Don’t be afraid to look
Before either of us can say anything more, he takes off with coattails flapping, and we’re both speechless for the first time since we sat down.
“That’s ironic,” Carlsen says.
Rare as it is to be approached for a handout in Wellington, it happens, as Carlsen well knows. During the past hour he and I have been discussing his experiences volunteering at Catacombs Drop-in Centre on Courtenay Place and teaching drama to homeless people at Auckland City Mission – all research for his show One Day Moko.
Written and performed by Carlsen, it’s the story of a homeless Aucklander who beds down under a bypass and wheels a trolley laden with possessions, including a television that serves a technological twist in the one-man show, projecting the characters with which Moko interacts as he goes through his routine, getting through another day on the street.
“How could you be homeless in New Zealand? Is it really an issue in New Zealand?” are some of the questions the audience asks Carlsen after the show. “It’s almost like saying is poverty an issue,” he says. “Of course it is. A lot of it goes undetected, even for a small city like Wellington. But you can still see it.”
Carlsen, a 25-year-old Auckland-based actor, first conceived the story in 2009 while working with the Wooster Group, a longstanding company founded by Spalding Gray and Elizabeth LeCompte. “While I was in New York I saw a lot of homelessness and I wondered what homelessness was in New Zealand.” When he returned to Toi Whakaari he began volunteering with homeless service organisations and wrote the first version, a 20-minute solo piece directed by Sophie Roberts, twice winner of the Chapman Tripp Theatre award.
Now an hour-long show that had a sold-out run in Auckland last year, the “perception that homelessness doesn’t exist because we have a water-tight social system” is one of the misunderstandings he challenges by putting centre stage what often causes people to avert their eyes.
“Homelessness isn’t something people want to see. I’m really curious what that strange thing is when we walk by someone on the street – that inability to respond,” he says.
The routines of basic survival provide backbone to the story and serve as a way for the audience to relate.
“That was a wakeup call for me, seeing that people who are homeless still have a sense of routine that’s no different from myself, but the stakes are much higher,” he says. “Initially that’s what I was really drawn to.”
One of the highlights of last season, says Carlsen, was inviting the homeless drama group from Auckland City Mission. “They filled up about half the audience. It was really nerve wracking to be sharing something they all knew and experienced.”
And how did they react?
“They said all sorts of things,” he admits with a laugh. “They recognised things in the show. All in all they really enjoyed it and found it really moving. That makes me feel like I’m on to something. I’m heading in the right direction.”
One Day Moko, Bats Theatre, 6:30pm, August 23 to September 1.