Last week, I had the fabulous opportunity to interview LeeLee James — an artist of many crafts, a technology enthusiast, and advocate for community building in ways both known and yet to be discovered. From our conversation, I was able to hear a story of innovation and passion.
LeeLee has participated in a variety of onstage and virtual performances and projects, as a member of various groups, one of them being the Denver Kiki Sessions. Her recent involvement with Meow Wolf Virtual Pride was a chance for her love of videography and performing to synthesize and create beautiful tributes and celebrations of the LGBTQ+ family. The greater Meow Wolf organization is an immersive arts initiative with roots in and around the West Coast, and they endeavored to pass the mic to local talents for the Pride commemoration. If you want your day to be made, you just have to watch this awesome performance from the online festival that LeeLee performed in. There’s more great things to come from Meow Wolf and LeeLee.
I asked LeeLee about her origin story when it comes to the performing arts. She grew up in a family that appreciated music, and sang in the choir in church. While working at the campus ice rink in college, she taught herself how to ice skate. This led her to making a connection with another figure skater, and landing a touring job with Disney on Ice. As a figure skater, she engaged with the graceful nature of the art form, but she faced challenges of being compelled by the tour’s decision-makers to perform in a masculine way. When her time with Disney on Ice came to a close, she moved to Colorado, and built a life in which she could be her own creative director.
I adored having the chance to learn how LeeLee has carved her path to pursuing projects that matter to her. As a theatre arts student — one who is a bit more behind the page than on the stage, but one who formerly primarily performed — I understood what she meant when she mentioned how difficult it is to continuously be in and start performance projects. I’m also inspired by how, over the years, her womanhood and artistry has grown together in an inextricable way. She spoke with an excitement about her art that shines even over the phone.
To get another glimpse of this passion, there’s another one of her videos that I recommend folks check out: this performance to the tune of “Overcome” by Laura Mvula. With LeeLee’s poise and Mvula’s powerful lyrics, this video is a stunning and soulful call to action to fight for what you believe in. LeeLee shared with me that this song has great significance to her and her story of being a new Coloradoan four years ago, and she is continually inspired by the emotion the lyrics and music stir in her.
When I asked LeeLee about her favorite project that she’s worked on, she shared with me a massively intriguing future enterprise that gave me insight on how one of her titles is the Twirling Tech Goddess. In addition to performing, LeeLee has a background in software engineering. While in these tech spaces, she noticed that she would oftentimes be the only Black, queer, or femme person in the room. She claims all three of these identities, and found that the visible presentations of her colleagues did not reflect the various and complex intersections of the larger population. She belonged to a tight-knit and vibrant queer community in the night life and performance scenes, and believed fervently life does not have to be about choosing one space over the other.
Her creative tendencies made for the birth of a new idea: using her love of performing to increase technological literacy, especially in the queer community. In this project, called The Twirch Shop, she’ll be making virtual how-tos, diving into things like coding and wearable technology.
She is thrilled to be embarking on this journey, with her “passion project and baby.” She knows how critically important it is to be visible in the tech world, as she told me that “I have yet to see a single person who looks like me in it.” This initiative matters to her because, in her art, what matters most to her is the meaning of it. She strives to commit to endeavors that are all about “people creating the future reflective of the people who exist right now” and in the name of the “longevity of people into the future.” Check out the vlog’s social media page, and teaser trailer. (I can only imagine how much more enjoyable my high school science classes would have been if we had LeeLee’s videos. Maybe I should learn how to time travel and make it happen.)
My final question for LeeLee was about what she would want people to know if they’re looking to make a difference, as I know with my heart that she’s someone who is dedicated to doing just that. She immediately spoke about “finding your people,” and how much a strong, loving, and close knit community can build accountability, trust, and powerful movements. She’s a believer that “change starts at home.”
LeeLee was so excited to hear about how her work had reached me all the way in South Jersey. I’m so happy to know that, especially with her upcoming tech-art initiative, folks from all over will be able to virtually engage with her genius. The Twirch Shop just launched this past Friday night, August 28!
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.