Do you ever walk past a house and wonder about the lives of the people who live there? There’s a story or more behind every door.
Open Homes – conceived by Jeffrey Tan, theatre director, producer and drama educator – premiered at the 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts. For this OzAsia season, Tan is working with No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability to introduce audiences to six generous storytellers who have agreed to invite audiences in and reveal something of themselves.
It would be hard to find a more intimate theatre event. The hosts are not actors – they are real people sharing glimpses into the life experiences that have brought them to Adelaide, the place they now call home.
We and our fellow ticketholders gather first at a meeting point within a very short walk of the home we’re about to visit (the exact address is not divulged). We meet Tyson Olson, who introduces himself as our theatre facilitator and explains a few ground rules to help us respect the privacy of the presenter and their family. A few more steps down the laneway and we enter a small room on the ground floor of a townhouse to be greeted by our host, Genevieve Haese, who welcomes us with a warmth and enthusiasm that instantly dispels any shyness or hesitancy we might be feeling as we stand on the threshold of a stranger’s personal space.
Moving through the foyer and up the stairs to the living room, we learn of our host’s passion for the arts and her support of projects that aim to bring hidden aspects of local history to a wider audience. Our small group (there were 14 of us) make ourselves comfortable on the couch, dining chairs or floor and learn more about what motivated Genevieve to pursue a career in advertising, business and entrepreneurship.
She shares anecdotes of a childhood spent in Singapore, enjoying the benefits of growing up in a safe environment with excellent educational opportunities. We hear of her father’s willingness to let his daughter explore the world. After tertiary studies in the United States and England, she travelled for work to locations across the globe. Her cousins in Melbourne eventually prompted her to consider settling down, and it was love that ultimately brought her to Adelaide following her marriage, in 2010, to Martin Haese.
It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person in just under an hour. Apart from divulging key life moments, Genevieve explained some of the principles and values that influence her decision-making. We heard about kancheong (a kind of nervousness or sense of urgency) and kiasu (a competitiveness or fear of losing) – Singaporean terms that describe some of the guiding forces behind her life and career choices. She spoke often of her desire to leave a legacy, in particular by capturing and celebrating women’s achievements via the HerStory project she created during her time as lady mayoress of Adelaide. This documentation of untold stories of women in South Australia is ongoing.
Open Homes is a wonderful chance to share a brief but authentic connection with someone we might not otherwise meet. It seeks to inspire us to foster community and “take a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes”, and it achieves these aims beautifully.
There are several performance dates for each of the six Asian Australian storytellers, with sites in the Adelaide CBD, Aldinga, Golden Grove, Klemzig, Noarlunga Downs and Athelstone. The performances promise insights into diverse journeys, including finding love at unexpected stages of life, and building relationships and family in a foreign land. Each session stands alone but it would be rewarding to experience the full suite.
Open Homes continues until November 7, with the full program of sessions available with six different Asian Australian storytellers available here.
Read more OzAsia reviews and stories – including InReview’s festival picks – here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.