This story was copublished with the Detroit Free Press.
Magical key in hand, Dorothea “Dot” Hawkins moves through time, revisiting her family’s past and witnessing housing decisions that shaped her life — whether to rent or buy, stay in Detroit or leave for the ’burbs.
The tales of Dot’s trip through time was chronicled through a single-player video game, “Dot’s Home.” The game was created as part of Rise-Home Stories, a collaboration between housing organizers across the country and artists who worked together to create multimedia works that explore the intricacies of the past, present and future of housing and racial justice. The video game is coming to life on the stage as “Dot’s Home Live,” an interactive play that debuts in Detroit on Friday.
The play is another group effort, organized by Detroit Action, a local affiliate of national social justice network PowerSwitch Action; A Host Of People, a Detroit-based theater ensemble company; and Andy Arts, a community art center near the intersection of Dexter Avenue and Fenkell Street in Northwest Detroit.
The play follows Dot, a young Black woman who lives in her grandmother Mavis’ home in Detroit. She soon discovers a key that opens a portal through time and takes her to pivotal moments in her family’s history. Through interactions with her parents and grandparents, she (and the audience) is able to influence their decisions — unknowingly impacting her life in the present. In the original video game (which is free to download) players have the same power over Dot’s fate.
“A big part of this game is having control over the situation, and I think that in Detroit today, it feels for residents that they don’t have much control,” said Anthony Baber, communications and culture director for Detroit Action. “There’s so much that’s been stacked against them for decades that to even try to hold on any longer would essentially cause more harm, because you don’t have support against unjustified eviction. You don’t have the city support in your neighborhood as far as infrastructure, and you don’t have viable opportunities to go somewhere else in Detroit because it’s widespread.
“It becomes like a really dire situation when your home is constantly under attack,” Baber added.
Through the lens of Dot, played by actor Jala Jackson, the audience experiences some of the challenging choices Detroit homeowners have been forced to reckon with for decades. The interactive play uses call and response to allow the audience to choose its own adventure, and depending on those choices, the play could end in one of three ways.
By presenting Dot’s adventure on the stage, organizers said they are aiming to reach a new audience for whom her story resonates. They expect some viewers have likely been in similar situations or are living lives shaped by the consequences of the decisions of their predecessors, like Dot.
“It can be really affirming to see things that you’ve lived through and know that you’re not alone,” said Sherrine Azab, co-director of the play and of A Host of People. “The power of theater does that really well of being able to see yourself in things that are maybe not your story exactly, but that you find ways that you can relate to it and feel like we’re all a little less alone.”
In one scene, Dot’s parents have to decide whether they will stay in public housing or accept a voucher. If the audience chooses the latter, the Hawkins family moves out of their predominantly Black neighborhood and Dot’s childhood is affected. She plays lacrosse instead of basketball and is teased for her natural hair by her white teammates.
Organizers hope that taking a topic that may be triggering for some — housing injustice — and adapting it for the stage will affect change and encourage the audience to connect and reimagine paths toward solutions.
“When we take history, policy and all this hard stuff and make it into art, we are opening up another connection in folks’ brains,” said Christina Rosales, co-producer of the play and housing and land justice director at PowerSwitch Action. “What we hope is that it opens them up to thinking of new possibilities for solutions and action. We as a housing movement have to change the narrative about housing in this country, and that’s not done by changing policy alone, you have to change people’s hearts and minds.
“Art helps make those connections to jolt people awake and connect people.”
“Dot’s Home Live” debuts Friday at Andy Arts, 3000 Fenkell Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show will be followed by a panel discussion featuring housing justice organizers. A matinee will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Attendance for both shows is free — RSVP required.