If the past two weeks are any indication, the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio will be a happening, inclusive scene this season.
Last weekend, famed monologuist Mike Daisey performed “The Trump Card,” his provocative solo show that has been spurring conversations around the state of civil discourse and our democracy itself.
This weekend, the theater opens “Home Street Home Minneapolis,” a partnership with zAmya Theater Project that features performers who have experienced homelessness. The 70-minute show, which includes a lot of music, orbits themes drawn from the experiences of the production’s 15-member cast.
Both shows — one a “happening” programmed on short notice to address current events, the other a partnership with a Twin Cities theater troupe — are part of artistic director Joseph Haj’s Level Nine Initiative, aimed at making the ninth-floor studio live up to its promise both as a font of theatrical experimentation and a community gathering space, with $9 tickets for all shows.
Haj’s vision is underwritten by a $1 million multiyear grant from the Mellon Foundation. The schedule includes Jeanne Sakata’s “Hold These Truths,” a solo show about a Japanese-American man’s deep patriotism in the face of institutional prejudice (Oct. 7-23), as well as collaborations with Transatlantic Love Affair and the Telling Project. Other events will be programmed later.
The Guthrie’s 9th floor is like an agora — the Greek word for a civic assembly space that also is the site of performances, said Haj.
“Everything we’ve selected — every piece in there — invites meaningful community conversations,” Haj said. “And the lessons that we learn up there will ripple throughout the building and into the community.”
“Home Street Home” is actually returning to the Guthrie. The show had a one-off performance there last year before the invitation to come back.
Choreographed by Leah Nelson and directed by Maren Ward, co-founder of Bedlam Theatre, “Home” has a distinct mission to present images that humanize people who are often viewed stereotypically.
“When people say ‘the homeless,’ it sounds like they’re talking about things, not people,” said Ward. “But the people I know and am working with who’ve experienced homelessness don’t fit the images that you see in media or outside your car window. It’s a lot of people who look every which way. And it’s a lot of children.”
Ward has worked with zAmya Theater Project since its founding in 2004. Named for a Sanskrit symbol of peace, zAmya is a program of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis. In fact, the show was rehearsed in a basement room at St. Stephen’s, which has a decades-long record of helping the precariously housed.
“Home Street Home” follows a street musician, Zeke Cooper, as he tells us about people he meets in downtown, including guards, football tailgaters and condo dwellers. The production also includes a female mayor talking about the new Vikings stadium.
“It’s very experiential, as we shine a spotlight on people who live, work, play and pray downtown,” said Richard Brinda, who plays Zeke (and the guitar). “We start out like ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and take a sweet journey through skyways and streets.”
Ward said that patrons often enter into the theater a touch wary about what to expect, but leave smiling.
“People always come out of the show saying that it’s surprisingly entertaining and that they didn’t expect to laugh as much as they do,” she said. “That’s another stereotype that we get to put away.”
Level Nine Initiative
The Guthrie’s new audience-engagement effort includes:
“Home Street Home Minneapolis” by zAmya Theater Project (1 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 1 p.m. Sept. 25).
“Hold These Truths,” a one-man show by Jeanne Sakata (Oct. 7-23).
Transatlantic Love Affair re-imagines “Hansel and Gretel” as an immigrants’ tale (Jan. 27-Feb. 12).
“We Are Proud to Present,” recounting an incident of genocide in colonial Africa (Feb. 21-March 12).
“Echo War,” about suicide among Minnesota veterans (March 17-April 2).
Where: Dowling Studio, Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Tickets: $9. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org