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Homelessness is increasing, nationwide, with rough sleepers in London alone doubling since 2010. Theatre Témoin returns to the Fringe with The Marked, a mask, puppetry and physical theatre show exploring the links between childhood trauma and adult homelessness, aiming to give some of the most vulnerable people in our society a voice on stage. Director Ailin Conant tells Broadway Baby a visceral story about the power of masks in theatre, and in life.

They are, each one of them, heroes.

‘He’s a sexual predator.’ Maggie glared at the mask in front of her. She refused to touch it. ‘A predator,’ she insisted, ‘He used to be strong and terrifying, but now he’s old and sick and worthless.’

Our mask designer Will has been delivering mask construction workshops for two years with people with experience of homelessness, as part of the research and development for our current show, The Marked.

Participants build masks, and give them names, backgrounds, and stories. Often the characters are fantastical, and their stories hint at the epic struggles that the participants have faced. Brad, a hulking man with scars crisscrossing his cheek, created a character who has been kidnapped and forced to fight as a gladiator. Amy, an androgynous young woman created an alien being who is neither male nor female.

Generally participants are deeply attached to the masks they build. But Maggie joined the workshop late on Wednesday, and the mask she was narrating was a mask that Will had built. And she hated it with a passion.

Will could see that, this time, ‘Find your mask’s transformative story’ wasn’t the question needed here. There was only one suitable way to transform this mask. He turned to Maggie. ‘Do you want to break it?’

So Wednesday’s mask workshop ended in a ritual in the back of the hostel car park, a victorious Maggie ripping and stomping a delicately crafted mask to shreds while Will and the other participants cheered her on.

Time and again our consultants with experience of homelessness have shown us that their lives are epic journeys, fantastical struggles, filled with experiences, dangers, demons, and angels of mythological proportions. They are, each one of them, heroes. In The Marked, we use masks to tell Jack’s story because masks are able to do justice to the vividness and enormity of his incredible adventure.

(Participant names have been changed in the interest of privacy.)

Photo credit: Idil Sukan

The Marked plays the Pleasance Dome (King Dome) from 3rd August at 13:30 each day. Follow the company @Theatre_Temoin, and catch them 22nd September - Wirksworth Festival, Derbyshire; 13th – 23rd October - Ovalhouse Theatre, London; or 26th – 28th October - Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. Edinburgh listing: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/the-marked/713941

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