Stage & Dance

Actors live their roles in 'Please Don't Call Me Homeless'

Ellis Boatley, right, plays a veteran of the streets and Eric Ogle is a newcomer in Please Don't Call Me Homeless ... I Don't Call You Homed.
Ellis Boatley, right, plays a veteran of the streets and Eric Ogle is a newcomer in Please Don't Call Me Homeless ... I Don't Call You Homed. Lexington Herald-Leader

The scene onstage at the Downtown Arts Center often plays out across the street in Phoenix Park and other places around town: Hungry people line up to receive a meal served by members of a church or a social services agency.

And many of the people on the stage have stood in those lines, waiting to receive that gesture of grace.

This weekend, the Street Voice Council Players will make their debut with Please Don't Call Me Homeless ... I Don't Call You Homed. The play is based on experiences of the actors, most of whom have been or are without homes.

It was written by Jeff Gross, a University of Kentucky doctoral candidate, based on interviews with more than two dozen Lexingtonians who have been homeless.

"We hope it will be a voice for the homeless people, to show they're more than just a face you pass by," says Joe Shuman of the Street Voice Council.

Ellis Boatley, also a member of the Street Voice Council, says that for people working on the show, "It's a way for them to feel better about themselves, to feel like they're somebody."

Please Don't Call Me Homeless portrays the life of people who do not have homes. The characters wake up early on the streets, guessing what time it is and facing a long day. One man, an alcoholic, talks about gathering enough cans to get money for beer. Another plans to get food, and another talks about getting a nap at the library.

Boatley and Shuman say that one of the most important things is telling the stories of women who are homeless, and some of the hazards they face, including sexual predators and, in heartbreaking case, losing their children.

"People don't realize the devastating effect losing a child can have on you," says Toni Hargis, who plays a woman who sells her home after social services authorities take her child.

The audience will see members at group meetings and in various situations, trying to help one another.

"There is a sense of loneliness but also a real sense of community," says the show's director, Eric Seale, artistic director of Actors Guild of Lexington.

The project started early this year as a collaboration among Actors Guild, the Street Voice Council and the Catholic Action Center.

The title comes from people expressing a desire to not be defined by their circumstances.

Seale says he has been impressed by the performers' efforts to learn their lines and work at the craft of acting. For most, that's because they have something to say with the show.

Binta "Queen" Baraka says, "I hope it raises awareness that all of us, whether we are in the ghetto or the suburbs, we share a space in this world and should be treated as human beings."

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