zAmya Theater presents 'There's No Place Like Home'

Chloe Lamberson, Caroline Mannheimer, Melisa Johnson, Corey Walton, Richard Brinda
Chloe Lamberson, Caroline Mannheimer, Melisa Johnson, Corey Walton, Richard Brinda
Photo by Michelle Perrin

Arminta Wilson, one of the actors in zAmya Theater's current production of There's No Place Like Home, a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, has a personal story that is not that unlike the main character who travels to Minneapolis in search of services, finding friends on her journey to the government center. Like a number of members of the troupe, Wilson has dealt with homelessness in her life, and acting with zAmya is one way that she's been able to help herself and reach out to others.

Marvin Howard, Caroline Mannheimer and Arminta Wilson 
Marvin Howard, Caroline Mannheimer and Arminta Wilson 
Photo by Michelle Perrin

Wilson (58), was raised in Minneapolis and attended Washburn High School, though for many years she lived in Chicago with her husband. When he died, Wilson went through a grieving period, and moved back to Minnesota to be with her family. She didn't want to overwhelm them, so she chose to stay at the Salvation Army. There, she sought resources, and during her period of transition attended MCTC where she took a course in human services.  

Wilson would get up at seven o'clock each morning, go to classes all day, and then come back to the shelter in the evening. One weekend, zAmya Theater visited to discuss homelessness and their theater project. 

"It was so heartwarming to see their presentation," she says. "I wanted to give back to the community after all I had been through with my transition." After three months, Wilson was able to acquire housing. She got her Section 8 and continued with her studies, even taking a theater class at MCTC. "I found my niche, so to speak," she says. She ended up getting involved with theater at school, and also volunteered with zAmya.

Marvin Howard, Caroline Mannheimer, Chloe Lamberson
Marvin Howard, Caroline Mannheimer, Chloe Lamberson
Photo by Michelle Perrin

One of the things that she loves about her work with zAmya, which she's been doing for nearly six years, is that she gets to sing. "Singing is a blessing for me and a gift," she says. "Being able to be in zAmya gives me an opportunity to expand on singing and acting."  

In addition to her work with zAmya, Wilson also has volunteered around town for places like the YWCA, Urban Ventures Group, and Breaking Free. She also has two radio shows through Northwest Community Cable Television. She says that zAmya helped her to come out of her grieving. "It was an instrument that helped me overcome my difficulties," she says. "It also gave me an opportunity to look inside my heart and find out what I wanted to do."

In There's No Place Like Home, Wilson plays the Great Witch of Good Intentions, and assists Dorothy as she goes to the government center to find housing resources. In the play, she sings "If you Believe," a song from The Wiz originally sung by Lena Horn.

The show is a re-write of a play zAmya produced a number of years ago when Hennepin county launched a 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2016, according to zAmya Theater Coordinator Maren Ward, who also directs the show. Ward says the county has reached a number of goals, such as improving communication between shelters and service providers, and starting Homeless Connect, which allows people to come for one day and gets all kinds of services. 

There are still major challenges, however, especially due to the still lagging economy. Also, the scarcity of affordable housing in the Twin Cities has caused homelessness to increase, Ward says. In Minneapolis, family shelters are overflowing for the first time in its history.  

zAmya is in its ninth year, with a troupe of 10 committed actors, most of whom have experienced homelessness themselves. While the troupe used to be a nonprofit, a couple of years ago the work of zAmya began to overwhelm the volunteer board, so St. Stephen's offered to take the organization on as a program. They have also switched from only doing plays in October, to year-round programming, presenting shows once a month at St. Stevens and touring to schools and other locations throughout the year. 


There's No Place Like Home, by Josef Evans
7 p.m. Thursday, November 15
3 p.m. Sunday, December 16
7 p.m. Friday, January 11
3 p.m. Sunday, February 10
St. Stephen's Human Services
2309 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
Reserve tickets by emailing [email protected] 

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St. Stephen's Human Services

2309 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

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