LOS ANGELES — Can you imagine a future in which housing is a guarantee?
A new interactive, participatory digital production called "The Most Beautiful Home…Maybe," is asking this question, tackling the issues of affordable housing and housing policy.
Co-created and directed by Mark Valdez and ashley sparks (aka Mark-N-Sparks), these town hall productions are geared towards policymakers, government workers and housing advocates using theatrical conventions to provoke discussion.
“If you had to leave your house today, what object of sentimental value would you take with you?” asked Valdez as he monitored a recent performance online. “Or, if you were having trouble paying rent, what would you sell to help you make rent?”
The production's framing device is a community of zebra characters dealing with an existential crisis of their own. Valdez said the whimsical approach helps to draw the participants into the conversation in an engaging way.
“There's a lot of sad stories you can tell about housing,” said Valdez. “That's really easy. And, so, what we wanted to do is tell the story that was unexpected, that was funny, that had humor, that engaged people in a fun way to think about a very serious issue.”
The theatrical approach also helps participants to think bigger and bolder when it comes to housing policy, something Valdez says needs to happen.
“Mostly [policy makers] are focused on thinking about policies that they think they can get passed, and as a result of that the thinking, the imagining, has just gotten smaller and smaller and smaller,” said Valdez. “And the problem has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. And, so, solutions right now just require this enormous leap of imagination.”
Karla Mosley, who plays Zendra the zebra, has done a lot of work in community-based theater, and said a production around the idea of home is something universally human.
“I think it's something that touches all of us and certainly now at the end of COVID,” said Mosley. “Driving all the way around Los Angeles, and many cities in the United States, we can see, and touch and feel how dire the situation really is. This piece can reach people who work in an advocacy world in a different way. You know, that it connects mind to heart.”
But Valdez said their production doesn't propose a quick fix for a problem as complex as the housing crisis.
“Our belief is that there is no silver bullet,” he said. “It's going to require multiple components to work together to make change.”
The production also asks, indirectly, what the theater’s role in tackling social issues is, and in its bringing together of the community and policymakers, "The Most Beautiful Home… Maybe" can help us to envision a future where everyone has a home.