Kai Hazelwood: Good Troublemaker
September 05, 2019
Photo credit: Instagram/kaihazelwood
Editor's Note 6/2/2020: This interview was originally published 9/5/2019.
If planners were still a thing, Kai Hazelwood would need to add extra pages to hers. Hazelwood — a trained dancer and choreographer (and now activist) — is a frantically busy queer artist. With multiple creative projects coming down the pike — many of them putting the spotlight on bisexuality — she is a woman in demand in Los Angeles and beyond.
I recently sat down with her to talk about what’s on her artistic plate — and what it takes to throw a really good party.
JENNIE ROBERSON: How did you come to identify as bi or queer?
Kai Hazelwood: Well, in high school I had a gorgeous fellow student walk up to me in freshmen year, and go: “This is happening. You and me, this is happening.” And I went “haha”, because I still wasn’t dating anyone at that point. It took her a year and a half, but she wore me down, and that was that.
A battle of attrition to realize you were queer?
KH: Pretty much, yeah!
How has it been being out as a queer artist?
KH: You know, it’s been really interesting. I have the interesting intersection of being both a black artist and a queer artist. I feel like often there’s some tension between those identities — that either I’m making work as a black person, or I’m making work as a queer person. And finding and creating space for both to be fully realized is challenging... I mean it’s who I am. So that’s the intersection I’m going to work at forever.
So how do you see yourself as a dancer and choreographer, and how does being bi fold into that?
KH: What do you mean, how do I see myself?
As far as your image, as far as what you would like to accomplish.
KH: Got it. I love that question. I would say I see myself as an artist, an activist, and a community builder simultaneously. So the work I make comes out of community — in this case, out of bi community and stories from real bi people. The artists that I collaborate with, the vast majority of them are also queer-identified. And it’s also very important to me, and therefore our group, to center stories of black, indigenous people of color.
So I think activism will always shape in one way or another the work you actually see onstage. Because [while] dance is a beautiful medium, [and] physicality is wonderful and for me personally, the thing that gets me excited about using that tool is telling stories that matter.
So since dance comes out of social context, it’s always going to be intrinsic in the mix — as far as storytelling, and getting your message across?
KH: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been a dancer since I was four years old, so dance will always be a medium that I work in. I may be in collaboration with other mediums, but it will always be very central and important to my work. But to me, it’s a tool to serve storytelling rather than the end goal itself.
Anything you would like people to know about you that isn’t necessarily part of your public persona?
KH: I feel like my public persona is pretty complete. On any given night, you might find me lazy twerking onstage or producing something. I’m pretty transparent. So I think looking me up online would give you a pretty good sense of the package. (Laughs)
Tell me how Good Troublemakers came to be.
KH: Good Troublemakers came to be because I never wanted to have a dance company, or any type of formalized group. [But] over the course of five-and-a-half years, I got to work with about twelve awesome, regular collaborators, and I had to step back and acknowledge that this is a real thing we built. [I had to] sit down and think about our values, what is important to me, what are our guiding principles. And through really honing in on this idea of art as storytelling and activism, we arrived at the name of Good Troublemakers.
[We] had our first audition, and thirty-four people applied. We auditioned thirteen people in real life, and we now have a group of twelve badass, awesome, multidisciplinary artists that make up Good Troublemakers.
So is Good Troublemakers the name from John Lewis’ famous saying?
KH: Yes. Inspired by the words of John Lewis, we are here to shake things up and fuck up the status quo, and destroy the constructs that have limited the artists that you generally see onstage. And [question] what “stage” even means, what “art” or “performance” even means. We’re interested in all of those questions.
I like to say we are a genre-expanding collaborative that is interested in destabilizing the status quo.
It’s definitely making some necessary trouble.
How has activism been an intrinsic part of your work from the beginning, and how have audiences responded particularly to expressive, artistic forms of activism in your work.
KH: Activism I blame on — and I use the word “blame" — I blame on Ian Lawrence. I never set out to be a bi activist or necessarily an activist of any kind. And through meeting Ian, and joining amBi and taking a larger role in amBi, I just really fell in love with our magical queer/bi/middle-of-the-spectrum community, and make work about things that are important to me.
As this community continues to be more and more important to me, and a major central anchor of my life, those are the stories that I want to tell. And I think what interests me most as an artist is telling intimate, human stories. I like to say that storytelling, celebration of joy, partying are all forms of activism, even though you don’t necessarily see them that way. So for my version of activism, it comes from a desire to create communities, celebrate and tell joyful experiences of people, and tell stories — particularly those you don’t normally see or hear on stage.
With that in mind — talking about marginalized or underrepresented groups — tell me about your project, Invisible.
KH: Invisible are real bi stories from real bi people, translated to stage. So you’re going to hear stories from real folks, and see them sort of interacting with movement and dance theatre. We just did our first run-through, and... I’m very proud of it. It’s a layered, complex, sweet, tender, funny, over-the-top, glorious experience. It’s really kind of a celebration of queerness.
You have another project coming up, Unicorn PARTy. Can you tell me more about that?
Editor's Note 6/2/2020: The Unicorn PARTy was a great success.
KH: Yes! Unicorn PARTy is the party I wish I could have gone to when I was a baby queer person. And it’s still the party I want to go as — I don’t know if I count as an elder, but a...
KH: Fully-fledged bi person! (Laughs) I’ve got all the merit badges, I’m here to stay.
So Unicorn PARTy is one part dance theatre performance, one part live music performance, featuring some of L.A.’s best and most awesome bi musicians, including Vattica and Cindy Jollotta. There’ll also be a queer craft market curated by Queerdo by Kiki, who is an awesome amBi member. So it’s really centering bi folks, and giving us an opportunity to come together and party.
Finally, what would you like to tell the baby queer version of yourself that you wish you had known?
KH: I think that what I would say to any baby queer — and myself, too — is your people are out there. And not only are they out there, you already know a lot of them — you just haven’t connected with each other on that level yet. I like to make the joke often that [takes on a horror movie announcer's voice] bi people walk among you, everywhere you are, we are there!
And that’s really the truth. So those moments that you’re feeling isolated, or like you’re the only one having this experience, you really are not. And sometimes just saying that in any room you’re in will allow other people in that very same room to sort of shyly raise their hand and be like, “Me, too!”
So you may feel alone, but you’re not. And also look around, there are amazing events like this [Unicorn PARTy], and organizations like amBi that are creating space for you. Find them, go to them. Be with them. It’s great.