Playwright Brandi Kesselman writes to uplift not only her community, but everyone in need of inspiration. (Will Utley Photography)

The homeless crisis in Los Angeles has skyrocketed over the past few years, and continues to grow. Downtown L.A., specifically Skid Row, has one of the largest homeless population in the United States.  

Substance abuse, mental illness, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and mass incarceration, are just a few of the leading factors of homelessness. Just last year, the city of Los Angeles did a sweep where the homeless encampment in Echo Park Lake was cleared, leaving hundreds back to searching for a place to sleep.  

Reports show that a few were placed in permanent housing, disappeared, or were back on the streets following their removal. Their pain is unheard and overlooked by many.  


Jerome Caldwell plays “Mambos” in the musical turned short film, Under The Freeway. (Will Utley Photography)

L.A.-based playwright, producer, and director Brandi Burks Kesselman wanted to give the homeless a voice and portray characters who represent real people with real stories with her musical play turned short film, “Under The Freeway.”  

Brandi has been feeding the homeless in downtown Los Angeles for the last 20 years. She had worked for a car company and when she would get off of work, her and her sister would go to the store, cook, and set up a table on 6th and Crocker in the area. 

“This was the only street that wasn’t saturated with homeless people,” she explained. “We put the word out to the homeless to let other people know we were here.” 

Tons of people would come and Brandi and her sister would pass out food, gently used clothes, socks, blankets, and shoes for them to choose from. She got inspired during her time downtown while listening to different people tell her their stories, and decided to write about the “people under the freeway.” 

“I already had 6 plays under my belt and I wanted to write about homelessness and have their voices be heard,” she said. “People ignore them, walk past them every day, or drive past them and act like they are just part of the pavement; they don’t even pay any attention to them.”  

Brandi has been writing since she was a child and all of her stories are based on personal experiences that have impacted her life. Produced by her company, Happy4Show Productions, and Stelly Entertainment, “Under The Freeway” depicts characters who portray real people who through good and bad experiences or unfortunate events and are now on the streets.   

“Under The Freeway” will expose you to poverty, pain, and the truth that is in this community of people. Viewers will learn who the characters are and how they ended “under the freeway.” 

 Brandi wrote the musical stage play, which was performed the first time in 2012. The play was done two more times, September 2019 being the last before the coronavirus pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, she was unsure when they would be able to go in theatres again, so she decided to take it and turn it into a short film.  

 She revealed that it was challenging at first because the play was 90-minutes long and she wanted to get in all of the main pieces to depict the story the best she could. The film ended up being 18 minutes long.  

Brandi raised $28,435 in online donations to film the short through GoFundMe and another $5,000 in donations and is working on getting the full funding for the feature.  

Generosity is one of Brandi’s habit of character and is something that is second nature to Brandi. Not only does she give to the less fortunate, but is also willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. 

“You have to help other people,” she stated. “Your hand should be in two directions; one hand reaching up to get help from somebody doing better than you and one hand below to pull somebody up.  

She went on to explain how you can’t have both your hands in the air and not be willing to help anyone under you.  

“Under The Freeway” will leave you speechless as the characters express the reality of day-to- day life in an encampment in downtown Los Angeles. 

“When I can feel the energy in the air and hear the audience laugh, cry and gasp in suspense it makes everything worth it.”  

To contact Brandi, email [email protected].