Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh to address homelessness with H.U.D. (Housing Under Distress) | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh to address homelessness with H.U.D. (Housing Under Distress)

click to enlarge Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh to address homelessness with H.U.D. (Housing Under Distress)
Photo: Courtesy of Terry McGeorge
Theatre of the Oppressed Pittsburgh
For centuries, art has been used to inspire change in the society in which it was built. From poetry to plays, artists often seek to critique or show error in the ways their society operates, highlighting the stories of those who have suffered the most under oppressive laws and policies. The tradition of using art in that manner continues to this day, even here in Pittsburgh.

In August 2017, a group of educators, artists, and changemakers all gathered to discuss how the Theatre of the Oppressed (a style of theater created by Brazilian director Augusto Boal in the 1970s, with a chapter in Pittsburgh) could be used to create positive change in the Pittsburgh community. After years of planning, they will put on H.U.D. (Housing Under Distress), a play about their experiences regarding housing instability, taking place from Thu., Dec. 9-Fri., Dec. 10 in the Peirce Studio of the Trust Arts Education Center.

“At a young age, I experienced homelessness myself, as well as watching family members and loved ones and friends go through the same struggles and, sometimes, even worse,” says Michael Brookins, one of the show's creators. “When it comes to the system, I don't believe service providers really understand the severity of the issue around homelessness, especially within the LGBT community and POC. Art has a way of impacting people through the heart, and I believe through the heart, the world will begin to change.”

The play will focus on the experiences of Black LGBTQIA people in Pittsburgh as they struggle to find safe housing. It intends to tell the story of homelessness in the community from different perspectives, and also provide audiences with actionable steps to help them address these issues in their own communities.

Liz Foster-Shaner, another of the show's creators, says that since forming in 2017, the group has held free monthly public workshops to "share the form and offer space to adapt and practice these tools in our professional and personal lives.” Foster-Shaner adds that an employee of the Department of Human Services attended some of the initial workshops and "felt that the approach would be very effective in engaging people in discussion and strategizing about ways to actively improve our housing systems.”

The collective met with representatives from the Allegheny Department of Human Services, Northside Common Ministries, Project SILK, and CHS to discuss challenges faced by organizations that work with homeless populations, by providing them with food, shelter, and other resources. This culminated with a May 2019 workshop of 10 participants who had experience with homelessness from either the client's side or the provider's side.

Participants were compensated with bus passes and food, and facilitators were given a small stipend. In January 2020, the collective received financial support from the Heinz Endowments Just Arts Initiative to fund the play.

Brookins says that when it comes to housing, there just aren’t very safe and affordable options for people of color in the city. By putting on this play, both Brookins and Foster-Shaner are hoping to shine a light on this problem and bring about real change.

“I want providers to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves, ‘Am I doing right by the people I serve?’ and if not, take accountability and make changes. [I want them] to be a true ally, being in positions of power and using those influences to create change, and do right by the people!” says Brookins.

Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, as well as face masks for those over the age of 2, will be required to attend this performance. Visit the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's vaccination and masking protocols web page for more details.

H.U.D. (Housing Under Distress). 7-9 p.m. Thu., Dec. 9-Fri., Dec. 10. Trust Arts Education Center. 805 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Free. Registration required. Find tickets by searching "HUD (Housing Under Distress)" at Eventbrite

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