Formerly homeless actors star in powerful play
The house was packed at Hennepin Theatre Trust last Friday for zAmya Theater’s performance of Stories from the Book of Harbor Light – a play about the real-life stories of people who have experienced homelessness.
Nearly all of the play’s actors were formerly homeless people who once lived at The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in Minneapolis. They told their stories in powerful soliloquies (pictured right) about how they became homeless and how The Salvation Army helped them recover. Among the people who told their stories:
- A woman whose boyfriend died during the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
- A young girl who lives with Asperger’s and is the daughter of a judge.
- A well-educated woman who slowly turned to alcohol and drugs after she became an empty nester.
Actor Luke Zenker played the role of Salvation Army founder William Booth (pictured right). Harbor Light helped Zenker overcome homelessness and earn a bachelor’s degree. He now works at Harbor Light as administrative assistant to the executive director.
“This partnership (between Harbor Light, zAmya and Hennepin Theatre Trust) is brilliant,” Zenker explained, “because it gives our people and anyone who has experienced homelessness an opportunity to speak their truths – and sometimes their truths are hard to hear.”
The main goal of the play was to dispel myths about homelessness and change public perceptions about it.
“It is really striking how so many (Harbor Light guests) had similar stories – all different ages, races, sexual orientations, able-bodied, handicapped, college graduates, people who hadn’t made it past the 3rd grade…,” said Stories playwright Caroline Mannheimer. “A big theme that has stood out for me is homeless people tend to feel alone. They almost all crave community, fellowship. Sometimes all a person needs is for another to listen to their story.”
The performance was part of a growing partnership between Harbor Light and Hennepin Theatre Trust. In 2017, Hennepin Theatre Trust commissioned artist Bianca Pettis to paint what ultimately became an award-winning mural (pictured right) on the Harbor Light facade with help from people who were staying at the shelter.
“This inspiring new mural triggered some important lasting effects,” said Trish Thacker, Harbor Light executive director. “(Our guests’) increased sense of inclusion in the broader community led to increased safety on our block, a demonstrated ownership of the mural by our clients, and the formation of new partnerships.”
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