At Home With: Kelsey Robinson | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Home With: Kelsey Robinson

CP's daily check-in with Pittsburghers during the coronavirus pandemic

click to enlarge PHOTO: KELSEY ROBINSON
Photo: Kelsey Robinson
Everybody is dealing with the COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions in different ways. While there's no single right way to cope — social distancing and staying TF home aside — staying connected with friends, family, and neighbors is a good place to start. You can contact your loved ones on your own, but you might also be curious how your favorite strangers in Pittsburgh are coping, so CP is reaching out once a day to beloved city icons to see how they're doing.

Today, it's theater artist Kelsey Robinson.
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What were you working on when the stay-at-home orders and cessation of live events happened?
We were a few days away from opening CORNINGWORKS' immersive dance theater show, The Tipping Point... at 25 Carrick. The choreographer/co-director, Beth Corning, spent the last three years getting to know this recently resettled Syrian family. She and Gab Cody, co-director, used text from the families’ interviews and Doctors Without Borders exhibition Forced From Home to build a script and simulate border crossing experiences. There was some beautifully designed video by Joe Spinogatt that had audiences parallel global acts of terror, to the ones happening here in our own communities like the murder of Antwon Rose Jr. and the Tree of Life massacre. 

Personally, I was preparing for a three-month-long bike tour from NoLA to Ontario. I’m researching Black revolt and visiting the plantation where my ancestors were enslaved- which is a hokey venue that celebrates antebellum grandeur and completely ignores the violence that took place on those grounds. I prototyped this idea in collaboration with Di-ay Battad during a 2018 Kelly Strayhorn Theater residency. I’ve been gearing up for the full-scale project by reading and adapting some incredible narratives and participating in historical re-enactments, like Dread Scott’s re-imagination of the 1811 German Coast rebellion of enslaved people.

These Ani DiFranco lyrics come to mind:

Life in the circus ain't easy

But the folks on the outside don't know

The tent goes up and the tent comes down

And all that they see is the show


So often an evening’s performance is the result of years’ worth of work that goes unseen and droves of hidden supporters and collaborators. To lay all the groundwork and never experience the release of sharing it with an audience is really sad. I don’t want to diminutize the pain expecting parents feel with a miscarriage but it’s the closest thing I can imagine. There’s an ensemble, like a family, fostering this vision that you’re life has been centering around and abruptly it’s all vanished.


As a dancer, how are you staying sharp during quarantine? What is your regimen/routine like?
(I consider myself a theater artist  with dance training.) Right now, I’m really looking for joy. So I’ve been taking a boombox to the track and rollerskating. I grew up on skates and there’s a deep, nostalgic comfort in lacing up and just gliding.

What is a piece of art — music, film, books, TV, visual art, dance — that’s helping you right now?
I’m obsessed with Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” I find it anthemic for the times.

... I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it's all right, it's all right
We've lived so well so long
...
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
...
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest

So many folks I know are indefinitely out of work. In this dream-like sur-reality it’s easy to see how our “liberties” can be stripped away in the name of safety: Borders closed, shelter in place and curfew orders. It’s scary to think about the extremes. We’re facing the greatest global crises in the last two centuries but so far, we’ve led these charmed existences and tomorrow’s another day. And rest is a gift-for ourselves and for the planet we’ve abused.

I’m also in the middle of Maxwell King’s Mr. Rogers biography which is very uplifting. He had such a huge heart and built this massive body of scripts and music with compassion at the center of it all.

What’s your favorite meal during these times?
I’m all about baking granola right now. Usually I wouldn’t afford myself 45 minutes to make breakfast, but there’s something really nice about the sweet smell as it’s baking, and waiting for it cool down. It’s a slowly unfolding treat. And everyone in my household is pretty into it too.


What’s the first thing you’ll do when the coronavirus restrictions are over?
The first thing I want to do when the restrictions are over is touch other humans! Hugs are a hell of a drug.

What message would you send to Pittsburgh’s arts/stage community right now?
I’m seeing such an outpouring of creativity and generosity. I’m really proud of the way yinzers are stepping up and organizing. Hats off to Pete Spynda and Patrick Jordan getting busy with Alone Together, a nightly live-stream featuring local artists. Of course, loss of lives, children being out of school, people being trapped at home with their abusers, women giving birth alone in empty hospital rooms- is all devastating, but there are heaps of silver linings in these stormy clouds. All this uninterrupted time to dive into your projects, your thoughts, your home improvement is a treat. There is so much inspiring potential not to simply resume business-as-usual but to learn and improve the things that are truly broken, like our healthcare system.

Is there a charity or cause, even one that you're involved in, that you'd like to recommend to CP readers?
Local cause to support: Alone Together. International: Doctors Without Borders.

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