zAmya Theater sneak peek of Life Heist: Stealing Hope while Surviving Diabetes and Homelessness

zAmya Theater brings people with (and without) experience around homelessness together around theater, community, advocacy and social justice. (We spoke to a few members a year ago.) For this production, zAmya worked with the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute’s Diabetes + Homelessness Research Team. They did a staged reading of the play at the Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis.

Dr. Kate Diaz Vickery has been working on research and prevention of diabetes, especially with people experiencing homelessness for many years. Her team went to a zAmya production before the pandemic and a lightbulb popped. She realized that theatre might be an effective way to get the message to the target market. The show was much more engaging and memorable than a brochure.

The story introduces Star, a woman who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and Drew, who is walking her and the audience through a plan to survive, a plan (or heist) to steal hope from a scary dianonsis. It’s participatory. The audience is asked to brainstorm challenges with diabetes. The performers tackle each issue. So while it’s a staged, reading there’s a huge element of improv too. Along the way we meet other characters, Coco from New Orleans, who focused on diet, the dance instructor and the gentleman who talks about going on and off medication through years. Cautionary tales are told, advice is given. And Dr. Vickery is able to fit in some medical facts in a palatable form. There’s a lot of humor and dance to help keep the message light and accessible.

There’s another round of action where the audience and performers go through a similar process discussing housing and living in precarious housing situation with diabetes, such as keeping an eye on medication and having access to healthy food. They give advice on where to go and who to talk to with a special shout out to my good friend Monica Nilsson from Haven Housing.

The music is great. The audience participation is helpful in imparting information. (And for the shy of us, no one in singled out!) The passion of the actors is always inspiring. I hope that they have plans to bring the show to full production. It is a great way to learn. I wonder if there might be a kid-friendly version to bring to the schools too – reach kids with a message before it’s too late or maybe to help explain what a parent is going through.

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