LaGCC Students Explore Homelessness Through Theater

BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Staff Writer

Eight students from LaGuardia Community College who volunteered for six weeks at several of the City’s homeless shelters will display their experience through theater.

The students experienced homelessness on a first-hand basis, which resulted in a theater project titled, “Unpacking Home.”

The play, which is comprised of poetry, scenes, song and dance, will take place on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Mainstage Theater. Admission to the play is free of charge.

The students from the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center have collaborated with LaGuardia’s Humanities Department, Kingsborough Community College’s theater program and the Artists Strive to End Poverty organization to put on this theatrical experience.

Stefanie Sertich, a theater professor for the Humanities Department, said the students who have written and acted in the play realize that they can make a change through their voices, bodies and stories.

Sertich said the students started the process with a full 24-hour immersion process where they stayed together in lower Manhattan and witnessed what it is like to sit outside on the street and panhandle for half-an-hour.

It is there Sertich said they asked themselves “what does ‘home’ mean and what happens if you lose that ‘home’?”

“We decided that the topic would be homelessness because it is becoming more prevalent and the focus is on homeless youth, and little did we know that some of our students have been homeless themselves,” Sertich said.

She said the play can be categorized as non-traditional theater because at times, the audience will come on the stage with the students.

“The audience has a reaction to our work, it’s interactive,” Sertich said.

She said she has seen the students change through the play’s planning process because they feel validated through their work on stage.

“They seem more passionate towards everybody,” she said. “It’s unique because what they are learning is that theater is not just a form of entertainment, it can promote change in the world.”

Mone’t Fuentes, 24, a second-year theater student at LaGCC, who has personally experienced homelessness before, said feeling invisible and having no voice during their 24-hour immersion on the streets of Manhattan helped her peers embody their characters.

“We were able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and it was an unbelievable experience,” she said.

From a facilitator and director’s point of view, Sertich said homelessness is not the sole issue; it is a symptom of larger issues in American society.

“It comes from financial crisis, or drug addiction or gay youth or mental illness,” she said.

She said the play also touches upon the stereotypes of homelessness, while also bringing visibility to homeless people.

“It’s more about how we as a community see these invisible people,” she said. “It’s so easy to just assume that they are drunk and that they chose this. And really what we have come to find is that it’s so much more complicated than that.”

Sertich said the students have been invited to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts during the America College Theater Festival on Jan. 30 in Massachusetts.

To continue their project and to bring their show to other schools and festivals, the students have started an Indiegogo.com campaign, called “Unpacking Home.” To make a donation, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/unpacking-home.

Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, tsakhuja@queenstribune.com, or @Tsakhuja13.