The drug addict. The kicked-out daughter. The military veteran. The mother.
All homeless, all for different reasons.
St. Petersburg actor Karleigh Chase is hoping to spotlight the unique plight of homeless women in Less, her new one-woman play running Friday through Sunday at the [email protected] in St. Petersburg.
Chase, 22, is one of six young artists involved in Project GenYes! at the [email protected], a grant-funded incubator program for millennials. Chase received a $1,200 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to produce Less, which she conceived as a student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Chase plays Leslie, who becomes homeless over the course of the show. Between Leslie's scenes, expect video clips of Chase as other homeless characters, as well as interviews with actual homeless people. And bookending the play, guests can view paintings from formerly homeless artist Ben Love and hear music from the Open Door Band, made up of musicians who have been homeless.
We caught up with Chase to find out the process behind Less.
What inspired you to tackle the topic?
I grew up in a single parent household. My mother and I lived paycheck to paycheck. I'm sure had we not had the blessing of having good grandparents that could assist us and having people to turn to, maybe our lives would be different.
It sounds like you're trying to present homelessness from all angles.
I've had to follow a really thin line between being overly sympathetic toward them and also being too harsh toward them. I know some of them choose to be there, and just like any sect of society, there are people that choose to live off the government and choose to be lazy. But at the same token there are so many people who aren't like that.
How did you form the show's narrative thread?
I found a blog by a homeless man ( thehomelessguy.blogspot.com). I thought it was so intriguing. He's just really articulate and he knows why he's homeless. He just doesn't fit into society. I thought, how unusual is that to have a homeless person who blogs? And how modern is it at the same time? Homeless people have Facebook pages. Homeless people have social media sites. Everyone can use WiFi. You can go into a Starbucks or a library and get a connection. For very little money, you're able to stay connected. I thought, what a great way to have Leslie interact with the audience. We see her blogging with a laptop, and when she signs off the blog post, then a video clip plays.
How did you meet homeless people for your research?
The women I talked to actually work for an organization down in Bradenton called Turning Points, and they're all previously homeless and they work there now. ... I did go down to Williams Park a couple times and talk to people. The men were much more willing to talk to me than the women. I don't know if it's just because women feel uncomfortable to talk to other women. … At the same time, I didn't want to approach anyone and make them feel overwhelmed, like I was trying to look at them like a specimen, because no one wants to feel that way.
Why is it relevant to stage Less in St. Petersburg?
We're a really progressive and socially involved city, and we have an issue of homelessness. I think we have enough people in this area who, if educated about homelessness and given the opportunity to see that the homeless are not that different than us, would be willing to try things that other cities wouldn't to solve homelessness. In Kansas City, they started offering free housing to people to get them off the street. It's those kinds of social experiments that help, and I think we have that kind of city.
Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.