Soho Rep to Present World Premiere of Raja Feather Kelly's THE FIRES

The world premiere production of The Fires runs May 8 - June 16 at Soho Rep.

By: Mar. 29, 2024
Soho Rep to Present World Premiere of Raja Feather Kelly's THE FIRES
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Soho Rep will present The Fires, a world premiere play written and directed by Raja Feather Kelly. In keeping with Soho Rep’s history of programming “big plays in a small room,” The Fires hauntingly overlaps three disparate times within the same South Brooklyn railroad apartment. Featuring a cast of eight acclaimed actors and original music composed by Emily Wells, the play marks Kelly’s Off-Broadway playwriting debut, and a momentous return to collaborating with Soho Rep. 

The Fires’ cast, many of whom have collaborated with Kelly in previous projects, includes Beau Badu (Broadway: The Skin of Our Teeth; Off-Broadway: What to Send Up When It Goes Down, Reply All) as Eli, Sheldon Best (Off-Broadway: The Hot Wing King, Sugar in Our Wounds, Romeo and Juliet) as Sam, Phillip James Brannon (Broadway: Macbeth, JUNK; Off-Broadway: We Are Proud…) as Jay, Janelle McDermoth (Broadway: A Bronx Tale; Off-Broadway: We’re Gonna Die, Soul Doctor) as Rowan, Ronald Peet (Off-Broadway: Daddy; TV & Film: “Bad Monkey” (upcoming), The Meyerowitz Stories) as George/Sean/Kayne, Jon-Michael Reese (Broadway: A Strange Loop; Off-Broadway: White Girl in Danger) as Maurice, Jason Veasey (Broadway: A Strange Loop, The Lion King; TV: “Only Murders in the Building”) as Billy/Reggie, and Tony Award-nominee Michelle Wilson (Broadway: Sweat; Off-Broadway: The House That Will Not Stand) as Leslie. The creative team features Emily Wells (Composer), Dominique Rider (Dramaturg), Raphael Mishler (Scenic Designer), Naoko Nagata (Costume Co-Designer), Enver Chakartash (Costume Co-Designer), Bryan Ealey (Lighting Designer), Salvador Zamora (Sound Designer), Karine Ivey (Hair & Makeup Designer), Teniece Divya Johnson (Intimacy Director), Ogemdi Ude (Associate Director), and Lauren Morrow and Ayanna Thompson (Creative Circle). 

On the origins of his play, Kelly offers, ”When I stay in hotels or houses that aren’t mine, I’m often struck by the presence of people who were there before me. Whose bed am I sleeping in, who else has slept here? I find myself having dreams that are not my normal dreams” 

This idea of staying in a place teeming with unseen stories merged with Kelly’s simultaneous reading of three books: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Eddie Glaude’s Begin Again in quick succession. “These three canonical books act as warnings to young Black people about how the world is not set up for them.,  As my relationship at the time was failing, I realized I knew from these texts how to engage with oppression, and about the historical relationship to myself as being a queer person and a Black person, but I didn’t know if I knew how to love properly. Had I been prepared to do that? I began writing to the authors as if they were all living in this house I was staying in. That sparked a surreal experiment about three men living through generations trying to understand how to love, and their experiences of love’s intersecting timeline with death.”

The Fires is the latest bold evolution in Kelly’s career. When he first came to Soho Rep, as a member of its 2017 Writer Director Lab, he had garnered acclaim as a choreographer and dancer, and as a creator of works for his dance-theatre-media company the feath3r theory. Soon after, he choreographed Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fairview (2018) at Soho Rep (directed by Sarah Benson), and went on to choreograph Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer-and Tony-winning musical A Strange Loop (2019), followed by Jackson's White Girl in Danger (2023) and Anna K. Jacobs’ and Jackson’s Teeth (2024, another collaboration with former Soho Rep Director Sarah Benson, currently premiering at Playwrights Horizons), and other works. He was noted for “[doing] wonders” (The New York Times) in his Off-Broadway directing debut with the Second Stage production of Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die (2020). 

The Fires culminates a banner season of Kelly’s celebrated career. Teeth is currently premiering at Playwrights Horizons, and Kelly will choreograph the Rachel Chavkin-directed Lempicka on Broadway in March. Kelly’s own company, the feath3r theory, premieres a new work, The Absolute Future, April 5 & 6 at NYU Skirball. The Fires marks a return to his creative origins as a writer—he went to school for poetry—and an evolution in his dynamic craft. 

“How are stories and people's inner lives embodied in behavior? People don’t sit still and talk, they’re always doing something—and there’s so much storytelling in that," Kelly concludes, “I'm an experimental artist, and I believe The Fires is a continuation of my interest in experimentation while also realizing my excitement about creating a proper play. I am equally excited to direct this, to apply the things that are paramount to my vision of the form: I'm so fond of behavior as storytelling–it’s what led me to become a choreographer–and now it’s leading me back to writing and wanting to direct more.”

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

The world premiere production of The Fires runs May 8 - June 16 at Soho Rep, located at 46 Walker Street in Manhattan. The production opens on May 21.

Tickets are $35 and can be purchased by visiting sohorep.org or calling 646-586-8982. $20 rush tickets are available at the box office 30 minutes prior to curtain for each performance. $0.99 Sunday tickets will be offered on June 2 and 9. They are available first come, first served at the box office only. There are no advance sales for rush or $0.99 Sunday tickets.

Masks will be required for performances on May 12 and June 4. 

About Raja Feather Kelly (Writer & Director)

Raja Feather Kelly (he/him) is a choreographer and director, and the Artistic Director of the dance-theatre-media company the feath3r theory, for which he has created 18 premieres, most recently UGLY Part 3: BLUE (Chelsea Factory) and the forthcoming The Absolute Future (NYU Skirball). Kelly’s most recent works outside of TF3T are Teeth (Playwrights Horizons), White Girl in Danger (Second Stage), Bunny Bunny (UC San Diego), and Scenes for an Ending for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. He choreographed the Broadway musical A Strange Loop (Lyceum Theatre, premiered off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizon), winner of two Tony Awards, including Best Musical. His Off-Broadway collaborators include Lileana Blain-Cruz, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah Benson, and Michael R. Jackson. His work has been seen at Playwrights Horizon, New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Soho Rep, and New York Live Arts, among many other venues. He’s worked on two Pulitzer Prize-winning productions and has received a Princeton Arts Fellowship, three Princess Grace Awards, an Obie Award, an Outer Critics Circle honor, and many others. He is a Tow Playwright-in-Residence at Soho Rep.

About the Cast

Beau Badu 

(Eli) (he/him). Soho Rep debut. Broadway: The Skin of Our Teeth. Off-Broadway/ Regional: What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Playwrights Horizon, BAM, The Public, A.R.T., Woolly Mammoth, The Movement Company); Reply All (Clubbed Thumb); A Christmas Carol (American Conservatory Theater); Every 28 Hours (American Conservatory Theater); 7 Stories, The Taming of the Shrew, Black Orpheus, Macbeth, The Belle’s Stratagem, Richard III (A.C.T. MFA.) Education: Temple University BA, American Conservatory Theater MFA.

Sheldon Best 

(Sam) (he/him) last appeared onstage in the world premiere of The Hot Wing King (Signature Theatre). Other NYC credits include Sugar in Our Wounds (MTC); The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Atlantic Theater); Romeo & Juliet (Public Theater); Travisville (Ensemble Studio Theatre); brownsville song (Lincoln Center/LCT3); Romeo N Juliet (Classical Theatre of Harlem); the box: a black comedy (Foundry Theatre); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (CTH); Freed (59E59 & Penguin Rep); Six Rounds of Vengeance, Alice in Slasherland, Geek (Vampire Cowboys); Soul Samurai (Ma-Yi Theater & Vampire Cowboys). He has performed at regional theaters including Baltimore Center Stage, the Denver Center, Cleveland Play House, the Geva Theatre, and the Studio Theatre of DC. His work on TV includes roles in “Manifest” (Netflix/NBC), “Step Up: Season 3” (Starz), “The Good Wife,” “Unforgettable," and “Person of Interest” (CBS). He has also appeared in the films Shortcomings, Ghost Light, and Last Ferry. www.SheldonBest.com.

Phillip James Brannon 

(Jay) (he/him). Broadway: Macbeth (Longacre); JUNK (Lincoln Center). Off-Broadway: Merry Wives, Tiny Beautiful Things, ToasT (The Public); We Are Proud… (Soho Rep); Toni Stone (Roundabout); Log Cabin, BootyCandy (Playwright's Horizons, Obie Award); The Antipodes (Signature); The City of Conversation (Lincoln Center); Nat Turner in Jerusalem, Love and Information, Belleville (New York Theatre Workshop). Regional: Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth, Williamstown, Sundance, Steppenwolf, Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Court, Congo Square, Huntington, Kansas City Rep, The Wilma. TV/Film: Benny and James (Cannes and HollyShorts short film winner), Roscoe on “Servant” (Apple+), “The Sinner,” “Blacklist,” “The Good Fight,” “Elementary,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Law & Order: SVU,” Contagion. Training: DePaul University.

Janelle McDermoth 

(Rowan) (she/her) is a multi-platform creator from The Bronx, New York and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Broadway: A Bronx Tale. Off Broadway: We’re Gonna Die (Lortel Nomination, Antonyo Nomination, Outer Critics Circle Honor), The Chronicles of Cardigan and Khente, Soul Doctor. Film: To All The Boys: Always and Forever, Daughter of the Bride, A Killer Romance. TV: “Law & Order: SVU,” “Blue Bloods,” “Blindspot,” “High Maintenance.” Janelle has also been the voice over and narration talent for numerous national commercial campaigns as well as documentary shorts for ESPN and Hulu. Her original music combines the poetics that compel her, the hip hop that raised her, and her penchant for the aforementioned theatrics.

Ronald Peet 

(George/Sean/Kayne) (he/him) is a Bahamian-born marathoner, meditator, and humanist. He's collaborated on projects with The New Group, The Vineyard, Joe's Pub, Lincoln Center, The Bushwick Starr, Clubbed Thumb, P73, The Playwright's Realm, Atlantic Theater Co, Roundabout, Ars Nova, Miami New Drama, Barrington Stage, Williamstown Theater Festival, Two River Theater, MTC, Second Stage, Soho Rep, MCC, The American Shakespeare Center, Yale, NYU, Juilliard, and more. Upcoming: Apple TV+'s "Bad Monkey." NYU Tisch and Emory Alum. EST Member.

Jon-Michael Reese 

(Maurice) (he/him). Soho Rep debut! Favorite Credits: Broadway: A Strange Loop. Off-Broadway: White Girl in Danger (Second Stage). Regional: James Baldwin, Jimmy and Lorraine (Pillsbury); This Bitter Earth (Penumbra); Theo (Two River); Marry Me a Little (New Ohio); Nikola Tesla Drops The Beat (ATF); Man of la Mancha, To Let Go and Fall (Theatre Latté Da); Lear (Exit Pursued By Bear); My Heart is the Drum (Village Theatre, Gregory Award: Outstanding Actor). Rep: SAKS&. @theJMRavatar

Jason Veasey 

(Billy/Reggie) (he/him) created the role of “Thought 5” in the Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical A Strange Loop. Veasey is recognized for his multi-season arc as “Jonathan” on the hit Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building”, which garnered him a 2024 SAG Award nomination. TV: “Little Voice” (Apple), “Chicago Fire” (NBC), “High Maintenance” (HBO), “Flatbush Misdemeanors” (Showtime), “Betty” (HBO), “Dash & Lily” (Netflix), and the Hulu pilot “Olga Dies Dreaming.” Film: I’m Not Him, Home Free, and the upcoming Friendship (alongside Paul Rudd and Tim Robinson). 

Michelle Wilson 

(Leslie) Recent stage credits include: the Lincoln Center Theater production of The Coast Starlight and the premiere production of Dominique Morisseau's Confederates at Signature Theater (Drama Desk and Drama League 2022 nominations). More theater credits include: Cynthia (Tony Nomination) in SWEAT (Pulitzer Prize) at The Public Theatre/Studio 54 Broadway, The House That Will Not Stand, A Raisin in the Sun (Broadway), Detroit ’67, Follow Me to Nellie’s, Fahrenheit 451, Two Trains Running, The People Before the Park. TV credits: “Amazing Stories,” Signs of Life, “Evil,” “Bull,” “The Good Fight,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Madame Secretary.”  Film credits: Premature, The True Adventures of Wolfboy, Clean, A Love Song, and HBO documentaries The Apollo and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

About the Creative Team

Emily Wells 

(Composer) (she/her/they), Forging a bridge between pop and chamber music, polymathic composer, producer, and video artist Emily Wells builds songs from deliberate strata of vocals, synths, drums, piano, string, and wind instruments. Wells has toured extensively throughout the world, including performances at the Guggenheim, Lincoln Center, Sundance Film Festival, and the National Gallery of Art. She is a 2022 NYU/CBA/National Sawdust Toulmin Fellow, and a 2020 NYFA grant recipient. Wells’s evocative music (described as “thrilling” by Pitchfork) and performances (called “quietly transfixing” by The New York Times) impel listeners to be attuned. Her latest album, Regards to the End, explores the AIDS crisis and its lessons for climate action. A work of radical empathy, it foregrounds the power of art, critique, and care to connect and perhaps redeem us.

Dominique Rider 

(Dramaturg) (Dominique) is a Brooklyn-based director and writer whose work seeks to answer the question: “What is a world unmade by slavery?” while attempting to analyze the layers of anti-blackness that maintain the world we live in. Deploying theatre and performance as tools of Afropessimism, Dominique has developed and staged work with Portland Stage, The Bushwick Starr, The New Group, The Park Avenue Armory, and more. Past fellowships/residencies include Playwrights Horizons, The Atlantic, Hi-Arts, The National Black Theatre, BRIC Arts, Roundabout, and NAMT. Currently, Dominique is a producer with CLASSIX, an artist in residence at Duke University, and a member of The Civilians R&D group.

Raphael Mishler 

(Scenic Designer) (he/him) creates visuals for live performance and has designed scenery for Winterworks, Dixon Place, ANTfest, HERE Arts Center, Amerinda, Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce (assoc.) Is It Thursday Yet? (assoc.) and numerous shows at UCSD and NYU. Puppet design credits include The Amateurs (Vineyard), Collective Rage…(MCC), and Tumacho (Clubbed Thumb, Drama Desk Award, Henry Hewes nom). Raphael previously worked as a props designer for new plays where highlights included the world premieres of What the Constitution Means to Me (Broadway), 24 Decade History of Popular Music (Pomegranate Arts, St. Ann’s Warehouse and International tour), Plano (Clubbed Thumb), Pipeline (Lincoln Center), The Box (The Foundry) and Men on Boats(Playwrights Horizons/Clubbed Thumb). He is a founding member of Brooklyn-based cultural organizing hub Building Stories, and is an affiliate artist with Clubbed Thumb.

Naoko Nagata 

(Costume Co-Designer) (she/her) was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. She started her career as a biochemist; her evolution into costume making is a long story. She moved to New York in 1991 and with literally no formal training, she has been creating costumes for a diverse group of award-winning choreographers and dancers non-stop (Urban Bush Women, Kyle Abraham, Doug Elkins, David Dorfman, Ralph Lemon, amongst others). Never expecting this out of life, her costumes have been worn throughout the world. Her work with Enver for Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel’s POWER has been placed in the permanent collection of Jacob’s Pillow. Working closely with collaborators, Naoko helps bring to life what she calls “the creation of a shared dream.” This is her second theater project with Raja Feather Kelly. Endless thanks to Enver.

Enver Chakartash 

(Costume Co-Designer). Broadway: Stereophonic, A Doll's House, Is This A Room. Off-Broadway: Teeth(Playwright's Horizons), Public Obscenities (Soho Rep.), Toros (Second Stage Theatre), The Trees (Playwright's Horizons), Wolf Play(MCC/Soho Rep.), Catch as Catch Can (Playwright's Horizons), English (Atlantic Theater Company/Roundabout Theatre Company). Film: Reality (HBO).

Bryan Ealey

(Lighting Designer) is a New York-based designer from Houston, TX. He holds an MFA in Lighting Design from the University of California, San Diego, and is a Board Member for NobleMotion Dance Company (Houston). Throughout his career, Bryan has been a Resident Lighting Designer for River Pointe Church (Richmond, Texas), House of Blues - Houston, and Sam Houston State University - Dance Department. He’s also been fortunate to design for several theater and dance companies, such as Main Street, Stages, The Landing Theatre Company, Houston Grand Opera, Unity, Horse Head, Classical Theatre Company, NobleMotion Dance, Open Dance Project, Social Movement Contemporary Dance, Houston Contemporary Dance, Urban Souls Dance, Von Ussar Danceworks, Creede Repertory Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, Antaeus Theatre Company, and Cygnet Theatre. Bryan’s passion for lighting design is rooted in the fundamental ability to support, give focus, and elevate the performance to draw an emotional response from the audience.

Salvador Zamora 

(Sound Designer) (he/him) is a sound designer, composer, and avid latin dancer born and raised in Southern California. He earned both his BA in the Interdisciplinary Computer and Arts Major and his MFA in Sound Design from the University of California, San Diego. He is a proud recipient of the 2023 Princess Grace Award and is ecstatic about making his NYC debut with The Fires. He’s passionate about his family and friends, Latinx culture, and the connection between sound and movement. Select designer credits: TaxilandiaSD (La Jolla Playhouse); Everybody (Antaeus Theatre Co.); Bunny Bunny, Machinal, Hells Canyon (UCSD). Select assistant credits: Here There Are Blueberries (NYTW, Shakespeare Theatre Company DC, LJP); Babbitt, Sumo, The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, Love All (LJP). Upcoming: Tick, Tick… Boom! (Cygnet Theatre).

Karine Ivey 

(Hair & Makeup Designer) (she/her) ​​As a dedicated wig and makeup artist-designer, Ivey has had the privilege of learning and mastering the art of transformation. For over 37 years, she has created captivating looks for performers. Her credentials include Illinoise, Henry VIII, Sir John in Love, Being Mr. Wickham, Ain't Misbehavin', The Flying Dutchman, and Romeo and Juliet.

Teniece Divya Johnson

(Intimacy Director) (they/them) is an Intimacy Director, Fight Director, Stunt Performer, and Movement Storyteller working across television, film and stage. The first Black and first non-binary intimacy director on Broadway with Slave Playand first Black intimacy coordinator working on TV/Film, Teniece serves as a resolute advocate for a decolonized collaborative approach to art, Black intimacy, Kink and Queer representation. They are also the founder of www.BlackIntimacyConsentCollective.org, a community based educational organization around Black intimacy, consent and wellness. Additional credits: “Succession,” “Pose,” “Ramy,” “Hunters,” “The Underground Railroad,” West Side Story, MJ the Musical, Richard III and RAQI on Ghost Power Book II. In addition to working as an industry leader in the field of entertainment, they engage colleges, universities, corporations and other organizations to promote healthy community practices around consent, boundaries and empathy.

Ogemdi Ude 

(Associate Director) (she/her) is a Nigerian-American dance and theater artist based in Brooklyn. Her performance work focuses on Black femme legacies and futures, grief, and memory. Her work has been presented at Gibney, Danspace Project, Abrons Arts Center, BRIC, ISSUE Project Room, Recess Art, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Center for Performance Research, Movement Research at the Judson Church, Streb Lab for Action Mechanics, and for BAM’s DanceAfrica festival. She is a 2022-2024 Movement Research Artist-in-Residence and a 2024/2025 BAX Artist-in-Residence. She has been a 2022-2023 Smack Mellon Artist-in-Residence, 2021 danceWEB Scholar, 2021 Laundromat Project Create Change Artist-in-Residence, and a 2019-2020 Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU Resident Fellow. In January 2022 she appeared on the cover of Dance Magazine for their annual “25 to Watch” issue.



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