On Saturday, members of the Hobson Street Theatre Company will show Aucklanders a side of the city they may not know as well as they think they do; 12 days after that, it will be the performers themselves stepping into a different world.
Seven members of the theatre group, run in association with the Auckland City Mission and made up of people who have experienced homelessness, will fly to the International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
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The festival, which happens every three years, is the world's largest community arts event and includes theatre, dance, music, film and visual arts made by people who, in the main, are from oft-marginalised groups.
The organisers describe participants as "engaged artists who make it their daily job to bridge the distance between worlds and people from all walks of life."
It is the first time a New Zealand group has been invited and the HSTC members who will attend – Kelly, Joeli, Tim, Richard and Richard, Belinda and Shadow – are excited as well as nervous but ready to fly the flag for their company, city, the Mission and Aotearoa.
They will work with a theatre company in Rotterdam also made up of people living on the fringe of society and supported by an organisation like the Auckland City Mission run through a church called St Paul's. The two groups will have just a week to bring together their respective ideas and make a show for the public.
"So, no pressure then," jokes Kelly.
"It shows you don't have to have a lot of money to put a group likes ours together and take it to the world," says Richard.
They travel to Rotterdam with a producer, director and senior Mission staff member, Wilf Holt who agrees the excitement among HSTC members is palpable. For some, it is the first time they've had a passport and traveled outside of New Zealand.
"If the Hobson Street Theatre Company can travel halfway round the world and back again, then lots of other things are possible and it shows one should not be constrained in their thinking," says Holt.
The group originally thought it might make Australia its first international destination, but Holt says the invitation to go to Rotterdam came up and was simply too good to turn down. It is also a great way for the company to mark its 10th anniversary.
HSTC started in 2010 making shows, predominantly based on members' personal experiences, and performing these in venues such as the Auckland City Mission Drop-in Centre, the Herald Theatre in the Aotea Centre and the Basement Theatre.
One of the founders, Bronwyn Bent, told the Herald it was about hearing different creative voices and recognising there are many stories that we never hear.
The company has gone from strength to strength, performing in the Auckland Fringe Festival for the last two years running and taking these shows to Wellington and Dunedin. Last year, it won an Arts Access Aotearoa award and a NZ Fringe Festival award for "best organised chaos".
Members, like Kelly, say being part of the theatre group allows them to express and share feelings with others. They've had audiences say that they believe the world would be a better place in more people saw HSTC shows, which can lead to discussions about the big issues facing society. In turn, HSTC likes to say "homeless does not mean hopeless".
For this year's Auckland Fringe, the company has joined forces with well-known Auckland theatre-maker Anders Falstie-Jensen on a piece called Let Me Tell You About Auckland. It's a walking performance taking the audience on a journey around the inner CBD where actors will share stories, some true, some maybe not so true, about the streets of the city we think we know.
What: Auckland Fringe – Hobson Street Theatre Company: Let Me Tell You About Auckland
Saturday, March 7, 3pm and 6pm from Aotea Square under the Waharoa; koha.