Homeless and performing at the Guthrie

"Home Street Home Minneapolis" will be on stage at the Guthrie on July 19. Credit: Submitted photo

Minneapolis Mayor Linda Carter walks into the Dunn (Being Homeless) Brothers coffee shop downtown and greets its patrons. She is immediately inundated with people’s concerns about garbage, crime, jobs and homelessness. Knowing the importance of downtown, the heart of our city, the question is later posed, “What kind of heart will we have?”

Meanwhile, street musician Zeke Cooper leads a tour around the city. They observe shelter guests making their way to the streets when the shelters close each morning at 7 a.m. They listen to Security Guards in the skyways, churchgoers and residents of high-rise apartment buildings. “I’ve got more issues than Vogue,” a character named Albatross shares with her friends panhandling on the street as people pass by them. Visitors attend a tailgating party before the Vikings game in the new stadium and eavesdrop on coffee shop conversations.

For one night only, Sunday, July 19, the zAmya Theater Project, a program of St. Stephen’s Human Services, will perform “Home Street Home Minneapolis” in the Dowling Studio of the Guthrie Theater, one of the nation’s acclaimed regional theaters. The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, understanding that the production was written after interviews of those who live, work, pray or play downtown on how homelessness effects them, has sponsored this free event for residents, employees and theater fans of the downtown community and beyond.

The zAmya Project is in its 11th year as a company devoted to ending homelessness through the tools of community-based theater making. The productions are created and performed by a talented troupe of 13 actors, most who’ve experienced homelessness. Led by Maren Ward of Bedlam Theatre, zAmya has produced over a dozen full length and many short productions — enlightening, educating, and entertaining audiences all over the Twin Cities. zAmya is a Sanskit word meaning “aiming at peace.”

It is remarkable to have a troupe that has developed the skills of professional actors yet include those living with the uncertainty of stable housing, access to healthcare and challenges of poverty. Yet, this troupe has embraced their unique ability to educate as part of St. Stephen’s commitment to both enhance community understanding of homelessness and hear its concerns in the challenge of having a portion of our neighbors be unstably housed.

For troupe members, participation has been like a light bulb turning on, giving them a sense of hope and purpose. It has kept them coming back for workshops, rehearsals and performances, whether they were sleeping under a bridge, in a car or stably housed after years of crisis and now able to build focused work. After 10 years, the veteran actors are nurturing the new ones, including two teenagers, bolstering confidence in all. The older troupe members are heartened to see the younger ones stick to the exercises, even if they think they are silly, pleased that they keep coming back and keep taking chances. The troupe refers to each other as zamfam, their zAmya family. 

The Minneapolis Downtown Council has created the Downtown 2025 plan, which includes a focus to increase livability downtown, add 35,000 more residents, redesign Nicollet Mall, support better transit connections, build a new Vikings stadium and end street homelessness.  Mikkel Beckmen, City/County Director of the Office to End Homelessness and Co-Chair of the Committee to End Street Homelessness, will facilitate a post-show conversation with audience members about advances in these efforts.

St. Stephen’s is also participating this summer in the “Intersections” Made Here window installations that are throughout downtown Minneapolis. The installations offer the opportunity to inform through visual art on a variety of topics. zAmya’s installation is in the Renaissance Square window at 5th and Nicollet. It highlights the disparity in income and the cost of housing. For any of us, an affordable home is said to be when we are spending 30 percent of our income toward rent or a mortgage. Fifty percent of Americans earn $35,000 a year or less so could afford, at most, $750 a month. Currently, 90 percent of apartments under construction in Minneapolis will rent for more than $800 a month, hence a gap in housing options.

“Home Street Home Minneapolis” ends with people returning home at the end of the day, including some to shelter.  As rows of people lie down on shelter mats on the floor, the audience is left feeling uncomfortable that shelter is the best response the community can have for these individuals they have come to know. Yet one character personifies the resilience and hope for all those whose homelessness ends each week. He re-creates the Mary Tyler Moore moment and lullabies, “You’re gonna make it after all.”

For free tickets, please contact the Guthrie box office at 37702224 or go to www.GuthrieTheater.org/buy_tickets.

Monica Nilsson is an advocate for children, teens, their parents and single adults who are at risk of losing their home or are now homeless. Contact her for conversation at St Stephen’s Human Services — [email protected].