Multiple Obie & Bessie winner John Kelly puts spotlight on unabashed gay carnal adventurer
December 1 - 18, 2022 at La MaMa

Buy tickets HERE.

“Fabulous… Kelly acts, dances, and sings, making himself a triple threat to homophobes everywhere.” – Robert Johnson, The Dance Enthusiast

La MaMa presents a newly envisioned production of UNDERNEATH THE SKIN by renowned performance artist John Kelly. Previews begin December 1 at La MaMa with opening set for December 4.

UNDERNEATH THE SKIN is based on the fantastical life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993), a gay novelist, tattoo artist, author of erotic fiction, and unabashed carnal adventurer who lived a bold life pursuing his physical and erotic desires through his art. A promising novelist and gifted scholar, Steward left the world of academia to reinvent himself as one of the 20th century’s most influential tattoo artists (aka Philip Sparrow), and as a writer of gay erotic fiction (aka Phil Andros). He attracted the friendships of Gertrude Stein and Andre Gide, was lovers with Thornton Wilder, and had trysts with Rudolph Valentino, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Roy Fitzgerald (aka Rock Hudson). An obsessive self-chronicler, he meticulously recorded his intimate encounters in his “Stud File,” and became an unofficial collaborator at The Kinsey Institute in the 1950s.

With this work for 4 performers, Kelly virtuosically combines Steward’s actual words (culled from his letters, publications, and manuscripts) in tandem with extensive video projections (including digital animations of Steward’s tattoo designs and erotic illustrations) and ensemble movement into a kaleidoscopic series of dramatic vignettes that salute a queer rebel.

Samuel Steward struggled during The Great Depression, outlived the McCarthy era and The Lavender Scare, took part in the strides that resulted in the Stonewall uprising, and witnessed the AIDS epidemic. While the lives of pre-Stonewall LGBT+ people have largely been undocumented, erased, or forgotten, what makes Steward unique is that he was an obsessive documenter, and his papers and other ephemera survive, providing a unique window into a gay man who lived his life authentically. UNDERNEATH THE SKIN celebrates the brave life of a creative spirit and reaffirms the persistence and mettle of social outsiders.

“I envision this work as a sort of time capsule of points in history where social and cultural outsiders like Samuel Steward found ways of functioning and flourishing in spite of a hostile environment", notes Kelly. "Though it will be a ‘period’ work–moving from the 1920’s through the early 1990’s–I aim for the effect of this work to be timeless and to speak to our times by reminding the viewers that certain assumptions and freedoms were hard won, and nothing is permanent.”

UNDERNEATH THE SKIN features direction, choreography, video design and set design by John Kelly and original texts by Samuel M. Steward. The production team includes Nicholas Houfek (lighting), Ramona Ponce (costumes), Kevin Malony (directorial consultant), and Alyce Dissette (production associate).

John Kelly is a performance and visual artist. His character driven dance theatre works stem from autobiographical, cultural, and political issues, the challenges faced by social outsiders, and the nature of creative genius. These original works, both solo and ensemble, have been performed at MET Live Arts, The Kitchen, La MaMa, Lincoln Center, the Warhol Museum, the Whitney Biennial, NY Live Arts, BAM’s Next Wave Festival, REDCAT, and London’s Tate Modern. Kelly’s works have received 2 Bessie Awards, 2 Obie Awards, 2 NEA Awards American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius Awards, a CalArts/ Alpert Award in Dance/Performance, a Visual AIDS Vanguard Award, the Ethyl Eichelberger Award, and a Mabou Mines ‘Ruthie’ Award. Fellowships include The Rome Price in Visual Art at American Academy in Rome, The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, The Guggenheim Foundation, The Sundance Theatre Institute, The Jerome Robbins Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, Art Matters, Inc., and USA Artists. Creative residencies include Yaddo, MacDowell, The Park Avenue Armory, Civitella Ranieri, The Bogliasco Foundation, and the LMCC Process Space Artist in Residence Program. He was a Guest lecturer at Harvard University and Visiting Artist in Residence at Bard College. Mentorship involvement includes the Queer Art Mentorship program, the Helix Queer Performance Network, and The Award: NYC. Acting credits include the Broadway production of “James Joyce’s The Dead” (Bartell D’Arcy) at the Belasco Theatre; Christopher Marlowe’s “Dido, Queen of Carthage” (Cupid - Eliot Norton Best Actor Award) directed by Neil Bartlett at A.R.T.; Rinde Eckert’s “Orpheus X” (Jon/Persephone) at A.R.T. and TFANA; “Dog Days” (Prince the Dog Man), an opera by David Little at Peak Performances, both directed by Robert Wodruff; “The Threepenny Opera” (Street Singer/Filch) directed by Martha Clarke at ATC; “The Clerk’s Tale” (Spencer Reese) a film by James Franco.

La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. La MaMa’s 61st “Remake A World” Season believes in the power of art to bring sustainable change over time and transform our cultural narrative. At La MaMa, new work is created from a multiplicity of perspectives, experiences, and disciplines, influencing how we think about and experience art. The flexibility of our spaces, specifically the newly reimagined building at 74 East 4th Street (La MaMa’s original permanent home), gives our local and remote communities access to expanded daytime programming. The digital tools embedded in the space allows artists to collaborate remotely, and audiences worldwide to participate in La MaMa’s programming. A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists, and resident companies, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Bette Midler, Ed Bullins, Ping Chong, Jackie Curtis, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Diane Lane, Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Tom Eyen, Pan Asian Rep, Spiderwoman Theater, Tadeusz Kantor, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Mabou Mines, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Kazuo Ohno, Tom O'Horgan, and Andy Warhol. La MaMa's vision of nurturing new artists and new work from all nations, cultures, races and identities remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961.

UNDERNEATH THE SKIN was originally commissioned by and performed at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in October 2019, with support from New York State Council on the Arts. It was developed at the Ucross Foundation Residency Program, through a residency at Performance Space New York, at The Dixon Place Hot! Festival, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo. This work has been funded through NYSCA, The Gerald J. & Dorothy Friedman Family Foundation, and the Friends of John Kelly Performance.

UNDERNEATH THE SKIN runs December 1 - 18, Thursday - Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. It will be presented at The Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa (66 East 4th Street, between 2nd Avenue and Bowery – closest train is the F at 2nd Avenue). Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students/seniors, including all ticketing fees; the first ten tickets are available for $10 each (limit 2 per person, advance purchase only). This performance contains nudity, graphic images and mature themes; it is appropriate for ages 18+ only. La MaMa requires face masks to be worn inside the building, theatre and lobby at all times. To purchase tickets, visit www.lamama.org.