Letters to the editor | November 10, 2017

Real-life messages shared

MY ADVENTURE within the Horsham Arts Council began only last year, in 2016, when I merely offered to lend a hand behind the scenes.

What really grips anyone new embracing this world; is that this amateur performing arts company is in fact a living, breathing, singing, dancing, loving and crying embodiment of family. Inspired not by paid roles, but by passion. I was warmly welcomed immediately. 

Last week I was excited to see the arts council’s concerted production of Rent at the Horsham Town Hall – head on, rather than side stage. Every review that I’ve heard about so far has been of praise and love – and justly so. 

Brian Harrison’s portrayal of Collins tugged at my heartstrings in the most powerful and sincere way. His friendship and love are expressed through all assets with raw devotion from beginning to lament. 

Brady King’s dramatisation of Roger made me believe in his isolation and despair, not faltering for even a moment. His singing commanded an incredible dynamic between stage and audience.

Mimi as performed by Erin Boutcher – without a doubt her voice is my favourite for this role in any production of the show that I’ve seen so far. Likewise, there is no one better I can see as Mark than Chris Versteegen, who did not miss a cue, an expression or a moment to live in character for the entirety of the performance. And the audience applause in anticipation when Joel Kimberley entered the stage as Angel was well deserved from that moment on.

The whole cast were enthralling and complete with a live band of such talent and skill to leave me bewildered. Strung together by the directive, creative and production teams on a perfectly presented backdrop, you have yourself a show that leaves you with tears, goosebumps, shivers and outbursts of laughter.

However, a production such as Rent leaves me wanting. I am hoping everyone will now not just dismiss the themes as “tactfully presented”. Although the show was written more than 20 years ago, its relevance today is uncanny.

Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?

On any given night in Australia, it is averaged by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that one in 200 people are homeless. The people we see living on streets are the accepted face of homelessness. But there are so many more people couch surfing, living in cars, house sitting.

A bad day of unfavourable circumstances can mean uncertainty at home for anyone – and you would be wrong to think that Horsham is unaffected. I challenge you to speak with any social worker who will tell you we have our struggles to help people affected by homelessness – even here.

It is likely you even know of a friend or family member who, at some point in time, hasn’t been able to go “home” for one reason or another. Did you turn a blind eye? What about the people you see living on the street – does this confront you? Or, do you stop to ask if they are okay?

Rent also explores drug-use and dependency. How many of you have known a friend, colleague, or family member to use? I have lost a friend to years of psychiatric help whose personality became unrecognisable after a bad ‘trip’. A family member to heightened mental health issues because of her dependency. I have held a friend who had her child taken from her after she was caught dealing, the financial allure of which she could not give up, even to put her family back together.

I have watched as a colleague fell into a surreal debt that tore at her family because of her ongoing battle between addiction and sobriety, and I have lost a friend to suicide after his addiction tormented his isolation and depression. It’s an ongoing battle to help friends who have lost jobs, family, friends, dignity and life because of substance abuse. Do you turn the other cheek when you see people struggle? Or, do you offer your compassion to help these people help themselves?

Lastly, there’s the issue of acceptance and recognition of people who identify as LGBTIQ – myself included. In my youth I had always struggled with recognising this as an issue, as I had always considered it to be a non-issue. My definition of love extends to everyone being worthy. Love is love, right? I don’t need anyone else, or any book, to tell me that; – and although exhausting, I will never stop defending that belief.

I have had to accept that growing up means understanding there exists a judgement towards those who have a definition of love different to what is historically considered as socially acceptable. It is without doubt that this intolerance is a major falling of us as a nation. 

Regardless of your debate logic on the constitution of marriage, can you pinpoint the time in your life when you had to decide what love meant to you? What about when you had to decide whether it was okay to invalidate people who made themselves vulnerable enough to be true to themselves? What did you choose to do? And, with the country now looking at you for your vote, would you choose differently now?

Rent teaches us to embrace our communities and not to live in fear. I am proud of the arts council for engaging their local community with this brilliant show and especially proud of the bravery of everyone involved to stand for what they believe in.

I hope you saw the show to support not only the people you know, but the themes that transcended them. I hope that you will digest these messages and acknowledge them. I hope you will choose to help those who need it, rather than turn your cheek.

I hope you will accept the people around you brave enough to reveal who they truly are. And throughout the coming change of seasons, I hope you choose love.

Cassandra J. Velinos, Horsham