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Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Friday, 18 March 2011
North East homeless star in their own opera
A screen shot from the film
The cast went to the Hartlepool Maritime Experience to learn the local legend

A group of homeless people who have turned their lives around are now starring in their very own opera.

Forty homeless people from the region are singing and acting in a film about the old legend of The Hartlepool Monkey.

One of the stars, Drew Foster, used to be homeless and an alcoholic - he is now 15 months clean and has bagged himself the lead role.

The opera is premiering at the Tyneside cinema in Newcastle.

Streetwise Opera says its uses music as a tool to help people who have experienced homelessness move forward in their lives by staging productions.

Their latest project Fables - A Film Opera, are stories of legend and folklore and are part-opera, part-film.

The Fable starring homeless people in the North East is based on The Hartlepool Monkey - the local legend of a monkey being the sole survivor of a French warship washed up on the shore near Hartlepool during the Napoleonic war.

Changing lives

The lead star, Drew Foster, was in homeless accommodation at Virginia House in Newcastle, when he was invited along to one of their sessions.

Drew said: "Honestly Streetwise Opera has opened up so many doors.

A screen shot from the film
The legend of The Hartlepool Monkey is told through song in the film

"I remember the very first time it got suggested and I just thought I've never sang in my life and the only time I have sang is usually in church beside somebody loud to drown me out, I'm dreading this they're all going to be able to sing like Luciano Pavarotti but honestly I've just really warmed to it.

"I was an alcoholic, I'm now 15 months clean. I wouldn't dream of going back to it for the doors it's opened - it's involved film making, poetry recital, drama that's led on to two plays and just my confidence has soared. My whole outlook has changed."

Since starring in the opera he has turned his life around and he has become a real fan of the arts.

He said: "What I feel is it's a platform because it's not just singing I'm engaged in now it's writing, I've also taking an interest in fitness, photography, it just expands your life and I think it's a good platform for anybody who wanted to go into theatre."

In the North East, Streetwise runs weekly workshops at homeless centres Byker Bridge and Virginia House.

The Hartlepool Monkey is showing at the Tyneside Cinema from Friday, 18 - Thursday, 24 March.



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