Actors who are or were homeless perform the partly autobiographical "Homeroom."
Three years ago, Marvin Howard, now 41, was homeless and sleeping on a thin mattress at the Salvation Army building in Minneapolis.
Two years ago, Darrell Coles, now 50, was sleeping on a mat at the same shelter with 150 people lying nearby.
Seven months ago, Richard Brinda, 44, was sleeping under a bridge near the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis.
The three men are part of an acting troupe of 12 people -- 10 of whom were or are homeless -- performing a play on the subject of homelessness. One show was held Sunday, and four more are scheduled this week.
"It is one of the most important things I have done in my life," said Lecia Grossman, a corporate consultant who conceived the project six year ago.
The play is titled "Homeroom" and is a production of the zAmya Theater Project, which began producing plays by and about the homeless in 2004.
Today, zAmya is under the umbrella of St. Stephen's Human Services, which operates several homeless programs.
"Homeroom," which includes some humor, was largely written by the actors. Much of it is autobiographical.
"The cool thing about the play is you hear different stories, and they all mesh together," said Brinda. "It's not professional like the Guthrie, but it's special."
Grossman said she had long been saddened by homelessness but did not understand it when she proposed the theater project at a training program on leadership development in 2004.
She raised the idea with Monica Nilsson, then working for the Bridge for Runaway Youth and now at St. Stephen's. Grossman met with playwright Josef Evans, who helped write some of the scripts, and Maren Ward, who became the program's artistic director.
The group gets grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and from Compass through the McKnight Foundation.
Ward, whose fulltime job is director at Bedlam Theatre in south Minneapolis, said the plays develop out of workshops at homeless shelters and drop-in centers.
Homeless people go through theater exercises and ideas are generated for plays, and some volunteer for parts. They perform 20 to 25 times a year, with a new play annually.
Howard, one of the actors, today works two jobs and is a standup comedian on the side. Brinda, who lives at the House of Charity, attends a job training program and is moving into his own apartment Dec. 1.
Coles, also formerly homeless, works as a security guard at the Salvation Army and lives in one of the apartments there. In the play, he plays a man who loses his job, his home and his girlfriend and winds up on the street where he's ignored by everyone.
It's a scenario he knows well. A drug addict who's been clean for two years, Coles said the play has helped him work though resentments as well as realize his own "self-destructive behavior."
"Acting out your pain and suffering in front of people is cathartic," he said.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382