Fun and creative are not the first words that come to mind regarding homelessness, but the zAmya Theater Project has successfully combined the arts with the issue. With a cast of twelve actors, three interns, and one director, zAmya is preparing for their next show, “Homeroom,” to be performed five times during the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, November 14-20.
In “Homeroom,” the actors discuss various stereotypes and explain how pretty much anyone could end up with no place to go. In the play, Frank, played by a young man named Francois, says, “I’ve been thinking about how ashamed I am of some of the things I assumed or never cared to think about regarding homeless people. Because that’s the bottom line, they are people-people with tragic, fantastic, heart-breaking, and inspiring stories.”
Founder Lecia Grossman says, “It’s not doing something for people who are experiencing homelessness, but doing something with those people. If people can see each other as part of a human race, as part of a unified process, that’s success.”
What sets zAmya apart from other theater groups is that most of the actors have experienced homelessness, either currently or in the past. They work alongside some people who have always had housing. These actors come together to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness, to break stereotypes, and to turn “homeless” from a label into a person. The actors also write the script and do their own choreography.
zAmya performance schedule (all shows are free):
1:00 pm Sunday, November 14th at the Salvation Army Harbor Lights Chapel
7:30 pm Tuesday, November 16th at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union Theater
1:00 pm Wednesday, November 17th at the Capri Theatre
12:00 pm Friday, November 19th at the Hennepin County Government Center Auditorium
8:00 pm Friday, November 19th at the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theatre
This concept allows the play to not only be an expression of self but also an educational experience for its audience. “The people that participate in the project, including the audience, not only have a better understanding of each other but they have a better understanding of themselves,” said Grossman. “They can see how their interaction in community can shift the thought process surrounding the issue of homelessness.”
Founded independently in 2004, the zAmya Theater Project has now been a program of Saint Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis for one year, and with this partnership continues to produce original plays that address the real issue of homelessness in an attempt to end it for good.
Hortense Macleod, an intern for zAmya, said, “When I think of totally ending homelessness, I think, ‘Well that’s lofty,’ but you can actually end homelessness, one person at a time. You end homelessness for that person. Now I can see it’s doable, it just might take some time.”
Saint Stephen’s Human Services mission statement is simply that: to end homelessness. “The main component of the programs is addressing the structural root causes of homelessness,” said Macleod. “They’re working on changing society.” While zAmya’s staff stays fairly small, Saint Stephens has ongoing volunteer programs, ranging from food and clothes donations to working at the nightly sober shelter. Various volunteer opportunities can be found on Saint Stephen’s Human Services webpage.
Grossman said that the zAmya Theater Project is successful “if an open dialogue happens that creates new understandings for everyone, for people who have or have not experienced homelessness. Success means that people can see each other more as a part of the human race, that we’re not separated.”
Another indicator of success is how the actors’ time at zAmya positively affects their lives. At rehearsal, participants are enthusiastic and dedicated to performing an authentic and engaging show that they have collaborated with each other to write.
“We have actors that come back, with a job, with a home, saying, ‘This is what I needed.'” said Grossman. “These people all need each other to be able to have the end result be good. Being part of a community is a big part of feeling your self worth.”
When asked about her experience with zAmya, Macleod said, “I wouldn’t say I particularly had stereotypes before, but what’s changed is now there’s such a human face with it.”