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Stage: Tina Kelly and Connective Creativity
Kelly is nurturing compelling creations in Charlotte
Tina Kelly has always been compelled to create.
Already a pianist by fourth grade, she saw Jeff Majors play the harp on BET and was learning to pluck strings two weeks later. Ballet study took up much of her time through middle school, and a bare-bones theater program at Harding High School ignited a passion for storytelling and performance.
She appeared in Three Bone Theatre’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” back when Upstage still occupied Salud’s space in NoDa, but Kelly’s true perspective has always been looking out from the director’s chair. Back at Three Bone almost a decade later, directing another docudrama of collected monologues, Kelly’s compulsion to create still drives her. To speak with her about the trajectory of her work, though, is to see that creativity is the vehicle for her true passion: connection.
As the artistic administrator of the Queen City New Play Initiative, Kelly’s day job is to create spaces for other artists to thrive.
“We are here to bolster southern playwrights,” she says. “What that looks like is creating viable commissions for people whose work wouldn’t otherwise be produced, and creating programming for people who don’t identify as playwrights to get into playwriting.”
Founded by Stacey Rose during the pandemic, the New Play Initiative selects scripts submitted by local playwrights and stages live readings, beginning the process for the new works to be visible and, eventually, produced by theaters. Kelly joined QCNPI as a stage manager for live-streamed readings during lockdown, and shortly found herself in an administrative role.
Kelly’s natural desire to nurture communal creative spaces translated directly to QCNPI’s mission. As she puts it, the Initiative wants to “become the connective tissue between playwrights and producing organizations.” Although there are already folks writing plays in our region, Kelly sees a deeper problem than scripts needing theaters: fostering the spark within writers who have yet to put pen to paper is a personal goal.
“There are people who suffer from imposter syndrome. Like, am I really ready to take up this space as an artist without formal training? We create a safe environment for people to explore that.”
Mentorship and accessibility is fundamental to Kelly’s work. “It’s one thing to write a recommendation letter. I love showing people how to work in their ecosystem, and creating opportunities for getting paid. Because this is work, and you should be paid for your work.”
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Tina’s connective power in Charlotte is not only empowering local playwrights and theaters. Early in 2021, after spending several months roller skating, Kelly founded local skate group Queens On Quads.
“I realized that this is a communal activity rather than a solo activity. You just learn off other people better. I kept trying different skate groups and, just to be candid, they were definitively white spaces where I felt very othered,” she observed. Kelly found that more skaters than her felt the need for a more inclusive space.
“Fast forward to March 2021 and within the first month we had like fifty people.” Monthly meetups became weekly events, and soon Queens on Quads was hosting safety workshops and excursions. “Now we have weekly events with varied programming. Rink skating, we’ll take people out trail skating and to skate parks, and we’ll have workshops in-between.”
Kelly’s drive is no surprise. From childhood, she enjoyed the freedom to explore her passions, a boon from her mom and dad. She knows not everyone has the luxury of the encouragement she experienced.
“Not everybody has the privilege of parents supporting them. I feel like eighty percent of parents are like, ‘Don’t you wanna do biology,’ you know? A lot of artists get killed before they know they’re artists. [My parents] never worried about me making my way in the arts. If I had an idea they were always, ‘Do it! We support you! Do you need help with tuition? Pay us back when you’re on Oprah.’”
It makes sense that the artistic foundation she laid in childhood is used to support work done away from the spotlight. She didn’t end up in the ballet studio or leading harp concertos, but these skills inform her current projects.
“I direct with a certain musicality, a certain rhythm. Especially in transitions, and stillness, there needs to be a heartbeat. All the artists who work with me can tell you, it’s all about timing with me.”
Fresh from two readings at festivals Shout and Boom, Kelly just opened “The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls” at Three Bone Theater. “Glorious World” is a collection of monologues from Black women around the world which radiate from a common subject: their hair. You can still get tickets to see the show through May 20th.
The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks, and Curls
Presented by Three Bone Theatre
Director: Tina Kelly
Playwright: Keli Goff
May 5-20, 2023
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Arts Factory at West End Studios
1545 W Trade St, Charlotte, NC 28216