational Learning Opportunity. This project allowed students to interview homeless individuals and those who work with them at the Sulzbacher Center and at Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville.
"For many of the students in our class, 'Playwrights' Project' was a first intro to documentary and community-based dramatic writing," wrote Andrew Potochnik, "Playwrights' Project" course member, in the production notes for the reading. For many course members, it was their first interaction with homeless people on a one-to-one basis. The minimal setting and the uniform dress of all black removed all distraction and allowed the audience to focus on the stark and painfully real stories of the homeless people interviewed by the students for the project.
In addition to personal interviews, students researched and presented facts from a number of local, state and national sources for information related to the issue of homelessness in Jacksonville. In the resulting "verbatim play," students took the words of real people recorded or transcribed during an interview or from existing official records and then edited, arranged and recontextualized them to form a dramatic presentation in which the student actors took on the characters of the real individuals whose words they used.
The result was riveting and moving. The student actors took turns representing typical homeless people such as a skilled construction worker, a single mother who cannot pay her bills, a child aging out of the foster care system, a father with a debilitating illness, a mentally ill person, a woman who is the victim of domestic abuse, an unemployed person and an elderly person.
One homeless person's story was particularly poignant. He was hooked on drugs, and when his crack dealer gave him a truck, he tried to turn his life around. He started a business hauling trash at which he made money. However, he was not used to having that much money and found himself back on drugs. He came to Jacksonville, prayed to God, and got a job at Anheuser-Busch. For now, he is back on track.
As a dramatic conclusion to the readings, a real-life homeless person performed a poem - "Homeless souls but not alone on this lonely road/ In poverty souls turn poor … The nightwalkers."
The viewer was struck with the sense that almost anyone could end up homeless or know someone who could be. "Most important, the students have learned that stereotypes trivialize. Many came into the class seeing the homeless as dirty, uneducated, lazy and shiftless, bereft of goals and aspirations," said Dr. Monteleone. "After interviewing them, the students began to see them as real people and to see homelessness as a predicament that can happen to anyone." --Karen Rieley, UNF graduate student
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