Street Sense Media vendors perform early on a Sunday morning
Street Sense Media vendors organized and staged a play exploring solutions to homelessness. Photo by Will Schick

On an early Sunday morning, a small group of people gathered inside a church a few blocks from the White House to watch a play examining solutions to homelessness.

Written and organized by Street Sense Media vendors, the performance staged on Feb. 6, lasted for approximately an hour and included multiple singing ensembles. The culmination of six months of hard work, the show was the first theatrical event hosted by the nonprofit since the onset of the pandemic.

“At first, it was a lot of fun. But after about a month, we started writing,” explained Maria Lares, Street Sense Media staff member who facilitates over a dozen in-house workshops that cover everything from workplace training to watercolor painting.

The play was organized and directed by longtime volunteer Leslie Jacobson, who has provided similar training to other theatrical groups around the world. She worked closely with another volunteer, Roy Barber, to compose original music to accompany the performance.

Jacobson’s direction was crucial in providing the initial structure of the script, according to Lares.

“She asked us ‘What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?’ and ‘If you could talk to the mayor right now, what would you tell her?’” Lares said.

Within a few months, the group managed to produce a script centered on their personal experiences with homelessness. It also explored concrete actions local policy makers could adopt to address the issue.

However, working to pull off such a performance was far from easy. According to Lares, theatrical work can be much more emotionally draining than other forms of expression due to its physical demands.

“Because people are not expressing themselves with just their words but with their whole body,” Lares said, “people can [actually] start crying.”

Jet Flegette, a vendor who performed in the play, agreed that rehearsing the script was the most emotionally challenging part.

“You’ve got to be real with your feelings,” she said. “When the script says, ‘I’ve been down, alone in the streets, beaten and scared with nothing to eat,’ that’s really true. I’ve been in that position before.”

Around 11 vendors contributed to the writing of the play, which contains a blend of personal experiences with homelessness from all the performers. It also underwent many changes during the past six months, according to multiple people who acted in the play.

Flegette also said that while acting in front of a live audience can be nerve-wracking and stressful, it was something she felt compelled to do.

“I figured if I can sell a paper to people out in the streets, I can stand up in front of people I don’t know and tell them what [this play] is about,” she said. “It was an opportunity to be a part of something, you know?”

Other members of the theatrical group similarly shared similar excitement with the success of their initial performance.

“It was just so amazing for me and I do look forward to the next one,” Queenie Featherstone, another Street Sense Media vendor who played a part in the show said. “I’m going to master the skill of acting. Then one day, I will receive a Tony Award.”

Nikila Smith, a vendor who watched the performance, said that she left it thinking about an idea first brought on by Featherstone in a monologue about possible solutions to homelessness. On stage, Featherstone proposed starting a fund to encourage people to open up their homes temporarily to people experiencing homelessness.

“It sounds like a good idea to get people on their feet,” Smith said.

The experience of homelessness can be solitary, she added, and it helps to have opportunities to interact with people with different kinds of life experience.

“This [play] was really nice and I want to be in it next time,” Smith said.