Name: Tenika Dye
Occupation: Artistic Direct or of the Salvation Army 614 Corps' Recreate Café
Theologian Frederick Buechner once said, "The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all." This is Tenika Dye's favorite quote, and she gets to see it come to life every day with her work in the Recreate Café. Through her acting classes and other creative offerings, homeless and non-homeless Chattanoogans have a chance to join together, create and be heard.
Even if you have experienced something really awful in your life, if you tell that story and that experience and someone else listens to it, there's an opportunity for that experience to not be wasted. There's so many times where you hear something from somebody and you think, "Me too."
I was working for a faith-based theater company in Houston, but in 2009 I moved back to Tennessee. My mother died in 2008 and I was anxious to be closer to amily and closer to home. I couldn't find work, so here I have this master's degree in storytelling and nobody knows what that is. I couldn't get hired as a waitress even-it just was awful. I finally got part-time work with a local radio station, J103, as a receptionist.
When I moved to Tennessee I had developed "Behold the Lamb of God" which is an adaptation of Andrew Peterson's Christmas Concert that he does every year. Basically it's the story of Jesus but beginning in the Old Testament. It had dance and multimedia-it was like my child, this piece of theater.
I'm sitting at the front desk of J103 when in comes Major Jim Lawrence from the Salvation Army and we strike up a conversation. He asked me if I would be interested in performing "Behold the Lamb" for the homeless community the following Christmas. My heart just started going crazy.
It had really been put on my heart that the show really needed to be presented to people who don't have beauty in their life, because that piece is such a story of peace. I said, 'No, we have to do it this year!' As soon as I walked into the Recreate Café-it's so beautiful- my spirit was just like, 'Wow, you're going to do more stuff here.'
We didn't really know what to expect when first performing for the homeless, but the audience was fantastic. They clapped, they responded, they just really loved it. When we finished Captain Jon-Phil Winter of the Salvation Army 614 Corps said 'I was prepared for that to be horrible because most Christian drama is, but that was amazing. Have you thought about working with the homeless and doing drama?' It had never crossed my mind before, but there was something really intriguing about it. I started as a volunteer and created programming, bringing in concerts, started acting classes and art classes and what has grown into the arts program.
I discovered theater in high school; I was bitten with the bug. When I was in undergrad I just consumed the knowledge of theater. I auditioned, was disappointed at times not being cast, had roles I really loved. Early on I learned you just jump in and make your way.
I'm a Christian, and I had always had this interest in how art and Christianity go together. I didn't have examples of that. I was told theater was secular and worldly and bad, but I found a lot of good in it. I had this vision that I wanted to own my own theater company to do faithbased, community-focused, educationalfocused theater. It didn't have to be biblical stories-I just wanted to do good theater.
As a sophomore in college I volunteered at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro. I was listening to these stories under the tent and was like, I could so do that. There were tellers that were very theatrical and dramatic and there were tellers that it was like sitting on their front porch. It was interesting because I had never been exposed to storytelling as a performance art. Later, I went back to school to get my master's in storytelling.
I think story is at the heart of humanity. Story has a way of bringing order to chaos.
There's never a typical day. The work is very fluid; the people are very fluid. Even those that you build a relationship with, they might move on. I have one person who's been in the acting class from the very beginning to people who have been in it since January to people who have been in it for the past two weeks.
Homelessness is a complex issue. The issue itself is as varied and individual as the people are. Some are in homelessness of their own choosing, whether that's addiction or abuse or whatever the vices are that society looks down on. Or life happened, someone lost their job, or they went through a major grief or depression set in and they just couldn't handle life as they knew it. I've been at this for two years and I
still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the whole issue.
At Recreate Café and the Salvation Army we really try to provide an environment where the two segments-homeless and non-homeless-can come together. We are doing an unusual thing. Chattanooga should be proud that we can be a city that finds ways to make art for everyone. It is important for those that are not in homelessness to see and interact with those that are homeless, but those that are homeless need to be exposed to those that do have jobs and houses and families, because how can they aspire to something if they don't see it?
There will be some people who will never live in a house again, and that's their choice. There are some people who will never give up their addiction and that's their choice. But there are a lot of people that want something better, but the system is not always set up to help them succeed. There are a lot of roadblocks-I hear that all the time.
Theater and creativity is a familiar thing for someone even if they've never been exposed to it. Even if someone has had an awful childhood, they can pull back somewhere in their history and find that moment where somewhere along the way they used make believe and they played and they pretended to be knights or princesses or doctors or astronauts. I think that's huge-realizing that play is more powerful than what we thought.
There was a homeless actor that did 'Godspell' last summer. I saw that actor go from not even wanting to participate in the acting class, to finally participating and really processing why it was that he wanted to be creative but felt like he couldn't be creative-just working through the stuff. He saw the show through to the end. His dad came and saw the production. He did not have a relationship with his dad, but that opened the door. He made a connection through our costumer, and that opened the door for him to get a job. Not even a year later this person who was homeless and didn't have a whole lot of options, he's moving forward rather than being stuck. And he's still riding that high of being in the production. He tells us, 'If I can do that, I can do anything.'