Austin Homeless Community Members Come to See THE GRAPES OF WRATH

It’s hard to believe Dr. Judy Knotts, the head of St. Gabriel’s Catholic Academy in Austin, lived on the streets. But Dr. Knotts has gone through extraordinary lengths throughout her career to question commonly held worldviews, particularly about poverty and homelessness. It was this uncommon passion that drove her to work with Austin’s homeless community as a volunteer and minister at Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity benefiting the homeless.

This is where her story begins with the ZACH community. Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley shares Dr. Knotts’ passion for relating with the underserved in our community. Bringing to stage THE GRAPES OF WRATH at ZACH Theatre was his latest contribution toward that mission. In fact, Steakley set up a tremendously successful donation point at all THE GRAPES OF WRATH performances to benefit Mobile Loaves and Fishes.

Dr. Knotts attended the Sunday matinee performance of THE GRAPES OF WRATH last week with two members of the Austin homeless community. She wrote in a letter to ZACH that four members were supposed to join her, but two “got gun shy.” The other two had an experience unlike any other, and Dr. Knotts’ kind disclosure of their stories moved everyone who works at ZACH to look at homelessness and the spirit of charity and shear joyousness felt in THE GRAPES OF WRATH in a completely different light.

Here’s Dr. Knotts’ letter to ZACH:

Dear actors/artists!

Thank you for the inspiration. I attended the Sunday matinee with two homeless folks. Two more were to come but they got gun shy.

As Janelle, Jarret, Marc, and Xochitl [castmembers from THE GRAPES OF WRATH] heard, this was their first live performance of any kind. Imagine that! They were nervous to come and I was right with them in the anxiety department. This was like going to another world.

They had so many practical issues. Where to store their stuff? Solved, in my car. Where to sit, what to do with the ticket and what if they lost it, what to do when it got dark in the theatre, and would they miss the Mobile Loaves and Fishes food truck?

To allay their fears, we planned a dinner stop at Sandy’s on the way back to the park which made them relax a bit. At first the language was a hurdle for them. They had to listen harder. On the streets people don’t use such long sentences or talk about life. They got most of the humor and felt the poverty personally. The music was refreshing, giving them, and the rest of us a minute or two to catch our breath from the intensity of the action.

They learned so much… that theatres have nice bathrooms, that there is an intermission where people smoke whole cigarettes and don’t scrounge for butts, that you don’t talk while the play is going on, that people get paid to be in plays (I know not enough!), that people go to the theatre to see this kind of thing and be entertained and inspired, and that you show your appreciation by applause. [One homeless attendee] was a real promoter after seeing the play. She told a group of homeless people in the park that she had a “lump in her throat at the end of the play” and urged them to go if invited.

If at all possible, I would love to bring another group the Sunday after Easter… only if there are extra seats. Personally, while not passing out candy bars and playing mother hen, I was awe struck by the play itself and your acting. You were not the people I knew, you were the Joad’s full of pain and promise. Thank you all for sharing your gifts and giving the audience hope.


Dr. Knotts: ZACH Theatre salutes you! We hope everyone in our community — homeless or not — gets to ZACH to witness this extraordinary theatrical event.

It’s an amazing experience to share with your family this holiday weekend! ZACH is offering a family 4-pack to see the show, as well as $15 student rush tickets (starting one hour before all shows.) Call the box office to reserve seats at (512) 476-0541, x1, and ask about group discounts for parties of 8 or more.

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