The first time that I encountered Deliverance was during the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2012.
I was at Queen’s Theatre when I overheard people talking about going and “getting some fruit for the Deliverance kids because I’m not sure if they have eaten yet today.” My friend Keaton and I were eager to find out what Deliverance was and we were told that it was a part of the Fringe Festival – that set up in Gluttony there was a marked rectangle of grass in which three people were living, only allowed to leave to use the toilet by following a single spray painted line from point A to B, at which point no outside contact was to be made. And the major ‘attraction’ to this project was that the three people walked into the barren space with absolutely nothing; they took off their clothes as they walked into the space and had only each other for company, no food, no clothes, no shelter other than a branch overhanging their rectangle. The people at the Queen’s Theatre had agreed to set up a live feed from the Deliverance space to be projected onto the outside wall. Of course, it was hard to see anything at night because there was no light. We were told that the people in Deliverance were relying on individuals to bring them whatever they thought the Deliverance space would need, and so if someone were to bring torches or a light source, the live feed would be visible at night.
That morning, Keaton and I decided our next stop was to visit this Deliverance Project and on the way we picked up some food, some bottles of water and some deodorant. Close to the entrance of Gluttony, tucked away down a slight hill we found the rectangle of glass, which sported a small fold out table, a torch, some playing cards, a box of fresh fruit and vegetables, a large umbrella and several spectators talking to two females and a male, who were wearing oversized clothes. Soon we were talking to the creators and performers of Deliverance; Kat, Whil and Penny who were more than happy to offer us any of the food, drinks and shelter that they had been given. They were grateful for our contribution to the piece and welcomed us inside their performance space. We stayed for a lot longer than we had expected to, asking Kat, Penny and Whil about their experiences so far and asking what this was all about. Something that confused me at the time, but in hindsight was great, was the fact that when we asked them what they needed to last them the next week and a half, the only answer they gave us was “We aren’t going to ask you or tell you what to bring. We are happy to accept anything and everything, but we like to see what people want to offer us.”
We stayed to watch people come and check out the space and talk to Penny, Kat and Whil and everyone seemed to be asking the same questions we were. Fundamentally the same questions that kept being asked were “What is this?” and “What do you need?” Penny told us one of her favourite things was seeing someone who was very sceptical about the set up walking away, only to later come back and check on them, sometimes even offering something that they may need. The Deliverance group told us that nothing that was offered to them was wasted. They made use of everything that came in, and they were even composting waste and reusing old
Keaton and I went back to the people that we were staying with and told them all about it as we were caught up in the experience we had just had. What struck me was the rest of the day, I kept thinking about what it would be like to walk into a completely empty space, being vulnerable to the elements that surrounded you and relying on the honesty, kindness and good will of strangers. I was
overwhelmed at how optimistic Whil, Kat and Penny were and how happy they were to pass on the kindness that had been shown to them from strangers. I also thought about the things that I have every day and sometimes take for granted. The next day we went and bought a bucket to use as a bin, another bucket that we filled with a couple of bottles of water, a sponge, a towel and some shower gel. We went to visit the Deliverance rectangle and found a lot of people already talking to Whil, Kat and Penny, so we set our things down and looked around. There was now a velvet red sheet draped over the tree branch, more food, cutlery, pillows and sleeping bags and clothes as some of the standout things that had been given since we had left the previous day. Keaton and I went to visit Deliverance every day except one from then on and every day, Kat, Penny and Whil had more things to offer and share with us, and more stories and experiences from the day before.
One of the experiences was a night of rain. As Deliverance was set up on the border of Gluttony on a hill, most of the rain was washing down their way. Of course the positive thinking Penny, Kat and Whil talked the challenge by placing all of their new belongings onto a couch they had been given and wrapping it all in tarp before they huddled together to keep warm. The next day we went to check on them and they were still smiling and laughing about what could have been an ordeal.
The biggest highlight for me was when we went to a ‘Twitnic’ in the last week in which was where The Jane Austen Argument set up and played within the small rectangle of Deliverance and Kat, Penny and Whil shared all the food and alcohol that was given to them in picnic form. The red velvet material was sprawled along the ground for everyone to sit on, there were a few beanbags, there was great food, the sun was shining and The Jane Austen Argument were really entertaining and played some great songs. There were so many people there that had only known each other a few years/ weeks/ days/ hours and yet it was great company and we were all happy to be brought together by the Deliverance Project.
On the last day, after Whil, Kat and Penny had been through so much living together in the space, they displayed the remains of the generous items they had received (as well as their creations from recycling items) in the space. On their final moment in the space, they shed their clothes and walked away from the space without turning back – walking away with as little as what they had entered with – leaving the space with lots of items and even more memories.
When I look back on Deliverance and what it meant to me, it became so much more than giving a few people things when they didn’t have anything. Every day that I visited them I would walk away and constantly think about what my possessions mean to me and how our society places value in possessions. It made me realise all the things that I take for granted and how lucky I am to be in Australia. I wondered what Deliverance would be like if it was done in another country and whether or not it would work if it were not a part of the Fringe Festival. I wondered if there was a way to be involved from Perth while the original Deliverance was in Melbourne or even Edinburgh. I felt so grateful to have met Whil, Kat and Penny and to have experienced what Deliverance was. I think that one of the best things about it was that it could mean something completely different to someone else, and that everyone would have their own experiences and reactions to it.
Kat, Penny and Whil recieved what the public thought were items that were basic and essential during their time in an unsheltered rectangle of grass, yet I took away an experience more valuable than anything that I gave to them, and made some great friends along the way.