Introducing Vision Resident

raja feather kelly


ABOUT raja

raja feather kelly is an Obie-winning choreographer, director, artistic director of the feath3r theory and a Creative Associate at The Juilliard School. In 2020, Kelly made his directorial debut at New York City’s Second Stage Theatre with We’re Gonna Die. Since 2016, Raja has choreographed extensively for Off-Broadway theater in New York City, most notably for Signature Theatre, Soho Rep, New York Theatre Workshop and Playwrights Horizons. Frequent collaborators include: Lileana Blain-Cruz, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Benson and Lila Neugebauer. Other theater credits include choreography for Skittles Commercial: The Musical (Town Hall), The Chronicles of Cardigan and Khente (SohoRep), Everyday Afroplay (JACK), GURLS (Princeton University, Yale Repertory Theatre), Electric Lucifer (The Kitchen), Lempicka (Williamstown Theatre Festival), The House That Will Not Stand (New York Theatre Workshop), Fireflies (Atlantic Theatre Company), If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka (Playwrights Horizons, nominated for the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award and the 2019 Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Choreography), The Good Swimmer (BAM) and Faust (Opera Omaha). Most recent work: Fairview (SDCF Joe A. Callaway Award finalist for choreography; Soho Rep, Berkeley Rep, TFANA, and winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), A Strange Loop (Obie Award winner and SDCF Callaway finalist for choreography; Playwrights Horizons, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama).



Light Journals
A Virtual Installation
Premieres March 20 @ 7PM ET | $10
Conceived & Directed by Tuçe Yasak
A visual experience of light and dark in conversation with Rumi’s poetry from Moon and Sun. Taking place on the vernal equinox, we mark a year of confinement as we welcome the new year and new light.
More Info & Tix

THUG (Work in Progress)
A Dance Film Screening
Premieres March 25 @ 7PM ET | $10
Created & Directed by Tislarm Bouie
In 4 short dance films, Tislarm Bouie centers the nuances of Blackness and Masculinity in America.
More Info & Tix

The Women (2021) [working title] 
A Reading
Premieres April 8 @ 6PM ET | $10
Created by L Morgan Lee & raja feather kelly
Featuring work by
Kirsten Childs, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Donnetta Lavinia Grays,
Christine Toy Johnson, Bianca Leigh, Carmen LoBue & Nia Witherspoon
Directed by raja feather kelly
What does it mean to be a woman? What are the societal and gender expectations put on women? What are the obstacles? What are the beauty standards? Why is it so commonly through the eyes of men that women are defined? What does sisterhood look like? What happens when you allow women to tell their own stories? show their own truth? share their own light? Actress L Morgan Lee and Visionary raja feather kelly ask a group of writers from a variety of backgrounds, identities, and experiences to ponder on this. This is a look in at a rehearsal of the first step in the development of a play, based around these conversations. 
More Info & Tix

A Listening and Viewing Party
Premieres April 9 @ 6PM ET | $10
Conceived & Directed by raja feather kelly & Emily Wells
Contributions by
Music Topu Lyo
Music David Baldwin
Music Jim Wells
Music Ximone Rose
Collaborative Performance Lorelei Ramirez & Morgan Bassichis
Writing Timmy Straw
Movement Troy Ogilvie
Artifact is an experiment in-process that invites a group of inclined and multifarious artists to exhibit their work by transfiguring ideas, partly in conversation with and partly in response to a new work-in-progress (Album and Opera) written and composed by Emily Wells and directed by raja feather kelly. This listening and viewing party will examine three songs in three ways- the original song obscured by these translations and artifacts.
More Info & Tix



RAJA FEATHER KELLY on 'what's necessary' - a profile by Michael R. Jackson

raja feather kelly is a visionary who worked as a choreographer on my musical A Strange Loop in 2019 at Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73. Working with raja was an experience that forever changed how I looked at what it meant for a musical to audaciously declare itself a “big, Black and queer-ass American Broadway show.” raja is himself a big, Black and queer-ass American Broadway show.

Lately, I’ve taken to quoting actress Jane Wyman who once wisely said “there is nothing in the entertainment world that can replace quality. And the quality is within you. You never settle. You never settle for anything less than the best you know how to do. Never settle. Just do your best.” That’s raja. He never settles and he always does his best. And his best always elevates everything and everyone around him. 

I spoke to raja for this profile from an undisclosed location where he was partaking in a social experiment that he was not allowed to talk about. Typical raja: international man of mystery. It’s raja feather kelly’s world and we’re all just living in it. And as a part-time resident in that world, I can tell you it is a world filled with queer wonders, big laughs, high/low art, deep questioning and impeccable taste. When I spoke to raja about doing this profile, he expressed that he’d rather it be about the artists he’s curating than himself. Also typical raja: generous and loving to other artists to a fault. Let’s meet them.

Tuçe Yasak (she/her/o) is a lighting designer and the only one raja has ever worked with. According to raja they share a language about the purpose of light that has been “one of the most meaningful relationships with a person in my existence.”

“What is the purpose of light?” I asked.  He responded, “The purpose of light is to reveal and also to hide.”

raja describes Tuçe as an origamist with light. “She can fold light and bear light. She can hold it and fold it.” When raja first started working with Tuçe, he used to be very proprietary over her and really enjoyed their collaborations and was so afraid of other people working with her. “Out of a respect of what she could do and the language we shared, I learned not to be proprietary of ideas but to nurture the relationship you have with a designer because those relationships are unique.” raja wanted Tuçe to do the Vision residency because “we often think of designers as secondary or tertiary but they are their own primary artists – they don’t need us to create.” With each collaboration with her Tuçe creates an entire universe. “I wanted to give space to that because I’ve seen lots of collaborations where that is not really the case.”

Tislarm Bouie (he/him) is a choreographer/director who has been making a series of dance films. raja became interested in him after seeing the dance film Thug in a concert at New York Theater Barn. raja felt the work had a kind of nuance that was missing and he really appreciated. When raja spoke to him about his work, Tislarm spoke about the challenge of people not accepting his work on his terms and raja felt both a kinship and responsibility to support him. “What I value in artists is an intersection between heart, determination and integrity (which is true of all the artists I selected for this residency — there is no separation between who these people are as artists and who they are as people). The same things I feel in Tislarm’s work is the same thing I feel when I talk to him as a person and that makes his (and everyone else’s) work indelible and one of a kind.”

Emily Wells (she/her) is a musician. In raja’s words: “I met her and her girlfriend at a dice party – I’m going to leave that vague. People thought we would get along and have a certain kinship and when we met it felt like we knew each other forever – almost like we were gay lovers in another life. Any other words that I use would fail but her music to me is like what the cells and blood in my body would sound like if musicalized.”

raja describes L Morgan Lee (she/her) as another primary artist. “She’s not just an actor, not just a singer.” Their collaboration came out of an opportunity to do something on her own terms but with people who couldn’t see that through. When L Morgan invited raja to be a part of that project raja took on that task. “It seems to me that the human race is catching up to people like L Morgan. She is aware, she is passionate and holds on to like, a kind of information that in one way could just be called the truth but in other ways it’s like it’s unabashedly MAGICK.”

I asked raja how he would define curation and he described it as “a combination of making space, taking risk and something akin to educating an audience or a viewer or a participant to get a deep understanding of the experiment at play. I feel like performance is one of those things that can teach you how to watch it as you’re watching it. And I think that can be very scary for people and as a curator I’m like ‘it’s gon’ be okay. It’s like I’m an artistic doula.’”

At the end of our chat, I asked raja if there was anything else he wanted people to think about and he said “I wish people would ask “what’s necessary? How do we get as close as possible to what’s necessary? And what do we do with what’s not necessary?” And that’s why raja is the curator for today and tomorrow. Because he’s a keen observer of human behavior who always manages to identify and drill down upon what’s good and what’s necessary. And what’s not. ■

About the Author

Michael R. Jackson‘s 2020 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle winning A Strange Loop had its 2019 world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73 Productions. In addition to A Strange Loop, he also wrote book, music and lyrics for the upcoming White Girl in Danger; and lyrics and book for the musical adaptation of the 2007 horror film Teeth with composer and co-bookwriter Anna K. Jacobs.



Designed to foreground Ars Nova’s values through the creation of more equitable and power-sharing curatorial practices, the Vision Residency expands Ars Nova’s artistic vision by inviting seven artist-curators to populate our digital platform with their own work as well as work by artists they champion and admire.

Each Resident is given broad support from Ars Nova’s full staff, and spends two months planning for one month of activity on Ars Nova Supra. Each will be paid for their curation and administrative work, as well as a program budget to allocate towards the creation, development and presentation of work during their curated month. Vision Residents are encouraged to invite other artists they feel inspired by, want to collaborate with or simply wish to amplify, to make and share work using the budget and resources of the residency during their month of programming.

The 2020/21 Vision Residents are:
Starr Busby, nicHi douglas, JJJJJerome Ellis, raja feather kelly, Jenny Koons, David Mendizábal & Rona Siddiqui.

For more information, click here.