LabWorks Artist Spotlight: ChelseaDee Harrison

New Victory LabWorks was originally established in 2012, as a program seeking New York City based artists that were interested in creating boundary-breaking theater for young audiences. This year, and in future years, the program is and will specifically support New York artists who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the creation of original work for kids and family audiences.

In the 2020-21 season, each New Victory LabWorks Artist received a $15,000 stipend, as well as dramaturgical and community support from New Victory’s local and international network of professional artists, educators, presenters and producers.

New Victory LabWorks supports a variety of artists across performing arts disciplines. Without the expectation of a finished product at the end of development, participation in New Victory LabWorks is tailored to each artist’s creative process.

Q&A with LabWorks Artist ChelseaDee Harrison

New 42 staff member Laura Been, Senior Manager of Artistic Programming, sat down with some of our 2020-21 LabWorks Artists for a very special Q&A series to discuss how the artists’ childhoods have influenced their current-day artistic processes. Next up—ChelseaDee Harrison!

Laura Been: When you were a young kid, what inspired you to create art?

ChelseaDee Harrison: I had/have a very active imagination. I loved to read, so that gave me all sorts of characters and plot lines. I grew up watching rehearsals and acting classes, so storytelling was a pastime for me. I used to tell elaborate stories to my stuffed animals.

ChelseaDee Harrison as a young dancer
“In this photo, I am backstage in a blue tutu waiting to go onstage. I was one of the youngest dancers and I was playing a blue bird. I wasn’t ‘en pointe’ yet and I looked up to the older girls who were en pointe. They seemed so elegant, strong and regal to me. This shot was taken at a ballet performance with students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.”

L: Do you remember a specific theater piece or project you worked on when you were younger that you were particularly proud of?

C: I went to a summer performing arts camp for kids on the campus of Howard University and I remember doing those plays and feeling on top of the world! These were original plays written by the camp directors and so it always felt like we were making something no one had ever seen before.

L: What are the influences in your childhood that affect the art you create today as an adult?

C: I’m influenced by Jim Henson’s imagination. I’m a huge fan of a lot of his work and I remember watching Labyrinth and being totally fascinated with this alternate world where people learned lessons and met wacky characters and found themselves. R&B girl groups of the late 90s and early 2000s were also a major influence: Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, 702, SWV, Blaque, The Cheetah Girls. Love them all!

ChelseaDee and her big brother, Tristan
“I am standing side by side with my big brother, Tristan, in this picture. We are draped in a collection of beads – I’m assuming we were playing dress up. My brother is defiantly raising his fist and I’m ferociously baring my teeth. My big brother is someone who has always understood and supported my wild imagination, as you can clearly see in this image!”

L: Where was home for you growing up? Where is home for you now?

C: I was born and raised in Washington, DC and I am currently in Washington, DC. It’s really nice to be home right now. To be closer to family and my community- especially during a chaotic time like this with the pandemic.

L: Could you give a brief description of what you’re currently working on in LabWorks?

C: I’m working on a sonic drama, or audio play, about a contemporary girl who gets transported through space and time to meet a band of warriors who must train her to fight a looming darkness.

L: If you could travel back in time and tell your younger kid-self that one day you would be part of the New Victory LabWorks program, what would you say and how would you describe the program?

C: I would tell myself that one day I’ll get to tell big, adventure stories that I’ll share with other young people and their families. The LabWorks program will give me the time and space to sit awhile, dream, write, and to find the story I truly want to tell.

Want to see ChelseaDee and our other New Victory LabWorks Artists at work? Come visit them at Little Island this summer! For the park’s inaugural season, New Victory will provide family-friendly performing arts experiences and interactive engagement opportunities, including an exclusive series of New Victory LabWorks Open Rehearsals on select Sundays. Learn more about New Victory at Little Island!

ChelseaDee Harrison

ChelseaDee Harrison is a multi-hyphenate, interdisciplinary creator and arts educator. Specializing in theater-making, she performs, teaches, curates, co-facilitates, develops curriculum, directs and produces arts events. Her focus is creating new works of theater that highlight history and challenge dominant narratives and ensuring art is a tool in the hands of the people. She has also facilitated arts workshops and residencies with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the New York City Department of Correction, New York University/Tisch School of the Arts and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.