Josie is a senior citizen who lives alone in an apartment halfway to the top of her high-rise building in downtown Hamilton.
Josie is frustrated by frequent fire alarms. She regularly finds herself struggling to race down the stairs in the middle of the night, her two dogs in tow, only to stand outside in the cold with her neighbours for up to forty-five minutes at a time.
Josie often doesn’t go out because she’s scared she may get trapped in the elevator. It often gets stuck between floors, and everyone knows the super is too busy playing solitaire on her phone to even notice.
While Josie’s experiences may sound familiar to many tenants living in Hamilton, Josie herself is a fictional character.
Every week for the past three weeks, a small group of Hamilton renters has been gathering with the Transforming Stories team to develop believable characters and true-to-life situations that represent life as a tenant. Josie and her experiences were created using a community-engaged performance technique known as ‘image theatre’.
For the past two weeks, our group has been having a lot of fun experimenting with putting our bodies into collective statues (we call these ‘images’) that help us to tell a story about life in the city.
Last week participants imagined the ideal future Hamilton. They created a series of images that showed characters who took care of each other, felt connected to each other, and spontaneously danced with each other in their local park!
Last week we also asked folks to create images of what life is really like as a tenant in Hamilton. Our group experimented with several images depicting life in poorly maintained apartment buildings. We saw images of people disconnected from each other, looking downtrodden, and feeling frustrated about chronic maintenance issues.
The difference between these two images is pretty stark, and it left us with nagging questions about the grey areas between the problem images and the ideal images. What are the practical steps to creating a better and more inclusive Hamilton?
This week, we explored some of those grey areas.
This is how our group generated the images of Josie and her neighbours dealing with elevator and fire alarm problems. These new images led to some interesting discussion. We found it really interesting, for example, that neighbours were getting to know each other in the context of difficult living situations, such as waiting for a broken elevator or standing outside together during a fire alarm.
These images prompted questions related to what exactly makes living in an apartment building difficult and/or bearable. We asked each other:
- How do inter-personal relationships amongst neighbours affect tenant organizing?
- What exactly are the dynamics that prevent people from living together in harmony?
We will be taking up some of these issues, and others, next week!
If you have ideas about the answers to these questions, please let us know by leaving a comment.