OPEN HOMES 2019
Presented by La Boite and Backbone Theatre, Brisbane Australia
LA BOITE AND BACKBONE WELCOME GENUINE STORY-TELLERS WITH INSPIRING TALES FROM BRISBANE’S BACKYARD
Pop the kettle on and get to know your neighbours when La Boite rolls out the welcome mat for Open Homes, an intimate theatre project starring ordinary people telling personal stories in their own homes from 25 October – 10 November 2019.
The ground-breaking work from Singaporean artist Jeffrey Tan invites audiences into Brisbane homes to hear residents tell meaningful, essential and inspiring stories of their lived experiences.
These 15 everyday storytellers cross not only suburban boundaries but span an array of ages, living arrangements and cultural backgrounds.
The joint production between La Boite and Backbone paired each storyteller participant with a theatre professional to craft an intimate storytelling experience that they will perform four times across the Open Homes season – inside their own homes.
“Open Homes invites both residents and audiences to connect face-to-face for an hour, getting to know the other in the comfort of a home and hopefully, leaving with a new perspective or an invitation to reflect on one’s own life,” Mr Tan, a QUT outstanding Alumnus, said.
“I first created this work in Singapore in 2015 to discover how people connect with each other given the ever-changing demographics of population and evolving culture of urban cities.”
The development process for Open Homes took twelve months with residents and theatre facilitators exploring and identifying what they would share then shaping how to present it across their four allocated performances.
La Boite CEO and Artistic Director Todd MacDonald described Open Homes as a big, beautiful and generous invitation to meet the neighbours.
“In a society where we often don’t know our neighbours, Open Homes is a chance to meet and connect with the people who make up our community,” Mr MacDonald said.
“Brisbane is a brilliantly diverse city and its population is growing and evolving all the time. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience that diversity in all its beauty.”
Storytellers include Indian-born Valerie Ferdinands who honours her family’s heritage through food and an unparalleled passion for cooking in LIFE RECIPES; young couple Anshula and Michael Jones who chronicle the trials and triumphs of combining their two worlds in one home in IN PURSUIT OF LOVE; and Léonie Flood who unpacks the memories of past adventures and life well-lived in KEEPSAKES, BOXES AND TREASURES.
Backbone CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley, who along with Mr MacDonald is one of the project’s eight theatre facilitators, welcomed the chance to collaborate with La Boite to bring an experience of this scale and size to life.
“Open Homes provides an excuse for us to visit someone else’s house and be transformed by the journey of a stranger,” Ms Quigley said.
“These exceptional storytellers can stand proud in a moment, find the beauty and humour that runs through their lives and share it with pride in their own home.”
Each of the 15 participants will share their stories across four evening or afternoon performances, staged on various dates throughout Open Homes’ 9-day season.
A very limited number of tickets are available to each performance with audience numbers dictated by the size of the house or apartment.
The 15 performances are categorised as “Brisbane North” or “Brisbane South” and ticketholders are asked to assemble at a designated meeting spot nearby where they will be guided to their chosen performance’s venue.
Open Homes is presented by La Boite and Backbone with performances taking place at private residences from 25 October – 10 November 2019.
Simon Tate, 27 October 2019
Thank you Simon for sharing your experience of Open Homes!
Ever had a random stranger tell you their life story that had you re-evaluate the way you look at every person you encounter ? Ever just listen to someone’s story and realise that stories are what connects us as human beings regardless of age, culture, gender, sexuality, politics or philosophy ?
Tonight I was invited into two people’s homes as part of LaBoite and Backbone’s Open House and was returned to the roots of what I love about performance, in this case that there was none (not counting the amazing Aunty Beryl, but more of that later). Two people that I could have possibly played 4 degrees of Brisbane separation to get to (in hindsight), but would have otherwise walked past in the street told me their life stories and shared their homes, loves, lessons and memories and it was beautiful. It had something that I’ve been missing in productions of late; honesty and simplicity. I can see why Stephen Quinn raved about these shows. They are addictive, personal, profound, and perfectly colloquial.
Singapore’s Jeffrey Tan has brought to Brisbane this concept after huge success with 47 (!!!!what the what ???) stories in his own country and I have no doubt it will be as huge a hit in Brisburg as well. QACI does something like this with our Living Libraries – a verbatim, one person show – and the result is an intimate performance that draws a small audience into the life of another person. Open Homes does it better though, because there is no artifice, no affectation of theatrical device, no tricks. These are the people and their stories rather than theatricalised, once removed tales, in these people’s homes.
Colin Young’s ‘Essential Guide to Becoming Fab’ stripped back one of Brisbane’s best known drag queens (Aunty Beryl) to his childhood before piece by piece redressing into a performing goddess, not in a club, but in his lounge-room surrounded by the memorabilia of decades (and a grumpy cat). I was also enveloped in the familial love of Valerie Ferdinands’ ‘Life Recipes’, the story of her immigrant family and the comforting motif of music and food – which she then fed to those lucky enough to be invited into her beautiful home.
These stories don’t ‘bring to life’; they are life. As Colin said “Everyone deserves love.” and every one of these stories are a way of sharing it.
There are more Open Homes this weekend and for the next 2 weekends and as they are limited to an intimate audience they are starting to book out. The link is below, but take note that bookings close at 10am on the day of the show.
I thoroughly recommend you check them out, not just if you are a jaded theatre shit like myself, but for anyone who wants to step out from behind their devices and find a connection to the real people out there.
OPEN HOMES 2017
Review by The Guardian
Would you invite 30 strangers into your bedroom? Singapore’s Open Homes project
Arts festival events let you rifle through the drawers of strangers – all in the aim of promoting transparency in the famously restrictive society
‘With these kinds of projects, people start communicating,’ says Open Homes program director Jeffrey Tan. Photograph: Alamy
Friday 25 August 2017 02.01 BST
Last modified on Monday 28 August 2017 04.03 BST
On my third morning in Singapore, I find myself on the 20th floor of a public housing flat in Clementi, sitting next to a cat who is baring her teeth, hissing.
“You have to pet her rougher than that,” my host tells me, smiling. “Otherwise she gets ticklish.” I go harder but I’m not a cat person, and her teeth grow bigger and seem to get sharper as the strangers around me laugh. There are lots of strangers around me.
The owner of this cat is Mohamad Musta’in Bin Abdul Shukor, and he’s one of the 80% of Singaporeans who lives in subsidised flats built by the government’s housing and development board. HDB has been a part of Singaporean life since before the city-state became independent 52 years ago, under the same government that holds power today.
Shakur is shy but warm and his flat, while small, is bright and packed with stuff. There are curtains, couch covers and tablecloths of a shiny blue material, emblazoned with a galaxy of stars (“I made these myself,” he tells us proudly, more than once). There are two plastic dinosaurs perched on his TV screen (“I don’t know what else to do with them!”), and a cabinet by the wall packed with keychains, miniature animals and sparkling jewellery that he uses to make traditional Malay clothes for his family and friends.
Mohamad Musta’in Bin Abdul Shukor, showing 20 strangers his bedroom wardrobe as part of Open Homes. Photograph: Sifa 2017
I know what’s in his cabinet, because he let me rifle through it. A factory worker by day and tailor-in-learning by night, Shukor has invited 20 strangers into his house as part of Open Homes: a program which ran for three consecutive weekends as part of this year’s Singapore international festival of the arts.
Under the direction of Sifa’s outgoing festival director, Ong Keng Sen, the 2017 event is officially themed as “enchantment” but in practice it’s more about transparency and a look at behind-the-scenes – a response in many ways to Singapore’s infamously restrictive government, which Ong (although officially employed by that government) has spoken out about at length.
Open Homes ties in perfectly with that idea of transparency: far-flung Singaporeans of all ages, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds worked with local theatre-makers or “facilitators” to fine-tune a half-hour walk-through of their homes and their lives, and present it to the public in three or four performances.
It’s a brave thing to let 20 strangers into your house; braver still to let them go through your photo albums, take pictures of your fridge magnets, and challenge your ticklish cats. But it’s also a chance to get a rare glimpse into the lives of people you might pass on the street and never meet – and who doesn’t want permission to open someone else’s drawers?
The program’s artistic director and producer, Jeffrey Tan, puts it succinctly: “It’s moments like these where you feel you’re alive; you feel you’re connected.”
Jeffrey Tan, the director of Open Homes. Photograph: Sifa 2017
Tan presented his inaugural iteration of Open Homes at 2015’s Sifa. It returned after a break with a new focus on diversity: this year 20 of the 30 participants live in public housing, and many of the facilitators and participants come from different backgrounds to Singapore’s Chinese majority.
Shukor, for instance, is Malay, Muslim and a bachelor embarrassed by the size of his queen bed. (“It was a gift.”) He shows us photos of his family, and his beloved recipe book – dictated by his late mother, and transcribed by him. He introduces us to his lemongrass and pandan plants on the balcony before handing us tea he made from them; he also serves us glutinous rice balls with sugar syrup and sends us home with salted eggs that took him three weeks to make.
Tan found the Open Homes participants through a Facebook call and word of mouth – recommendations from friends, from 2015 participants, and from the facilitators themselves.
“In Singapore, in public housing, you look out beyond this door and all the other doors are closed,” he says. “People don’t talk – I think that’s true. And with these kinds of projects, people start communicating. I think the most moving experiences are when neighbours come, and realise, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know. I didn’t know what you were going through.’”
In another Open Homes piece called Bao Bao – a Chinese term for both “baby” and “treasure” – Joan Lee and John Sng told the story of losing their firstborn. “The birth was also the death of their first child. When I first heard that, I was a mess,” Tan says. “These are the kinds of stories we just rarely hear.”
Danny Raven Tan with his mother. Photograph: Sifa 2017
Another piece was hosted by a young painter, Danny Raven Tan, who lives with and cares for his mother, who has dementia. His mother was present for some of the performances, lending a heartbreaking air to the piece’s title: Mummy Not at Home.
Singapore has a rapidly ageing population, with Singaporeans aged over 65 set to double by 2030 and rates of dementia on the rise; as the government grapples with strategies to deal with that, society is already feeling the effects.
For many in the audience at Mummy Not at Home, Jeffrey Tan tells me, Danny’s story rung true. “At the end of the performance quite a few audience members very quietly snuck up to him to give him a hug and said, ‘Thank you – this, I’m going through this too. This means a lot.’”.
Singapore international festival of the arts runs until 9 September. Guardian Australia was a guest of Arts House Limited