#GreenFests highlights: My Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life

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Creative Carbon Scotland’s blogger-in-residence Allison Palenske shares highlights from the Edinburgh Fringe Sustainable Practice Award nominated production My Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life.

The availability and affordability of housing is a common burden of urban-dwellers internationally. In globalised cities such as London, New York and Tokyo, it seems that prices rise as square footage decreases. The case of these cities, however, pales in comparison to the current situation in Hong Kong.My Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life, an Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Just Festival production by Cinematic Theatre group, addresses this issue in their poignant and multi-faceted exploration of Hong Kong’s subdivided micro-sized housing units.

The audience’s initial interaction with the performance begins with a self-guided orientation of the performance space; the floor plan of fifty square feet is drawn on the stage. Seating was not provided and audience members were essentially occupying the same space as the performers. My own preconception was that fifty square feet is quite small for one person. It was later clarified that these small units are subdivided amongst families or individuals, often four people sharing the space; the production should be titled “Our Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life,” to refer to the numerous occupants in these spaces.

What begins as a charming, but subtly melancholy, storytelling of an elderly woman’s lifelong struggle to maintain enough money for rent quickly turns into a chilling provocation of what was described as a human rights violation. The production jumped between many different scripts, all of which addressed the housing issue from a different perspective.

The latter half of the performance demonstrated a more artistically inventive angle; audio and video became increasingly immersive. A highlight of the performance was the technique of filming the live performance from a bird’s eye perspective, with the actors using the ground plane as one would use a vertically aligned set. Audience members could watch the scene unfold on a projection screen, while also referencing the perspective of the projection with the realities of how it was being filmed within the same space. Though difficult to explain (and perhaps further explanation of this technique would discount the artistic quality) the flattening of the set to the ground plane only seemed to enhance the utter impossibility of living in such a small space. Characters demonstrated the physical, mental and emotional impossibilities of sharing the space amongst a four-person family.

The shifting perspectives of the performance all contributed to a sense of disparity and social injustice. Though the problem seems nearly impossible to solve, My Luxurious 50 Square Feet Life certainly makes an example of the poor quality of life engendered by thoughtless development.

Image: Cinematic Theatre

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