Monologue offers ‘View from the Tent’

April 13, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Before Tent City 4 departs from Issaquah, supporters of the homeless camp will pull back the flap and offer a perspective from inside the tent.

“View from the Tent” — a dramatic monologue based on letters from a homeless man — will anchor a benefit April 17 for the homeless encampment. Tent City 4 residents will answer questions from the audience after the performance.

Author M. Barrett Miller compiled letters from a homeless man, identified as Atreus, into a self-published book, “View from the Tent: Thoughts from a Homeless Man.” Dan Niven, a Seattle actor and musician, chanced upon the book as he browsed the shop at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle last year.

Miller co-founded a Seattle nonprofit organization, Let Kids Be Kids, dedicated to helping children participate in efforts to aid the homeless and people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. The experience led Miller to homeless camps throughout Seattle.

Once, Atreus handed Miller a letter. The notes continued on subsequent visits. The writer documented the people he met, and their stories, too.

“Overall, the stories are very hopeful. They’re very courageous,” Miller said.

The idea for a performance based on the experiences of a homeless man in Seattle germinated at a Starbucks. The coffee giant serves as the setting for a key scene in the book, as Atreus writes in a letter later used in the tome.

“Why I think this work is so compelling is because no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you’ll leave with something to think about,” Niven said.

Organizers will present the piece a week before Tent City 4 departs April 24 for Lake Washington United Methodist Church in Kirkland.

The encampment relocates across the Eastside from church to church. Tent City remains at a site for about 90 days. Residents settled at Community Church of Issaquah in late January.

The author and performer, as well as the local Tent City 4 organizers, the Issaquah Sammamish Interfaith Coalition, hope the monologue educates attendees about local homelessness.

“No theater happens in a vacuum,” Niven said.

Tent City 4 shelters up to 100 adults at a fenced site with 24-hour security. Organizers do not allow children to live at the encampment. Residents undergo warrant and sex offender checks before they are allowed to enter the camp; strict rules ban offenders, drugs and alcohol.

Niven turned to serious roles after he tackled a part in a Seattle production of “The Wall” — a drama about the emotional impact of the Vietnam War.

St. Mark’s hosted Tent City 3 — the Seattle homeless encampment founded by the same nonprofit behind Tent City 4 — at the same time Niven picked up the book.

Before the book reached the stage as a dramatic monologue, Miller had lost touch with Atreus.

“I can only hope that he’s all right,” Miller said. “I can only hope that the other people he wrote about are all right as well.”

If you go

‘View from the Tent’

  • 7 p.m. April 17
  • Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church
  • 1121 228th Ave. S.E.
  • $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors
  • Buy tickets online.
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