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People's Theater Stages A Comeback In Ann Arbor

People's Theater Stages A Comeback In Ann Arbor image
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When those masters of street theater, the Pinkertons, died a natural death last fall, guerilla theater in Ann Arbor died - butonly temporarily. The Homeless Theater Group, an eclectic mix of students, nonstudents, and former homeless people, has become Ann Arbor's most recent incarnation of "people's theater." Born in U-M Professor Buzz Alexander's Theater and Social Change class and in Ann Arbor's Homeless Action Committee (HAC), the Homeless Theater Group follows in the disruptive footsteps of the Pinkertons. Disruption, empowerment, agitation- these are the stated purposes of the nine-member group. According to Alexander, the group aims to cali attention to the political, economie, and social roots of the homeless situation through "dramatic and disruptive" actions. Unannounced and unexpected, the troupe has interrupted classes at the U-M with their vivid presentaron of "Joey's Story", the episodio tale of one man's spiral into and then out of homelessness and hopelessness. Students n one classroom audience reacted with a mixture of shock at having their classroom transformed into a theater, and guilt about their own inaction in the face of a social problem that confronts them daily. Renuta Uthappa, a U-M student and founding member of the group, states, "Our goal is to do something more than raise awareness." The group's performances and subsequent discussions try to push audiences beyond guilt, and provoke analysis and action by making explicit connections between homelessness and broader economie and sociopoütical issues. The group sees one of its main functions as recruiting new members for HAC, which s currently at work on specific projects to provide housing for the homeless. According to Alexander, attendance at weekly HAC meetings has gone from five to fifteen since March, an increase he attributes directly to the Homeless Theater Group's performances. Another function of the group is empowerment of the homeless. Ross Heine, a former homeless person and creator of Joey's Story, notes that being able to dramatize his story has helped return some of the dignity that being homeless took away from him: "It got me back into writing and interacting with people." The group has also performed the play at Ann Arbor's night shelter, where the play's straightforward approach struck such adeep chord in audience member Bruce Coxton that he decided to join the group on the spot. Alexander points out that helping homeless people "find the way to teil their story through their own art form ... [is] always political because it's giving voice to people who have no voice ... We're doing the speaking but letting ourselves be used as instruments for the voices of the homeless." In conjunction with HAC, the troupe aims to shift the local debate about homelessness away from is.sues of charity and guilt, to the socio-economic causes of homelessness. The Homeless Theatre Group is currently working on a new piece which will be performed at the Art Fair. ""■


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