Hamilton’s Stephanie Klemons Is Reshaping The Way Art Can Heal With Katie’s Art Project

by Michael Mahany | 7/31/2018 1:41 PM

Hamilton OBC member and founder of Katie’s Art Project, Stephanie Klemons. Photo Credit: KAP/SK


Undoubtedly by now, you know Stephanie Klemons. The dance and theatre powerhouse has worked hard to make a name for herself on Broadway; she’s as an original cast member, the associate choreographer, and current global dance supervisor of the monumental mega-hit musical Hamilton— yet, her work outside ‘the room where it happens’ makes this major player of the dance world, a superstar.


Theatrically speaking, Klemons has spent a good portion of her tenure working very closely with three time TONY® winner Andy Blakenbuehler. On top of her time spent at Hamilton, she performed and served as Blankenbuehler’s associate choreographer for Broadway’s Bring It On, and served as his dance captain on the original Broadway and pre-Broadway productions of In The Heights. She also performed and dance captained the Larry Keigwin choreographed Broadway production of If/Then.


Her television and commercial work has grown to include some of the biggest brands and shows on television, including Sesame Street, How I Met Your Mother, and The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dance Network readers will remember— from our profile of her associate choreographer Alison Solomon— Klemons’ directorial and choreographic work on the recent Dirty Dancing inspired NFL Super Bowl commercial.


Klemons is also an award winning theatrical choreographer, having shared musicals in which she’s performed on Broadway with major regional theaters around the country, and developed and explored new musical works in venues across New York City.


Without question, however, Klemons has a vast, deep and soulful connection to her philanthropic work. Through the charitable organization she founded, Katie’s Art Project, Klemons is changing the way children dealing with critical illness are able to access the healing power of the arts.


Klemons founded Katie’s Art Project in memory of her childhood “bestest friend” Katie Andryca, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 1999. Klemons and her friend Katie were both artistically inclined as kids, deciding early on that they'd develop a clothing line.


“Katie would design and I'd do the business,” Klemons wrote on her organization’s website, “it was Katie's dream to be a creator of art.”


Klemons realized, after Katie had passed away, that one of the biggest things the kids in her friend’s hospital ward were lacking in their non-medical care was consistency.


“Truthfully, in that Pediatric Hematology Oncology Ward, each child was his or her own hero,” Klemons wrote, “driving the way they spent their days albeit attached to a pic line or IV. Volunteers came and went, and questionably got more from the kids than the kids got from them, the little Angels that they were. However, two volunteers in particular stood out, the golden retriever who'd come by every few weeks and spend time with each kid. Stopping for a ‘woof’, a bone, and a hug. And the pastor, who stopped by virtually every day, rain or shine, good or bad. It wasn't what they did when they came, it was their consistency. Only after did I recognize the importance of consistency in their lives because it gave them something almost impossible, when their insides were revolting daily; it gave them comfort.”


RELATED ARTICLE: Why The NFL’s Dirty Dancing Spot Was The Super Bowl’s Best Commercial—And, An Exclusive Interview With The Ad’s Associate Choreographer, Alison Solomon


Katie’s Art Project recently had its Gala, called [the art project], at Town Stages in New York City. Billed as a one night only, pop-up museum event that featured live music, art, and exhibitions, guests of the event were treated to performances by Luminous Sounds String Ensemble, Marinda Davis from ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, recording artist Casey Jamerson, Hamilton original cast member Jon Rua, and others.


Dance Network recently had the chance to speak with Stephanie Klemons to talk about Katie’s Art Project, her thoughts on working with Andy Blakenbuehler and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and why Hamilton has the massive reach that it does. Read the interview below:


Dance Network: Stephanie, thanks for much for taking the time to chat with us, we’re all such big fans of you and your work— especially the work you’ve done with Katie’s Art Project.


Stephanie Klemons: Thanks Michael, I really appreciate you helping us spread the work of K.A.P.! It has been truly unbelievable!


Dance Network: In your story about Katie, and in your mission statement for the organization, you talk about consistency. What is it about the consistency of exposure to the arts— both, for the kids dealing with serious illnesses and society in general— that makes that idea so important?


SK: Consistency is a touchstone for kids; we know this. In my experience when in the hospital with Katie, that consistency was hard to come by. Doctors saying, maybe this”, or we think that”, we’re not sure” is so unsettling. That fear plays a huge role in their healing and ability to face their illness. For this reason providing a service at regular intervals or that includes a when I see you next time” gives the kids a peace-of-mind that they don’t get so often when facing life-threatening illness.


I always say volunteering is great and necessary, but Katie’s Art Project is not that. The kid is volunteering themselves just as much as the artist. By creating art together we are leveling their vulnerability playing field” and taking the kid out of their parent-kid”, Doctor-kid”, I know-you don’t” world and putting them in a human-to-human” one; you can’t do that in one visit


Stephanie Klemons. Photo Credit: KAP/SK


DN: Personally speaking, your star has been on the rise for some time now, and your choreography is all over the place these days— the NFL commercial, your DC production of In The Heights, and so many other projects— so, how do you manage to keep the creativity flowing and run the charitable organization at the same time?


SK: I’m still figuring that out. Everyday is a new balance and mix of tasks. Katie’s Art Project drives me so naturally that I can’t help but want to be in it. It feels like my life’s work. I also realize that the only reason I’m able to connect kids with Grammy-winning recording artists and Pulitzer-winning playwrights for these time-consuming projects is because they are my friends and I’m still actively working with them; I can personally tell them why it is so important.

All my experience led me to this, and I’ve been surrounded by giants, who are so excellent at being great under pressure and keeping multiple plates spinning; I just had to learn to keep up.


DN: You’ve spent a large part of your career working closely with two pretty enormous powerhouses of creativity in Andy Blankenbuehler and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Andy? Lin? What do those guys mean to you?


SK: Funny that I just mentioned them, because they are truly touchstones in my life. Along with Tommy Kail and Alex Lacamoire, there are so many more....Michael Balderrama, Jason Bassett, Amber White, Luis Salgado, Seth Stewart, Jon Rua, Rosie Fiedelman, Mandy Gonzalez, Karen Olivo.... the list goes on. There is a whole team of people with whom I’ve worked since my first big job, In The Heights, Off-Broadway and we are still working together. Either through Hamilton or other jobs, this group has consistently been around and leading by example.

Each one of these humans has taught me something massive about showing up and working hard, creating what you dream of in your reality and making it fun and effective.

I could write a paragraph about each, Ill keep it short.


Lin-Manuel Miranda and Stephanie Klemons onstage at Hamilton. Photo Credit: Rutgers


Andy is the hardest working person in the room; he is incessant. He’ll always work harder than everyone. And we are all just trying to keep up. That’s some great training.


Lin, is just an awesome dude who happens to be a genius. He’s so not condescending about the fact that he’ll always be faster, funnier or quicker to help than all of us. He’s also THE CHILLEST under pressure, you’ll rarely see him sweat something because he has an unbelievable view of life and it’s meaning and a pure and awesome confidence in what he’s good at.


Tommy Kail has a calendar that is enviably well kept and the ability to check on every person he’s ever known or worked with in a way that makes you feel as if it’s only you, and he has all the time in the world to hear your answer— when actually he is THE BUSIEST man alive. Incredible.


Alex is so damn talented that he could be a jerk and he’d have a million friends and yet, he’s the nicest most caring man that can literally think in musical theory faster than your pain impulse from a stubbed toe to your brain. The man is insane, but he’ll never not hug you and ask about your day no matter what he’s doing.


(L to R) Thomas Kail, Alex Lacamoire, Andy Blankenbuehler, Stephanie Klemons, working with Leslie Odom, Jr. in rehearsal for the pre-Broadway production of Hamilton. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus


Luis is the reason I started K.A.P. He had started R.Evolucion Latina when we were off-Broadway and one day he asked me, if you could do anything what would you do?”… I told him and here we are.


Like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by giants, it’s like Olympic training in how to live exceptionally.


DN: Since you’ve been with Hamilton from the beginning, you’ve had the very special opportunity (and, responsibility as Global Dance Supervisor) to see it grow, and to see how it continues to do so. Since Hamilton has exposed so many different groups of people to music, dance, history, and the arts in general, how has that inspired you to run your organization?

Home, written and performed by Casey Jamerson, through Katie’s Art Project’s partnership with Music Is Medicine.


SK: I think ultimately Hamilton and other pieces like it are so monumental not because of their success in the moment, but the things they inspire people to forge and create long after they are the it thing”.  I’m excited to see K.A.P. grow beyond the relatively small ideas I can think of. I want to see it take off, beyond me. It’s already doing that with each project that gets completed. Every finished product is so much bigger emotionally and inspirationally than I could have conceived.


DN: You chose to include other art forms— painting, floral works from the Broadway Botanist— in the the celebration of K.A.P. at The Art Project; tell us a little about why you expanded the arts exposure to more than just dance or musical theatre?


SK: I’ve always wanted Katie’s Art Project to include ALL art forms. It’s obviously easiest for me to contact musical theater and dance people I know— that’s my comfort zone, because it’s who’s in my phone book. Kids have so many more ideas! They’ve asked for Improv Acting Classes and Costume Building workshops, and more… I want to include all the forms of expression we can because it’s important to make sure we operate on many wavelengths to include the voices of many people.


For more information on involvement, donations and more visit www.katiesartproject.org. You can follow the organization of Twitter and Facebook, and find out more on Stephanie at her website here.