Dancer and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly ’09 was a student at Conn when he first saw the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, he told The New York Times. The film—and Kelly’s reaction to it—inspires Kelly’s new live dance-theater documentary, “Wednesday,” which opened at New York Live Arts.
“I was captivated by the performance and also very upset by it,” Kelly said of the film, which is based on the true story of a bank robbery committed by the partner of Elizabeth Debbie Eden, a trans woman, to pay for her gender-affirming surgery. In the film, Eden is depicted as a man named Leon.
“What’s interesting is that it seems that this whole movie is about this character, or hinges on this character’s need. But Leon is only in the film for four minutes.”
More than 40 years after the film’s debut, Kelly’s dance, theater and media company, the feath3r theory, explores the true motivations and outcome behind the bank robbery and dismantles the film while simultaneously chronicling the complexity of storytelling, representation, community and, ultimately, the search for self.
New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas writes, “[In] Kelly’s multilayered, conceptual, sharply funny and visually arresting retelling, he has immersed himself in Eden’s life. Kelly breaks apart Dog Day Afternoon and puts it back together as a meditation on his connection with Eden, whom he sees as being erased from popular culture.”
In addition to the performance piece, Kelly plans to release a long-form essay, “Who Gets to Tell Whose Story,” in which he contemplates and criticizes identity politics in performance culture and a fear that his particular and specific identity has no place in popular culture, and produce a film documentary, Any Given Wednesday, chronicling his company’s struggles with the pandemic, which postponed the premiere by a year.
Any Given Wednesday will be directed by Kelly and his video collaborator, Laura Snow ’09, who serves as the director of media at New York City Ballet and has been filming Kelly’s company since 2012. It’s an especially fitting collaboration, since just as Kelly first discovered Dog Day Afternoon at Conn, it’s also where he first met Snow.
Kelly is artistic director and choreographer for the feath3r theory, which produces his work. As a collaboration of dancers, actors, filmmakers, musicians, photographers and designers, the feath3r theory’s mission is to broaden the space for unheard voices and repressed histories, to bring into the theater those sometimes left out, and to use theater to provoke much-needed public conversations.
The company does this by challenging its audience and its creators to collectively interrogate—and celebrate—its shared relationship to human empathy and personal ethics as expressed in and distorted by popular media. By unabashedly appropriating the structures, themes and aesthetics of reality television, celebrity culture, social media and the Internet, the work of the company synthesizes dance, visual media, fashion, drag, stand-up, minstrelsy and narrative theater into virtuosic, expansive, radical and surreal large-scale pop-culture phenomena or an overwhelming, oversaturated Gesamtkunstwerk (artwork produced by a synthesis of various art forms), in which artists and audience alike experience their shared humanity.
“We are committed to addressing pressing social issues through dance, theater and media, with an emphasis on LGBTQ themes,” Kelly said.
Learn more about Wednesday at thefeath3rtheory.com.