“For our entire ensemble it was very important to treat the homeless with respect and dignity and not look down on them. What we did was not an act of patronizing charity. We met them on equal footing. I always used to remind my actors: ‘Please treat each one of them as if he was Rockefeller’.”Gregorij von Leitis
Theater must change something; Gregorij von Leïtis was always inspired by this thought. In 1988, when the situation of the homeless in New York's East Village became increasingly devastating, Gregorij von Leïtis decided to open his Elysium Theater Company to the homeless. On Mondays when the theater was closed, the homeless were invited to attend a performance. Afterwards they were given sandwiches and something warm to drink. But soon Gregorij von Leïtis managed to activate some ladies of the Elysium board members. They brought collected clothes and warm food for the needy. The homeless who came to the theater in the afternoon could choose new clothes and watch the performance. At the end, the actors and the ladies from the Circle of Friends served food and drinks. Before leaving, the homeless were given lists of addresses of other charities in the city.
Village Beat wrote about the Theater for the Homeless: “In a city where set-designed fluff costs $ 50 a ticket, while not far away hundreds wait in line for some noodles and an apple, it is encouraging that one theatre has donated its talents to people who do not often get to see a play.”
Villager Downtown commented: “With this premier performance in its new space, the Elysium Theater has also started a theater and lunch series for the homeless of the East Village. Visitors get to see a play and they also get lunch. ‘First we must educate and then perhaps empowerment is possible.’ This is the political tradition that is the source of Mr. Leïtis’s inspiration. Gregorij von Leïtis is to be applauded for holding fast to his ideals. I found this a most welcome and refreshing change from much of the trendy performances saturating this neighborhood.”