Community Engaged Arts:
Chelsea works on community-engaged arts projects as an actor, dancer, choreographer or movement director, writer, and facilitator of transformative social practice. As a cultural organizer and community-engaged artist, her artistic work has long been interwoven with her social change work. After two decades of integrating artistic and community organizing practice, she has come to understand that these need not be separate endeavors because the arts are essential to movement building and cultural shift. As Anna Deavere Smith says, "culture is how humans learn to survive, and as artists we create and preserve culture." Artistic work can raise consciousness and awareness, and it can also "move" us, creating experiences that engage us all as "protagonists in the necessary transformations of society." (Augusto Boal, Theater of the Oppressed.)
Working with artists like Urban Bush Women, Cornerstone Theater Company, Asé Dance Theater Collective, Working Theater, and Movement for the Urban Village has taught Chelsea that performance can be a communal ritual for healing, transformation, grief, celebration, affirming identity, consciousness raising, or whatever else is called for. The intention is to create space for all participants to be moved by the ritual and/or narrative they are immersed in. In both artistic process and performance we can engage with each other in a ways that expand possibilities far beyond what would have been accessible otherwise. These artists also taught Chelsea that craft need not be sacrificed for community-engagement, so a central aspect of her work is to bring a strong sense of artistic craft as well as aesthetic equity to any collaboration she is part of.
Chelsea began to work as a cultural organizer in the late '90s by co-producing performances that raised funds for political prisoners, programs for incarcerated parents, and families who had lost loved ones to police violence. She began to work as a community-engaged artist in 2002 with an organization called Make the Road New York, developing a youth arts and activism program in Brooklyn, New York. As Coordinator of The Youth Power Project, she worked collaboratively to develop arts-based campaigns addressing issues such as youth incarceration, police violence, military recruitment in high schools, and the lack of green space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In the years that followed she worked on community-engaged arts projects with organizations such as Queens Theater in the Park, Girls for Gender Equity, Caribbean Cultural Center, and Bristol Riverside Theatre where she directed a devised theater piece that honored the legacy of Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad in that community. She also began to work as a performing arts and social change educator, supporting schools and youth organizations through theater and dance programming, leadership development, restorative practices, and community engagement. This lead to professional development and consulting work, through which she has collaborated with schools and organizations to support their capacity for arts integration, equity, cultural responsiveness, and restorative practices.
Work in Dance & Theater:
In the early 2000s, Chelsea was a company member of Shalewa Mackall's Movement for the Urban Village and Ned Williams Dunham Dance Company. She was then brought on to tour as an actor, choreographer, and facilitator for "We Got Issues!" an inter-disciplinary performance project that sought to...
...engage young women in political process. Initially co-produced by Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, Rha Goddess & Jlove Calderon, it began by interviewing women between the ages of 18 and 35 to see what issues were most important to them. Based on those interviews, the team developed a performance piece and series of workshops that were facilitated with members of each community they worked in. The ensemble was in residence for a full month in each city, building capacity for the work to continue after they left.
In 2006 she joined Urban Bush Women's Summer Leadership Institute, training with them and collaborating as a writer/ performer on a piece called Place Matters that explored the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the related dynamics of systemic racism and displacement. She then worked as a researcher, writer, and actor with director Tamilla Woodard to develop a documentary theater piece about the events surrounding the Jena 6 Case, in which 6 young black men were unjustly charged after a series of hate crimes perpetrated by white classmates. The play became called The 6 Project, and toured to 12 cities across the US for 3 years, engaging over 2000 people in dialogue on racial justice through workshops, performances, and community gatherings. During that three year stretch she also studied acting at HB Studio and trained with Cornerstone Theater Company, assisting Laurie Woolery as a choreographer and acting in a 2009 adaptation of Jason in Eureka. In 2010 she worked as an actor on Kristoffer Diaz's play Air and Paul Notice's play Shoshana's Coin. In 2013 she received her M.F.A. in Theater and Contemporary Performance, through an experimental theater program based on the Grotowski Approach to Physical Theater, somatic technique and body-mind centering, improvisational composition, and training in devised theater with Tectonic Theater Company.
From 2014-2015 she toured as a member of the professional ensemble for Cornerstone Theater Company's California: The Tempest, performing the role of Ariel in a community-engaged adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest that addresses issues such as food equity, the prison industry, and immigration reform. While on break from that tour, she directed a street theater initiative for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, helping to bring about the first successful soda tax measure in the US. She then worked as a choreographer on two site-specific plays addressing gentrification in New York City - Working Theater's Bamboo in Brooklyn and PopUP Theatrics' Broken City: Harlem.
In 2015 she was a contributing writer and actor for Oregon Shakespeare and One Minute Play Festival's Every 28 Hours, a community-engaged theater project addressing the impact of police violence on Ferguson, MO. As a member of the Community Accountability Team for Every 28 Hours, she co-created a set of guidelines to ensure that all iterations of the project were accountable to those most impacted by these issues. In 2016 she worked with playwright Andrea Thome on the collaborative development of the play Necklace of the Dove for Mabou Mines.
In 2019 she joined Urban Bush Women as a collaborator on Hair and Other Stories, through which she supported the development of community engagement workshops and taught physical theater and community-engaged practice at the New School of Drama. She also joined the company for the New York City premiere as a performer and facilitator of audience engagement. In the spring of 2022, she was movement director for Shotgun Players' production of Eliana Pipes' DreamHou$e, followed by another movement director role on SF Shakes' production of Much Ado About Nothing that summer.
She is currently teaching in the department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.