Kelly Copper

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2013

New York, NY

Kelly Copper began collaborating with Pavol Liska in 1997, and together they founded Nature Theater of Oklahoma in 2006. The company is committed to “making the work they don’t know how to make,” an approach yielding new amalgams of opera, dance, and theatre, combined with popular culture and humor. Their epic Life and Times series—the life story of one 30-something woman revealed over 10 episodes—has transformed a series of meticulously transcribed phone conversations into songs, dances, a murder mystery, and more. The company has been commissioned by theaters and festivals around the world, and has received grants from MAP Fund (2013), NEFA National Theater Project (2011), and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (2010), among others. Copper and Liska host OK Radio, a series of free podcasts featuring long-form conversations with artists, curators, and instigators. Their most recent work, a version of the Nibelungenlied, made in site-specific locations and with hundreds of local participants in the rural Rhine-Neckar region of Germany commenced in 2015. A filmed version of these live performance events will premiere in fall 2016.

  • Life and Times—Episodes 3 & 4 (2012)
  • Kelly Copper- “Reading Groups,” Life and Times—Episode 1 (2009):
    “Reading Groups,” Life and Times—Episode 1 (2009)
  • Kelly Copper- “Sit and Spin,” Life and Times—Episode 1 (2009):
    “Sit and Spin,” Life and Times—Episode 1 (2009)
  • Kelly Copper- “Animation” (2011):
    “Animation” (2011)
  • Photo Credit: Andreas Neumann
    Nibelungenlied (2015)

What are the creative challenges you face as an artist?

My work has evolved from a preoccupation with the most basic form and function of theatre. I’m always looking from an extreme distance and with a deep curiosity about why it happens. What are the rules? If I take away an element that seems to be essential to this experience, what is revealed in that absence?

One of the biggest challenges in my work is time. I’m asking for more time from the audience than is polite—or even reasonable—to ask. I’m interested in time as the essential element of live performance. This is the only way in which it differs from other narrative-driven, audience-centered art. The time it takes to make the work live is equal to and coterminous with the audience’s experience of it. We ask to share time with the audience, and I’m interested in everything that suggests—that time has value, that it encompasses complex consciousness, accepting that it may include a wide variety of experience from enjoyment to boredom, sleep, hunger... When we get past the minutes and seconds, is there room for biological, or even geological time in the theatre? If theatre is a radioactive isotope, then what is the rate of decay?