“When people sit down over a meal, conversation follows,” says Josh Bledsoe. A Communications instructor at Blue Ridge Community College, he recently volunteered at a weekly free dinner hosted by Joseph’s Center for the homeless in Hendersonville.
“A meal is the thing that brings us to a common experience,” says Bledsoe. “We finally get to talk to a neighbor and know someone not just as ‘the other,’ but know them by their name.”
He and Jennifer Treadway, who also volunteered, say they were touched by their surprise new community. They formed friendships — and they also began a conversation among themselves: Wouldn’t it be great if they could write a script that shared what this sense of community feels like?
Together, they created Stories from the Table, a play that addresses homelessness by telling the story of one young man and the people he meets at a free community kitchen. For research, Treadway (the director of the drama department at BRCC) and Bledsoe began conducting interviews at Joseph’s Center. “The story that stands out the most to me is a woman who is sleeping on friends’ couches,” says Treadway. “She has a three-year-old daughter, and trying to parent when homeless just opened my eyes to a situation I had never considered.” She also mentions a 94-year-old man who has a place to live but no family nearby.
“The people at the Joseph’s Center give him rides, do his laundry, check on him every few days … and he often sings just to keep us all entertained.”
Bledsoe, who directs the play, created a story arc and brought it to his students to fill in as they improvised and rehearsed. In his fictionalized account, “Kevin” is a former high-school athlete who’s been kicked out of the house by his parents because of his opioid addiction. At 20, he is the same age as the young actors who helped write his story. The audience meets him when he visits The Center, which closely resembles Joseph’s Center, and follows him as he interacts with other people, learning more about himself along the way. (The character has a privileged background and becomes more compassionate when he realizes how many different situations can lead to homelessness.)
Once rehearsals began, the actors hit the ground running. Through research, discussion, and even guest speakers, they fine-tuned the theme, learning what homelessness in rural Appalachia and in Hendersonville looks like. No mass transit, for instance, means that something as commonplace as a broken-down car can easily spiral into lost wages and eviction.
Key to this, Treadwell says, was “delving into [the issue] from a variety of different angles and listening to many other people’s perspectives.” Students brought in their own experiences with food insecurity, housing struggles, and their generation’s worries about addiction — both enriching Bledsoe’s script and adding new characters.
“We’ve talked a lot about Dr. Martin Luther King’s concept of the beloved community — of bringing every voice in,” says Treadway. “The actors came up with things that were much more interesting than we could have ever come up with. The voices we needed were there.”
Stories from the Table will be performed April 12-15 in Patton Auditorium on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College (180 West Campus Drive, Flat Rock). Evening shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7pm, with matinees at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $7/general, $5/for students, BRCC faculty and staff. A meal will be served along with every performance. To make reservations, contact Jennifer Treadway at (828) 694-1849 or e-mail email@example.com. Immediately following each show, the audience is invited to join the actors, writers, and professionals in the community to discuss the subjects referenced in the play, with topics on the following schedule: Resources in the Community (Thursday), LGBTQ+ Night (Friday), Family Focus (Saturday matinee), Economic Empowerment (Saturday night), and Affordable Housing (Sunday matinee). www.blueridge.edu. On Facebook: The Theatre Department at BRCC.