Education through Performance: Kiéla Nelson ’18

April 25, 2019

Phoebe Pan ’20

Headshot of Kiela Nelson
Kiéla Nelson ’18
Photo credit: Dot Ward Photography

Kiéla Nelson ’18 is bringing her enthusiasm for education and performance to organizations around Chicago, providing youth with exciting and well-rounded learning experiences.

Where have you been working and what have your experiences been like there?

A few months after graduating, I was hired as an After School Matters (ASM) program instructor. I am an active alumna of ASM, a nonprofit organization that provides high school teens in Chicago with after-school and summer opportunities, so I was happy to strengthen my relationship with the program that helped shape me into the person I am today. This past fall, I taught students vocal arts, theater, and dance, while stressing the importance of becoming comfortable with all three in order to take their performance skills to the next level. I was also hired as a substitute teacher at the Francis W. Parker School, first as a choreographer for the school plays, then as a high school dance and theater sub. Now, I sub for all subjects and grades, including preschool and after-school programs.

Were you always interested in theater? Did any of your experiences at Oberlin lead you to where you are now?

I have always been a performer, but in my earlier years, I focused solely on singing and being a full-time athlete. As an Obie, I was heavily involved in the theater, dance, and Africana studies departments. I got involved with shows through acting, costume designing, producing, and dancing in numerous groups: UMOJA, And What!?, Kinetique, and Djapo at Oberlin. Three projects from my senior year gave me the experience needed to do everything that I’ve done in the "real world": my theater capstone—the mainstage play The Bluest Eye, directed by Justin Emeka, putting together the fashion show, "Sankofa Remix'd: Reclaiming My Fly" for Black History Month, and producing a video entitled "Nice 4 What- A memory video," which featured many womyn of color from Oberlin's community. I couldn't have made it through my four years at Oberlin College if it wasn't for my strong support system, specifically the womyn of color in Oberlin.

Kiela Nelson takes a selfie in a classroom
Kiéla Nelson ’18 at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, where she is a substitute teacher
Photo credit: Kiéla Nelson ’18

Do you have any advice for current students who are looking to get into theater or arts-related fields?

I would strongly encourage students to take the courses Arts Management with Eric Steggall, managing director for theater, dance and opera; and the Anthropology of Entrepreneurship with Fredara Hadley, visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology. Those are great opportunities for any artist to learn the business side of the industry. In addition, start looking for possible job opportunities in your hometown as well as other cities several months before graduating. Talk to mentors, professors, family, and friends to see if any of them might know of jobs that are hiring in given fields. You might not get paid to do what you love right away, but keep putting in the work and have faith that if you're consistent, your dreams will become your reality!

You're a part of the CLR collective with Andre Cardine ’18 and Daniella Pruitt ’19. What is CLR and what does it set out to do?

CLR, which is pronounced "color," is an artist collective that stands for Creative Life Restored. Daniella, Andre, and I have been close since high school when we sang in a vocal ensemble together, but it wasn't until the summer of 2018 that we decided to make ourselves official as a collective. We are multifaceted artists, and we each have similar, but different ideas of how we want our careers to unfold. CLR allows us to embrace the many different hats we wear. It‘s been amazing working with fellow Obies because we can relate to each other in more ways than one. The ways we think about life and art are very unique to our experiences. CLR is just getting started, and we are going to keep creating art that inspires those around us to hone in on their creativity, imagination, and youthfulness."

Kiéla is planning a handful of projects that includes releasing an EP this summer, brainstorming for a video project, a fashion show, and nonprofit events, and continuing to give back to the communities that raised her.  

Follow Kiéla’s work on Instagram. Visit the CLR music collective on Instagram and Facebook.

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