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home : features : wordsandpictures May 24, 2016

zAmya Theater Project:
Finding good intentions in homelessness

Left to right: Caroline Mannheimer, Chole Lamberson and Arminta Wilson. Photo courtesy of zAmya Theater Project. If you go:
St. Stephen's Human Services has absorbed the work of zAmya as part of its community work designed to engage the general public in its mission to end homelessness.
What: "There's No Place Like Home"
Where: St. Stephen's Human Services, 2309 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
When: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 7 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 3 p.m. Check the website for further scheduled monthly performances.
Cost: $10 or donation. To reserve tickets, RSVP by email tozamya@ststephensmpls.org or by phone to 612-760-4804.
FFI: 612-760-4804 or www.Weendhomelessness.org

by Mikki Morrissette

When Arminta C. Wilson's husband suddenly died in 2008, she was in her early 50s and had very little savings from their life in Chicago. In her grief, she returned to her hometown of Minneapolis and stayed in a Salvation Army shelter while she put pieces of her life together again. She took classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), majoring in human services, and, after a few months at the shelter, qualified for affordable housing.

One weekend while she was still living at the shelter, the Minneapolis theater troupe zAmya came and performed its theater project about homelessness. Wilson was so inspired that she signed on as an actor. She already had singing experience-for 16 years, starting in her teens, she had performed in a band. And after she took a theater class at MCTC, Wilson knew she had discovered her niche. She has been performing since 2009 with the troupe, which features actors who have personally experienced homelessness.

Currently, Wilson is portraying the Great Witch of Good Intentions in zAmya Theater Project's "There's No Place Like Home," based on "The Wizard of Oz." Her character guides Dorothy, who lost her rural Minnesota home when homeowners insurance did not cover damage from flood (which is common in insurance plans). She encourages Dorothy to seek out the government center to find housing resources. Eventually, the Great Witch tells Dorothy that to get home, she needs to click her heels together and chant, "There's nothing like affordable housing."

Theater coordinator Maren Ward has been involved with zAmya (which means "aiming at peace" or "justice") since this play launched 10 years ago. A revised version of the play was remounted to commemorate the midway point of Hennepin County's 10-year initiative to end homelessness by 2016.

The play aims to shed light on the fact that, while there are gains dealing with homelessness in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis family shelters are overflowing for the first time because of the lack of affordable housing.

One goal of the play is to make homelessness not simply a word, but to connect it to stories of real human beings. Yet its mission is not simply to encourage good intentions through government resources and broadening community awareness.

"It's also about what it takes to go home-developing a capacity for finding reservoirs of strength that will lead you to the resources you need," said Ward, who is also the play's director.

Wilson's character is not only an homage to social service providers, Ward said, "but [it] shows the tough love, sometimes through humor, needed to help propel people through the challenging system we have.

"Helping is necessary, but sometimes not enough," she said. "Intentions are about becoming purposeful about taking actions in a way that will manifest a more caring world."

Wilson sees her role as the Great Witch of Good Intentions as spreading hope and challenge to fellow journeyers facing hardship, and giving encouragement and support to help them find not only information, but direction.

At the end of the play, Wilson belts out "If You Believe," a song about intention. She described the song's message: "If you believe in yourself you'll always find a home. If you strive to overcome, if you believe in the possibilities, then anything can happen."

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