Street Sense Vendor Stories on Stage

Susan Orlins

How could such heart-rending stories have resulted in such a magical performance?

On Friday night, seven talented actors lit up the stage at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center’s Theater J. Performing in “Homeless Lives: Unforgettable Personal Stories,” they assumed the personae of twelve writers—many of them homeless—from Street Sense and from Miriam’s Kitchen.

The writers had opened up unflinchingly to share their stories. During our weekly writing/storytelling groups, they had honed their memories of homelessness, hustling, marital turmoil, heartbreak, foster care, Hurricane Katrina, and bullying a bully.

“Homeless Lives” director, NJ Mitchell, had arranged the actors on chairs in a “W” formation. Meanwhile, Mitchell herself sat behind the actors at a desk in the rear of the stage, her notes lit by a small lamp, all of which gave the feel of a classroom with the teacher supervising her charges from behind. This setup embraced the audience, drawing us into their private, intimate space.

The men’s stories, which were indeed private and intimate, ranged from poignant to somber to downright dark. Playfully performed women’s childhood memories periodically brightened the mood. The show ended on a humorous note, one man’s recollections of his six-year-old self struggling to conceal that he knew Santa was a fraud; the boy couldn’t bear to disappoint his mother, but finally could no longer live with the Santa lie.

The author of the story about bullying a bully sat a few rows behind me and his elated expression, while he watched the reading of his story, highlighted what another of the storytellers had written in our group a few days earlier, about the opportunity to express oneself and have others listen:

“Homeless people have a story to tell, a need to feel relevant, part of something, instead of feeling like immigrants in our own land.”

After the show, it felt like a family reunion when the actors met those whose stories they had read. During a reception, provided by Miriam’s Kitchen, all those who made the magic happen piled on top of one another for a group photo.

Issues |Art|Living Unsheltered

Region |Washington DC

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.