Alexandria-based playwright tackles local homelessness on stage

‘U-Street, The Musical’ uses ‘educainment’ to share stories about living on the streets.

u street
Photo courtesy of Jason Ellis

Playwright Jason Ellis’ focus on unspoken topics in the theater inspired him to create U-Street, The Musical. Ellis, a native of Jamaica, has been performing since the age of 2 and writing plays while living in Alexandria for the past seven years.

“I like to call my work ‘educainment,’ a mix of education and entertainment, because I address topics that normally aren’t discussed in the theater,” Ellis says.

U-Street, The Musical, set in Washington, D.C., details the lives of five fictional homeless individuals. Each character found homelessness through a different personal experience, whether a runaway or a military veteran. The show also dives into relevant issues such as the criminal justice system, politics and racism.

The musical first premiered in 2016 in Washington, D.C. but is now staged in Alexandria, playing Feb. 15-March 4 at the Lee Center’s Richard Kauffman Auditorium. Ellis, who wrote the script and the music, says his personal relationships with the city of Alexandria made it the ideal location. As the director of resident and community service for the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, he wants to heighten awareness of homelessness in the city. “We want people to understand people are homeless in Alexandria, amidst the wealth that you may see.”

In 2010, Ellis founded Momentum Collective, Inc., a nonprofit focused on serving low-income Alexandria youth. The organization offers arts education, a leadership development program, information-technology training services and a scholarship fund.

Photo courtesy of Jason Ellis

“Momentum Collective is not a theater company, but the theater performances serve as fundraisers for the real work,” he says. As part of the art education aim, youth in the organization are given the opportunity to work in productions. Some of the youth from Momentum Collective are performing in U-Street and working backstage on technical aspects of the show.

Ellis encourages audiences to help as well. At each performance, patrons will have the opportunity to make a donation to combat local homelessness. The production’s website also provides a directory of homeless agencies, such as New Hope Housing, Inc.

That nonprofit, one of several committed to ending homelessness, is based in Alexandria. Residents living in NoVA, says New Hope Housing, Inc.’s executive director Pamela Michell, can best serve homeless citizens by supporting these agencies.

“Although giving money and food to homeless people can help, it’s more important to get them involved with agencies that will provide them with long-term resources,” she says.