An estimated 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness in a given year. And while downtown Asheville is the public face of our region’s homelessness, there’s an artistic effort at Blue Ridge Community College, in Hendersonville, to spotlight rural homelessness.
“Stories from the Table” is a new play written by a Joshua Bledsoe, a communications instructor at the college, and students from the theater department. There are five performances of between April 12 through 15 in the college’s Patton Auditorium.
“Rural homelessness isn’t seen, and that’s one of the things that pushed us to do this,” Bledsoe said. “When our students and I began to talk, we had similar stories.”
Bledsoe had never before written a play, but he had many Sunday afternoons at Providence Baptist Church serving meals to the homeless.
“I started listening to stories and I found out that people didn’t have the label of homeless, they had a name, they had a story,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to elevate their stories so people can see homelessness affects everyone.”
At Bledsoe’s invitation, Jennifer Treadway’s drama students brought their own experiences to the narrative. Some have known people who have battled homelessness, and others have emerged from it themselves. You can see them in the diverse set of characters and individual circumstances that give the narrative its emotional heft.
Katie Temple is a 19-year-old from Hendersonville who said she only had a fleeting, abstract knowledge of the issue before working on this play.
“My character, Shelly, and her sister, we ran away from an abusive home, so it wasn’t something they could really help. It was either they stay there and they could die or they run away and try to make it on their own,” Temple said. “It really shows there’s so many other circumstances they can’t help, and it really can happen to anyone.”
Another student, who doesn’t want her name publicized, said her parents kicked her out over and over while she was in middle school. She wrote her own character’s biography.
“The worst of me being homeless was that people just looked past me,” she recalled. “I got some looks of disgust, but I mostly just got blank stares, and that hurt the most.
The play centers on a star high school athlete whose drug use leads his parents to kick him out of the house. He finds his way to a shelter, where he’s at first disgusted to find himself sharing living space, and meals, with dozens of other homeless people, not quite recognizing he has become one himself.
“In the play, many people, even the volunteers, some people have community they’re searching for,” Bledsoe said. “The main theme of this is we’re all searching for a place to belong.”
Nonprofits working with the homeless in and around Hendersonville will have a presence at performances, and Bledsoe wants the show to inspire conversations -- for the students and the audience.
“I want them to leave this experience having the courage when they see something problematic that’s happening in their community,” he said. “So this is more than a play. This is an opportunity for community empowerment.”