Merry Rent Control

Photo courtesy zAmya Theater Project

In December, I attended zAmya Theater Project’s holiday “share-formance” at the downtown Minneapolis Central Library. The play was written and rehearsed over several months at the library during zAmya’s “Creative Expression Sessions,” which are free and open to everyone, but people with lived experience with housing instability are especially encouraged to attend.

zAmya uses artistic expression to unravel prevailing narratives about homelessness, and inspire action to stop the housing crisis. Each performance grows from stories lived by participants.

The December performance begins with “Scrooge Robert” grumbling about the holidays. “I feel society pressuring me to have a good time even though I don’t want to,” he says. “It hurts being alone.”

 

Hearing this, the magical duo of “Street Santa” and a holiday elf appear and soon learn the reason for Robert’s Scrooge-like attitude: he misses his mom and sister. The pair decide to take Robert on an adventure to expand his perspective.

They travel to a downtown Minneapolis homeless shelter on Christmas, where the best part of the holidays is being with others and watching TV. “People look at each other without all the stereotypical ideas,” a cast member reflects. “Everybody walks away with gratitude because they didn’t have to spend the day alone.”

Next, the ensemble bursts into song and dance while holding signs: “Merry Rent Control” and “All I Want for X-Mas Is Rent Control.”

“You say it’s always been that way; the rent goes up, and you have to pay,” they sing. “Have you applied for Section 8? What did they say? Wait, wait, wait!”

After the song, a man shares memories of gathering with his large family for the holidays. They have all since passed away, and he, raising his arms above his head, fingers curled into claws, “was left to the wolves.” Another speaker steps forward with a happier childhood memory of listening to a pack of wolves howling. Someone else comes forward to recount spying an uncle dressed up as Santa Claus. “Since that night, I’ve always believed in magic.”

“I am captivated by those memories — family memories — I take them everywhere I go,” a woman says about potlucks and late-night dancing. “And though I am captivated by them, they keep me strong.” The audience murmurs in recognition.

Back at the shelter, the cast winds scarves around Robert’s neck pulled from a bucket labeled “spirit.” As they do so, they name how each one smells: “The lotion my grandma wore,” “fish sticks,” “bacon cooking.” Street Santa declares that while the holidays can cause painful feelings, our happy memories of our loved ones might bring us joy again when we share them with others.


zAmya’s free Creative Expression Sessions continue at the library weekly on Tuesdays, 8:30–10:30am until April 4. The next share-formance is 4/10 at 6pm. zamyatheater.org