Stories From the Book of Harbor Light lifts voices and creates hope

April 8, 2019

Audience members and artists share the impact of zAmya Theater Project’s new show. A collaboration with Hennepin Theatre Trust and The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, the play Stories From the Book of Harbor Light premiered at 900 Hennepin, sparking conversation about homelessness.

The sharing of experience in Stories From the Book of Harbor Light serve as a reminder that personal stories have the power to transform.

“I was surprised at how strongly people wanted to share their own story of perhaps the most painful experience of their lives,” said Monica Nilsson, a homelessness advocate who was in the audience. “Performing clearly gave them a feeling of power and self-confidence in a vulnerable situation.”

That emotional vulnerability infused the play, titled Stories From the Book of Harbor Light. The performance on March 15 at 900 Hennepin was created in partnership between Hennepin Theater Trust, zAmya Theater Project and The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center.

“Art and theater can touch our hearts and minds in ways that annual reports, white papers and news articles simply can’t,” said Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council vice president. “The stories of zAmya Theater are incredibly important, poignant narratives of how various situations lead to homelessness, many times through no fault of their own. When will we stop staring and start seeing?”

The theater piece was created in workshops at Harbor Light Center. Fifty-two people who are homeless or have experienced homelessness shared stories from their lives.

“The cast members of this show brought their courage to every workshop and every rehearsal,” said Corey Walton, workshop facilitator and performer. “Much of what they shared couldn’t have been easy to think about or re-live.”

For the performers, sharing their stories in the workshops and on stage was painful and healing.

“Each workshop was a very special occasion filled with stories provoking both laughter and tears,” said Maren Ward, artistic director of zAmya Theater Project. “The way people listened to each other and supported one another was inspiring.”

The impact on the audience was clear during a question-and-answer session after the performance.

“I have not been affected so greatly by a show ever. It was real, truthful, raw and full of hope,” said Chris Johnson, a volunteer with Hennepin Theatre Trust. “One does not think of hope associated with homelessness, but that is what it offered. I cried and thought often of it in the days following the performance. This is what theatre should be.”

The emotional experience of the performers and audience is just one step toward changing hearts and minds.

“It was powerful to see the confidence and joy of the actors,” said Dr. Kate Diaz Vickery, a primary care provider for Hennepin County Health Care for the Homeless. “This performance challenged me to carefully consider how I can empower my patients to advocate for themselves.”

“We are so grateful to have been part of this unique collaboration with zAmya Theater Project and Hennepin Theatre Trust,” said Trish Thacker, executive director of The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center. “We believe this production brought light into the hearts of those who attended and into the heart of the community.”