Home Art Raja Feather Kelly Wants Sustainability to Become “Actual Practice”

Raja Feather Kelly Wants Sustainability to Become “Actual Practice”

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Choreographer and director Raja Feather Kelly (all images courtesy Raja Feather Kelly, photo by Kate Enman )

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate.

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What’s your name?

Raja Feather Kelly

Where are you based currently? 

Brooklyn, New York

Describe who you are and what you do.

I am a choreographer, director, artistic director, dog owner and husband. I am Black, queer and very spiritual. I work between the New York experimental theater community and the commercial Off-Broadway/ Broadway field. I make dance theater work with a company of performers about Popular Culture. Our work is like Andy Warhol meets David Lynch on the set of RuPaul’s Drag Race with commentary by James Baldwin.

When I am not making work for my company, I am a collaborator on off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Recently, I was the choreographer for the Pulitzer prize-winning musical, A Strange Loop, and last year I was the choreographer for the Pulitzer prize-winning play, Fairview. I am also a teacher and an active community member. As an artist, I love to create, bring people together, and strive for queer excellence. I love my friends and often try my best to enable them to work hard and play hard. I also watch way too much reality TV.

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From Another Fucking Warhol Production or Who’s Afraid of Andy Warhol? (2017), directed by Raja Feather Kelly, produced by the feath3r theory (photo by Kate Enman)

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

This stupid quarantine time is driving me crazy. I am a person that thrives in community, being a creator, and engaging with as many people as possible, as much as possible, and then also spending heaps of time alone. It’s my very own psychological and cultural exchange program. With all my friends at home, it feels like we’re back to AOL chat rooms, and I’ve forgotten how much truth can exist in a space where people feel comfortable to confront the world around them. We were all so frustrated [already] with being artists, and right now we have no work and no one really caring for us! So I wrote an article about this and got it published in Dance Magazine and the community response was astounding. It felt like a voice that really needed to be heard. Being a part of the two most celebrated works on theater in the past two years was INCREDIBLE. However, being a voice for my community felt truly expansive and important.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

I love to make shows, and my performances are gatherings of the community and a celebration of our history, life, and hope. But the performances are not just the show. It’s the research with the company, it is the finding new audiences, and digging deep into the stories that we tell that really make it something special. Combining that with our study of popular culture makes it feel like the ultimate study hall. We’re doing the work AND unabashedly being a confetti cannon that the world needs.

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Choreographer and director Raja Feather Kelly (photo by Thomas Dunn)

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

Community. What is it? How do we re-evaluate it? How do we think about our efforts in creating, protecting, upholding, and maintaining community. Now that we are all alone, [the idea of] community is even more nuanced than usual. It seems it is important to consider, because we need our community now, and we will want them moving forward. I have been thinking about my own circles — close friends and collaborators, colleagues, important but distant friends, etc, etc. I also wonder how my dog feels about me being home all the time.

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

I have a gay husband and a gay dog! What more could I ask for? Kidding. I run a small dance theater community called the feath3r theory and it is a community of people that I am responsible and for whom I care deeply. We create space for each other to really dig deep into who we are in order to make theater. It’s intense and necessary. I am also in a Queer|Art Mentorship group as a Mentee and the cohort there looks out for each other. And then I have a great group of friends, some from college and some from the theater community. We call each other to cry, we text each other the shady shit we have to say about things we wish we could change but cannot, and we support each other in our lifehood. I’d also like to highlight the Invisible Dog, New York Live Arts, Queer Art, the feath3r theory, Michael R. Jackson, Sarah Benson, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I have no idea. My birthday is June 4th and usually the start of it all. I am not sure if it’s helpful to incite some trouble, rent a house for a month, and celebrate myself. I have my health and my life. That said, I have a feeling New York City won’t let Pride down and just what I need is in the works. I should just stock my bar.

But also, the feath3r theory is co-presenting an online Pride Music Video Festival with the Invisible Dog.

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From Andy Warhol’s 15: COLOR ME, WARHOL (2015), directed by Raja Feather Kelly, produced by the feath3r theory

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

We need to be seen for both being queer but also for the important contributions we’ve made to society. I feel we are still marginalized, sometimes even by our own communities. We need to both expect more from each other, and then together expect more from our society for us.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

I hope some of the support systems that are coming together during this pandemic stick, last, and grow. It feels that communities will NEED to rely on themselves, unfortunately not our government. I hope we shift to thinking about sustainability as not a reaction but an actual practice.

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

Travel.

Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here


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