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The Cardboard Stories: community theatre brings messages of hard truths about homelessness with inspiration and hope

The Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless (PCCH) in partnership with Joyeous Productions premiered its first theatrical production, The Cardboard Stories‘ “Blissful Turmoil”, in November of 2010. The brainchild of PCCH Director of Development and Performance Evaluation George Bolden, its mission was to instill hope and inspire action, telling a story of the true faces of homelessness. A bold mission, and I must admit, from the very first show: mission accomplished!

From the Palladium Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg, the setting of the play transported us all right down the street. Down the street and just around the corner to nearby William’s Park. I was struck by the scenery, from the busses to the park benches that had armrails installed down the center to make it difficult for St. Petersburg homeless to stretch out. Then, the people started filling the stage. The homeless, police, a familiar mix.

This scene brought me back to my childhood–memories of attending church at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, right across from William’s Park. Countless interactions with the homeless who have always seemed to be a part of the park’s landscape as far back as I can remember. I remember feeling uneasy around them, watching the uneasiness of the adults around me, watching them avert their eyes, watching them take effort not to acknowledge these humans, no smiles, no hellos and not a word about them following the experience.

It’s as if they were ghosts. Some supernatural entities that we are not to mention for fear that then, if they were to be acknowledged or to come up in conversation, we would ultimately have to face our individual responsibility to do something. Something helpful. Something kind. Something outside of our familiarities.

Children learn through example, but all along, I knew this behavior was wrong. Averted eyes, speeded gates, tugging on their children’s hands to move them swiftly by. Wait!  These are people. We should smile at them. We should say hello. We should be kind. We should acknowledge humanity.

Then, the characters started to come alive on the stage, telling a profound tale of an all too common scene: a young mother who recently aged out of foster care to find herself homeless with a baby, living on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. An original stage play written by a local playwrite, Marvia Joye Watkins “Joye”brought a difficult story to her audience in a balanced fashion that wasn’t too uncomfortably hard yet moving and real.  

Blended into the story was original music brought to us by recording artist and The Cardboard Stories Music Director September Penn. Tears welled up in many eyes as the message came home to us all: Faces of Hope… what about us, we know you see us… we were displaced now we’re searching for faces of hope… For the full song, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upmf56NP87w 

Keeping it real was a primary focus of the production from day one. Several key figures responsible for shaping this production spent Labor Day weekend living as homeless persons on the streets and in shelters in St. Petersburg. They came back with an altered, realistic perspective that influenced the production. Some of the cast members were homeless themselves. The Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless provided well-research statistics of homelessness in Pinellas County, which was integrated within the play (about 65 percent of homeless persons are women and children; less than 40 percent of homeless have issues with addictions). Theatergoers were provided with the facts and some of the realities of homelessness, yet with an overarching message of hope and inspiration.

A closing message: may we remember to at the very least acknowledge humanity. Do not invert your eyes any longer. Just take a moment and have the courage in your heart to look, smile and say, “hello.”

The Cardboard Stories is actually a series of four plays. The curtain has closed on the first, though the production is receiving invitation to take the show on the road and perform encore productions! Meanwhile, the cast and crew are back at work, producing the next in its series, “Sweet Atrocity” to be premiered in the Spring of 2011. I invite you all to stay posted by “liking” The Cardboard Stories on Facebook, and sharing this inspirational story with your family, friends, coworkers and faith-based communities.

For more information on The Cardboard Stories, please visit:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Cardboard-Stories/106224186099865

Web: http://www.thecardboardstories.com

Media (St. Petersburg Times): http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/cardboard-stories-play-about-homelessness-opens-eyes-at-palladium/1137969 

Media (Bay News 9): http://www.baynews9.com/article/news/2010/november/174292/Plays-goal:-Raise-awareness-about-homelessnesso

Slideshow (Tampabay.com): http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2010/audio_slide_shows/cardboard_stories/

Photos: http://hornphotographyanddesign.blogspot.com/2010/11/cardboard-stories.html

PSA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkWs2yYPSjE&feature=related

Promo Ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV-PrXGxk84&feature=related

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