In her essay What Are You Afraid Of?, Fused Muse performer, cellist and Kontras Quartet founding member Jean Hatmaker wrote, "We can all get sucked into bad cyclespatterns of fortune that throw a wrench in our best laid plans.
"The difference between making it out or not comes down to the resources we have available to us. Resources aren't only money, they include physical safety, mental stability, control, health, being around people who understand us. Unfortunately, these resources are not evenly or fairly distributed, because we don't get to choose how, where, or to whom we are born. And we can't anticipate the physical or emotional challenges we may face in our lives."
While national and state campaigns are utilizing a combination of federal and philanthropic resources alongside the work of advocacy groups in ending youth homelessness by 2020, Chicago-based Fused Muse will use the even more influential medium of art to put a human face on homelessness and, so, raise a compelling awareness about the need for the final curtain to come down on its horror.
In Edge of Shelter, to be performed Nov. 18-19 at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago's Near North Side, Fused Muse, in collaboration with Youth Empowerment Performance Project ( YEPP ); Chicago Lights; Harmony, Hope & Healing; and students of DePaul University will ask Hatmaker's question through a visceral tapestry of music, dance, film and the spoken word.
The seamless combination of social justice and art is something the Fused Muse Ensemble has crafted since it was founded in 2009.
The group has tackled issues including domestic violence, the environment and human trafficking.
Fused Muse founder, executive director and co-artistic director Sophie Webber alongside co-artistic director Iddo Aharony have been actively engaged around the issue of homelessness for the past two years. Edge of Shelter is the culmination of that work.
"There's so many worthwhile causes out there, but this is something that resonated with the core members of the group," Webber told Windy City Times. "We were aware that homelessness is something that's so multi-layered and complex."
Therefore, in order to tackle it, Webber and Aharony reached out to advocacy organizations, activists and fellow artists who were working with the issue. The duo wanted to ensure that the voices of the homeless were neither muffled in bullet points nor data but, through Edge of Shelter, could really be heard.
"Our starting point was to learn as much as we could learn," Aharony said. "We felt like complete outsiders but we wanted to amplify voices that are otherwise unheard and use the stage instead of the stigma. Our guiding principal was that each collaboration was based on a direct dialogue with individuals who have previously experienced homelessness or are experiencing it now. It was their stories, their perspectives that guided the creative work."
According to Fused Muse, that work will substitute stereotypes for a "human face and features new musical compositions, theatrical pieces, dance choreography and video works by acclaimed Chicago artists," including members of YEPP.
"It's been meaningful for everybody involved," Aharony noted. "Each of the pieces created for the project has a different perspective and message. We feel it makes a tiny crack in that wall of invisibility."
"It is the experience of homelessness we're interested in showing and having people see and hear," Webber added. "We believe the arts has the power to increase understanding and empathy, change hearts and minds and potentially galvanize communities in a call to social action."
According to Aharony, having organizations like YEPP ( whose LGBTQ homeless youth ensemble has brought the reality of homelessness to audiences across the city in performances as moving as they are masterfully honest ) as collaborators made the creative process behind Edge of Shelter all the more meaningful.
"Individual YEPP members were teamed with professional musicians from Chicago," Aharony said. "Each one created a new performative work based on life-experiences. This kind of collaborative work was new and we didn't know how or if it was going to work. Nobody knew what to expect in the first meeting where we had people of different socio-economic backgrounds, race and gender. Yet, for me, it was one of the most magical experiences I've ever had. There was a quick connection for everyone over the love of making art and expressing something together as human beings and empathizing with each other no matter what our different backgrounds."
It is this kind of empathy with which Fused Muse aims to address audiences for Edge of Shelter.
"It's easy to walk past somebody in the street and look the other way," Webber said. "It's not so easy if you think of them as being your friend or family member. So we are doing whatever we can to help bridge that divide."
For more information about Edge of Shelter and for tickets, visit FusedMuseEnsemble.com/edge-of-shelter.