zAmya Theater telling stories of homelessness and social justice with humanity

zAmya Theater brings people with (and without) experience around homelessness together around theater, around community, around advocacy and social justice. Or as one of our guests tonight said, “We’re here to stand with or by the community.” Tonight we spoke with Annette Bryant and Lunch Hellfire, members of zAmya.

We spoke about the theater group and how each got involved. The short answer, both were introduced to the group by a friend and it sounds like they were hooked immediately. Annette is a healer and a poet and much more. Lurch is the heart or at least the nerve center of their summer programming, Homeless News Network (HNN), which aired on Facebook Fridays throughout the summer. He has been with the group for six years.

zAmya started in 2004. In the past they have performed three shows a season. They have played on the Guthrie stage, in homeless shelters, and on the road to the four corners of rural Minnesota. The group workshops their productions. Troupe members meet. They do brainstorming and improv-sounding activities to get stories going. They share their personal stories. A writer collects and combines them into ideas for a production. For the performers that means that sometimes they act out their own stories; sometimes they are performing someone else’s story.

The power of the group is the community formed in the process, the telling of the stories and the human connection among the actors and the audience. Humanity is a word that came up a lot tonight. It feels like a lost word, but as Annette points out, we can’t let is stay lost. These guys are doing a good job keeping it alive. They keep it alive for the members, the audience and policymakers, who often show up.

This summer, due to COVID, zAmya went online with live Zoom shows that were shared via Facebook. I caught a show and loved it. I’ve always been a fan but I thought the way they handled the online show was exceptionally good. Lurch describes it as an SNL format, with some news pieces, some vignettes, some old footage and some improv. Watching it, experiencing the interaction and hearing them reminisce about the old footage and talk about it as both performer and now audience makes you feel like you’re part of a community.

zAmya has weekly workshops for interested participants – Tuesday at 3pm online through Hennepin County Library. You don’t have to have experience with homelessness to join. They are working on something like the Homeless New Network for Fall. And Annette hinted at something even bigger. You can check out their Facebook page for updates and information. They also have a website where you can sign up for their newsletter.

zAmya has an amazing set of “7 Agreements” or rules of engagement. They are powerful – but you’re going to have to watch to learn about them. I asked about them and immedaitely Lurch grabbed the list off his fridge and Annette started reciting. They are ideals to live by or at least strive for and speak to the smart and compassionate ethos of the group.

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