Youth homelessness is not as obvious in rural areas as it is in Ottawa or Toronto, but a new touring play seeks to remind local audiences of the extent of this pressing social problem facing too many small-town teenagers.
The Invisible Boy, touring Lanark County and Smiths Falls high schools and community centres throughout April, was conceived and written by veteran playwright and director Laurel Smith alongside a teenaged troupe who contributed ideas and dialogue to the script. Produced by Burning Passions Theatre, it’s the third year of the company’s “Listen Up!” project, which stages plays documenting unique challenges faced by rural youth tackling everything from depression and suicide to poverty and gender identity.
Smiths Falls – April 18 – 7 p.m. – Smiths Falls Lions Hall
Mississippi Mills – April 19 – 7 p.m. – Mississippi Mills Youth Centre
Carleton Place – April 20 – 7 p.m. – Carambeck Community Centre
Village of Lanark – April 21 – 7 p.m. – Lanark Community Youth Centre
“This project is always a refreshing take on teenaged lives because troupe members are searingly honest in sharing their experiences, which creates a very intimate connection with audiences,” says Smith. “Talkback sessions after each show are a revelation promoting inter-generational dialogue. They also challenge adults to ask what we can do to make our communities more accessible for young people, especially in towns that are underserved for everything from youth counselling to meaningful recreational activities.”
Rural youth homelessness is increasingly a focus of national research, especially given significant numbers of those winding up on the streets of major urban centres originate in small towns. Indeed, a 2013 survey of Perth high school students conducted by local charity Cornerstone Landing found 25 per cent of those questioned had experienced at least one night of homelessness; eight per cent reported five to seven incidents of homelessness. Sleeping rough in the bush, couch-surfing, and staying at all-night coffee shops are among the few options available to those without a permanent roof over their heads.
Members of the troupe producing The Invisible Boy see homelessness as part of a larger web of social challenges. “People don’t talk about it because they don’t see it, but it’s more common than it should be,” says 15-year-old Felix Evangelho. “Sometimes kids get kicked out because their parents don’t accept that they’re trans or gay or lesbian. Sometimes there’s abuse, or drug problems, or just really low income. It’s also hard to talk about because nobody wants to be seen as a charity case.”
Troupe members compare the extensive efforts required to find temporary shelter to networking for a job, having to identify resources, allies, and services. “But there’s no resources on how to deal with the resources that actually are there,” says Ruby Davidson, also 15. “It’s complicated for people, and there’s no way to get there because there’s no transit.”
Evangelho agrees, adding, “Welfare may give you money for an apartment, but how do you do that if you’re 16 and you’ve never done it before? Will there be any money left over for food? How do I buy a bed? How do I get it back to my place? We haven’t been taught those life skills.”
Youth troupe members feel their work has the capacity to inspire dialogue and promote change. “We’re not only connecting to other youth, but also to parents and adults, spreading the word between people who need help and people who can help,” says 17-year-old performer Ryan Kreissler.
Tour dates for The Invisible Boy are available at www.burningpassionstheatre.com
This article first appeared in the April issue of Hometown News