A Mile in My Shoes

Simplicity, intimacy and truthfulness combine in this compelling work by The Empathy Museum at Perth International Arts Festival.
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If you’ve ever missed your tram stop because you’ve been engrossed in a novel; or stayed up hours past your bedtime aching to know how a book ends; or sat weeping in the dark, listening to the sobs and sniffles of the strangers around you as a heartbreaking drama plays out on stage or screen, then you are already intimately familiar with the transcendent power of great storytelling.

At this year’s Perth International Art Festival, that power is harnessed for a remarkable exercise in understanding and empathy, in which members of the public are invited to literally walk in shoes belonging to a diverse range of WA residents – an Indigenous elder, a sex worker, a mourning mother, a volunteer firefighter, a nun turned mayor – while listening to the shoes’ owners tell their stories via headphones and pre-recorded interviews.  

The event is free: one’s own shoes are left as collateral in a giant shoebox – the event’s base of operations in Stirling Gardens, through which one wanders as the stories unfold.

Sensitively edited, and coupled with an immersive, unobtrusive sound design which underscores key moments in each autobiographical snapshot, A Mile in My Shoes is a simple but remarkably potent exercise in storytelling.

Sometimes the stories amuse – you may laugh out loud at colourful details as your traverse the park in work boots or high heels or thongs. At other times, listening to these strangers describe shocking events and almost unspeakable experiences – hearing their choked sobs, their struggle for words – you will surely cry.

Throughout the experience, isolated from the world around you by headphones and immersed in the minutia of ​another person’s life, you will doubtless be transported for the 10 profound minutes their story takes to tell.

You will not walk a mile – the stories are relatively brief – but the experience, the intimate exposure to the details of another’s life, will stay with you long after you have returned their shoes to the box and your own shoes are back on your feet.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

A Mile in My Shoes
Curated by Clare Patey and Kitty Ross in collaboration with Roman Krznaric
Stories commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival
Stories collected and produced by Centre for Stories
Stirling Gardens, Perth
18 February – 6 March

Perth International Arts Festival 2016
11 February – 6 March

Richard Watts travelled to Perth as a guest of PIAF. 

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts