zAmya Theater brings people experiencing (or who have experienced) homelessness with others who haven’t to create shows that tell the stories from the street. The latest show (Stories from the Book of Harbor Light ) is anchored in stories from Salvation Army and Harbor Light Center and homeless shelter, which offers a range of services including overnight shelter, meals, emergency housing support, computer lab and more. It is a good-sized building with lots of beds.
They do good work but those of us who don’t know or need to know what the halls of Harbor Light look like, are lucky.
The show wraps the history of the Salvation Army with personal stories formed around words of salvation – love, hope, laughter, kindness… One third of the actors are currently experiencing homelessness, one third have been homeless and the rest have not.
My favorite line from the show is – I am not what you think of me. There are some common themes of bad luck, lack of support and/or poor choices, each story is unique. Each actor tells a story; often they tell their story. A motto of the group is – stop staring, start seeing. These vignettes give the audience an opportunity to start seeing in a welcoming environment.
I was touched by the girl from St Cloud with Asperger’s. She got off the bus at the Greyhound station and found her way to Harbor Lights because she needed help obtaining safe housing. There’s the woman with several Master’s degrees who enjoyed a good vodka, which led her down a slippery slope of more drinking and eventually drugs. There’s the man who took time off of work to care for his dying mother, only to lose his own job and housing. Others were hindered by personal tragedy such as fires, domestic abuse, divorce or regular aging issues requiring walkers or other accommodations. Others were impacted by national tragedies such as 911 or Hurricane Sandy.
There’s a conversation between an older blind actor talking with a younger man with Autism. The blind man is telling the younger man to just in the justice of the system. The younger man points out the irony of a blind senior in a homeless shelter waiting for justice.
The show is an important part of a conversation that needs to happen; lack of adequate affordable housing is growing. They noted in the show that homeless has increased 21 percent since 2013. Last summer we saw the encampments on Hiawatha and near downtown St Paul. In the midst of record-breaking snow it’s easy to lose sight but we will see it again this spring.
‘I encourage you to attend the last show next Friday, March 15 at 900 Hennepin Ave, Hennepin Theater Trust’s newest theater. The event is free, 6-7:30pm.