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Arts & Culture

LCC Play Portrays Homelessness In Lansing

Quinn Kelly, Judy Allen and Reuben Kenyatta photo
Scott Pohl
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WKAR/MSU
Actor Quinn Kelly, playwright Judy Allen, and Reuben Kenyatta, whose story is included in 'I Have A Name' at Dart Auditorium this weekend.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week begins on Saturday, and the performing arts department at Lansing Community College is staging a play based on the stories of local homeless people this weekend. WKAR’s Scott Pohl has the story of “I Have A Name.”

“I Have A Name” is an original play about how five people in Lansing came to experience life without a home.

Actor Quinn Kelly plays a man who is identified only at JP. Kelly hasn't met JP, but describes him as a strong guy despite losing his mother at age 17. JP's father struggled after the woman's death, and JP had no other local support.

When approached by director Paige Tufford about playing JP, Kelly jumped at the chance. “It kind of hit home in a literal sense," Kelly explains, "because I am from Lansing. I’m a Lansing native, and seeing a lot of people on the street sometimes that look like they may not have a home, it’s really cool that I finally get to be a part of something that can really help this city, and I take pride in that.”

Kelly adds that he thinks JP would be proud of how he's portrayed in the play.

“I Have A Name” is a bit of an accident. In the spring of 2015, LCC English professor Judy Allen presented her class with an essay about homelessness. One of her students shared that he had been homeless, and the ensuing discussion led her to a project where students spent time at the Volunteers of America, now known as Holy Cross, talking with people being served there. Their stories, and those told to another class the next year, paved the way for Allen’s first-ever script. Allen continues that "we have this image of somebody on a corner holding a cardboard sign. There’s truth behind stereotypes, but we need to know what’s underneath that.”

Allen took a sabbatical to write the script with the assistance of Rob Roznowski from the MSU Department of Theatre.

Reuben Kenyatta and Judy Allen
Credit Courtesy photo
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Reuben Kenyatta (L) met Judy Allen at a coffee shop to discuss his story.

Reuben Kenyatta is one of the people whose story is told in “I Have A Name.” He’s a 67-year-old Vietnam-era veteran originally from Muskegon. Struggling with post traumatic stress, Kenyatta says he had some run-ins with the law, “conflicts here and there, using drugs, alcohol, whatever it is. I’m using these coping mechanisms to deal with something I didn’t even realize I had.”

Ultimately, Kenyatta applied to a program for veterans at the VOA. An artist, he offered to paint a mural there dedicated to homeless vets. He found the project to be therapeutic. Playright Judy Allen saw Kenyatta’s mural at the VOA and wanted to hear his story.

Reuben Kenyatta on overcoming homelessness:

I had to develop the philosophy that if I fall down seven, I must get up eight. I’m up to number eight and I’m back up again, and I think I can make it from here.

Along with Kenyatta and JP, Allen says the show’s other characters include a 20-something African-American single mother of two who ran from domestic abuse. There's also a disabled 43-year-old white woman who grew up in homelessness, and an elderly man who had been a successful businessman in Grand Ledge.

The stories of these five people are told not only dramatically, but also through dance, poetry, and song, including original music by LCC costume designer and composer Chelle Peterson.

LCC’s production of “I Have A Name” will be at Dart Auditorium Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 2.

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