Upcoming college play draws story from lives of homeless

By Jim McCabe on January 23 at 1:10pm

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People staying at New Directions Warming and Cooling Center converse in this file photo from January 2013.

An upcoming Illinois College theatre production aims to give a voice to the homeless community in Jacksonville.

The play is called “The Path to Homelessness.” It features portrayals of homeless people based on interviews with actual individuals staying at the New Directions Warming and Cooling Center at Fayette and State Streets.

This was the final project of a first-year seminar class taught by IC theatre professor Nancy Taylor-Porter. Originally performed at the end of the fall semester last month, the students involved in the show will perform once more later this month.

“We interviewed a population that usually doesn’t get a voice, and we were able to bring their voices to the community and we could validate them, we could learn about them, and we could also educate other people about an issue that I think is often misunderstood,” she says.

The theme for the first-year seminar at IC was “service,” which Taylor-Porter says was the inspiration for this project.

“The students really talked about how valuable the experience of actually talking to the people was,” says Taylor-Porter.

“Someone said ‘We couldn’t have done it without doing the interviews. If I hadn’t been there and I hadn’t seen this person and really witnessed them and talked with them, I don’t think I could have portrayed this situation and the people that they were in the same way as if I just sort of read it on a page in a book.’”

New Directions Director Vanessa Tyus went to see the play on December 9th.

“I was overwhelmed with the performance. It was really awesome,” Tyus says. “It hit every area why a person is homeless. This group, they were actually walking in the shoes of the individuals that they played. It was really neat how they displayed their body language.”

Taylor-Porter says her students were surprised by the stories told by the nine homeless individuals.

“Their stories connected to all of these different issues. I think there’s sometimes a prejudice in this society or a thought that, ‘Well, these are just lazy people.’ And it’s like, no, a lot of these people have come into situations that they haven’t had a whole lot of control over, and it’s been a sort of tragic circumstance in their lives, and they’re having a really hard time,” she says. “They really want to work and get back on their feet and be in a home.”

The play begins at 3 p.m. on January 26th at Sibert Theatre. After the play, a tour of the New Directions shelter, connected to Grace United Methodist Church, will be offered for people who have seen the production until 5 p.m.

The New Directions Center is celebrating its third year of existence on February 2nd. If you need somewhere to stay, go to the Jacksonville Police Department to get issued clearance. The shelter is open 24 hours.