Kea and the Ark

Kea and the Ark

An original theatre piece incubated in residency at ArtYard exploring the life of ark-builder Kea Tawana

May 6—7, 2023

Kea Tawana had powerful hands and a long stride. At times she wore a wig and a pink coat. Sometimes she wielded a crowbar, and sometimes a shotgun. She traveled across oceans, deserts, swamps, and roads, reinventing home. In the 1980s, Kea built a three-story-tall and 86-foot-long ark on the highest point in Newark using materials from abandoned houses.

Join ArtYard and White Box Theatre for a first look at Kea and the Ark, a new multidisciplinary work investigating the life of Kea Tawana integrating movement, puppetry, storytelling, and live music.

Set for May 6 & 7, the two workshop performances of the incubated new work will be followed by a talkback featuring Mundheim and collaborators. Kea and the Ark takes us from the Doolittle raid in Japan, across the Pacific, to a Hopi reservation, into Newark in the 60s, and to the quiet of the Passaic River.

Saturday evening’s talkback is moderated by Pamela Barnett, LaSalle College Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Sunday’s is moderated by William Adair, a Philadelphia-based independent arts and culture consultant and former program director at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

ArtYard commissioned White Box Theatre to engage with the mystery of Kea Tawana. During Mundheim’s first residency at ArtYard in 2022, she brought her early research to community engagement workshops in story-writing, object-making, and movement. Kea and the Ark emerged from that residency, and two additional residencies at ArtYard this spring.

Early ideas for this piece were developed in residencies at ArcheDream for Humankind, Theatre Exile, The Painted Bride, and most recently, the Latvian Society of Philadelphia.

Each year artists take up residence at ArtYard to develop new works and engage with our community through artists’ talks, open rehearsals, performances, or installations. ArtYard’s residency program is centered on the needs of artists. It is process-based, without the expectation or promise of a final exhibition of the new work.

Tickets are $25 for general public; $10 for students, seniors, and industry professionals; or pay-what-you-can.


  • Sebastienne Mundheim: Lead artist, writer, designer, performer, workshop leader
  • Daniel de Jesus: Composer, singer, thinker
  • Christianne Ebel: Residency studio assistant to the director, thinker
  • Ain Gordon: Thought partner, dramaturgy
  • Candra Kennedy: performer, builder, thinker
  • Payton Smith: Performer, builder, thinker
  • Harlee Trautman: Core collaborator, thinker, builder, dancer
  • Peter Jacobs: Collage-projection
  • Caitlin Virginia: Assistant to the director, administrative support, collaborator
  • Vanessa Hernandez Artunduaga: Thinker, builder, movement experimenter
  • Eppchez Yes: Thinker, builder, movement experimenter
  • ArtYard community members who built objects and movement ideas include Jim Toia’s students from Lafayette College
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Sebastienne Mundheim (lead artist: writer, designer, performer, workshop leader)

Sebastienne Mundheim is a performance-maker, installation artist, and educator with more than 30 years of experience in interdisciplinary arts and arts education. Her work integrates visual installation, puppetry, storytelling, dance, and theater. In addition to making her own work, Mundheim is a thought-partner and consultant for numerous artists and arts organizations.

Mundheim/White Box Theatre have been commissioned and/or presented by institutions nationally and internationally including: The Rosenbach Museum and Library, The University of Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, The Arden Theatre, Theatre Exile, PA Ballet, Franklin and Marshall College, Keene State University, Vermont Performance Lab, Marlboro College, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, and The Irish Ministry of Arts and Culture.

Collaborators have included Whit McLaughlin, New Paradise Laboratories; Kate Watson-Wallace, Anonymous Bodies; Thaddeus Phillips, Lucidity Suitcase; Hua-Hua Zhang and Kun Yang Lin, Kun Yang Lin Dance; Tania Isaac Dance; Brian Sanders JUNK; and Ballet X.  Her work has received support from the Dolfinger McMahon Foundation, Lenfest Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, The Pew Charitable Trust, Philadelphia Theatre Initiative and Dance Advance, Pennsylvania Performing Artists on Tour, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Trust for Mutual Understanding, and numerous commissioning organizations.

In 2017, Mundheim received national recognition from the Kennedy Center for the Arts College Theatre Festival for Distinguished Achievement in Puppetry Design and Direction and Distinguished Achievement in Overall Production. In 2014, she won Barrymores (Philadelphia’s Excellence in Theatre Award) for Outstanding Design and for Best Ensemble for her adaptation of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. In 2013, she received an Independence Foundation Fellowship for Writing. In 2011 she was a finalist for the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.  She received her BA/BFA from UPenn 1990 and her EdM from Harvard in 2000.

Daniel de Jesús (composer, singer, thinker)

Daniel de Jesús is a painter, composer and songwriter. Their visual art leans toward medieval and baroque figurative painting, particularly Latin American Baroque. de Jesús finds inspiration from historical figures: mystics, scholars, artists, and martyrs.

Their musical practice explores tribal beats, ambient sonic spaces, and string arrangements with soaring vocals. Their work has been described as Baroque pop and Neo-Goth. Daniel de Jesús has nine studio recordings of their music and performs with orchestras and rock bands in the region worldwide. Projects include: collaborations with painter and performance artist David Antonio Cruz, singer-songwriter Courtlyn Carr, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Pig Iron Theater, and play writer Andrew Albert García. They have performed at venues across the world, including Park Ave. Armory, Millenium Park Theater, and World Café Live.

De Jesús currently works as the Music Education and Community Outreach Director for AMLA at Esperanza, a nonprofit that “promotes the development, dissemination, and understanding of Latin music and culture in the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley region with an emphasis on Youth.”

Ain Gordon (thought partner, dramaturg)

Ain Gordon is a three-time Obie Award-winning writer/director/actor, two-time NYFA recipient, Guggenheim Fellow in Playwriting, and a 2023 Creative Capital Awardee. Gordon’s work often focuses on marginalized/forgotten histories and the obscured figures inhabiting that space. His work has been seen at BAM Next Wave, Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York Theater Workshop, Performance Space 122/NY, and Dance Theater Workshop/NYLA (all NY); and Flynn Center (VT), Krannert Center (IL), International Festival of Arts & Ideas (CT), Center for the Art of Performance/UCLA, the Quick Center (CT), Williams College (MA), and the Mark Taper Forum (CA) among many others. Gordon is a former Core Writer of the Playwright’s Center (MN), has twice held the post of Visiting Artist at the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage (PA), a former Artist-In-Residence at NYU Tisch School of The Arts, former Resident Artist at The Hermitage (FL), and was a 2020 Pabst Endowed Writer-In-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, etc. Director of Pick Up Performance Co. since 1992.


Harlee Trautman (core collaborator, thinker, builder, dancer)

Harlee Trautman is a Philadelphia-based dance artist, choreographer, and sculptor.  Her performance-making honors embodied knowledge, deep research, and collaborative possibility. She sees art making as a means to remain infinitely curious about the natural world, the universes that we hold, and in turn hold us.  For her, the body is the first and final teacher.

Harlee is an artistic collaborator for White Box Theatre and dances professionally with The Naked Stark dance company, Artist House, and Archedream for Humankind.  Notable work has been presented at the American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), Manship Theatre (Baton Rouge), the Republic (New Orleans), Mandell Theater (Philadelphia), Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, NJ), as well as on display at Philadelphia International Airport’s D terminal.  In 2023 she will debut new works in Philadelphia, New Jersey,  and in Chicago.

Harlee earned her BFA from Louisiana State University.  She has been a guest artist at Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College, Louisiana State, and Tulane.  After six years of studying with Molly Shanahan, she will be a certified teacher of Spiral Body Technique,  August of 2023.

Payton Smith (performer, builder, thinker)

Payton Smith is an interdisciplinary theatermaker. She has performed, crafted, designed, directed, and stage managed in Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, and Santa Fe. She studied Theater and Performance at Bard College and the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Payton is most interested in exploring/challenging/playing with the power of the finite across all things live arts. Recent Philadelphia collaborations have included Pig Iron Theater Company, Nichole Canuso Dance Company, Annie Wilson, Alex Tatarsky, Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Philly Children’s Theatre, and Urban Movement Arts.

Candra Kennedy (performer, builder, thinker)

Candra Kennedy is a puppeteer, writer, and creator. She is interested in worlds microscopic and cosmic. Her one woman show Jug Baby: An Autobiography, and Weights and Measures, has toured France and the US. Described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “pure genius,” and “maybe not the weirdest Fringe show I’ve ever seen, but definitely in the top three. Even better, it’s a blast.” She is a founding member of PuppetTyranny.  Candra has collaborated and performed with numerous companies in Philadelphia including: Orbiter 3, Applied Mechanics, White Box Theatre and Brat Productions.

Peter Jacobs (projection collage)

Peter Jacobs has worked and exhibited in the mediums of collage, photography, mixed media, video and installation for over 35 years. He explores formal concepts of displacement, radical juxtaposition, color theory and spatial relationships and muses with magical realism, architecture, poetry, humor, emotion and politics. His work has been installed on the streets of Montclair, a park in the mountains of France, a biennial in Poland, and in numerous galleries and museum exhibitions. He was a featured artist on the PBS series, State of the Arts and has received the top New Jersey Council of the Arts grant for his work in collage. Currently, his ongoing series, The Collage Journal is approaching its 19th year in which he has created a collage every day, uninterrupted, from the daily newspaper.

Elizabeth Jacobs (builder, thinker)

Elizabeth Jacobs is a maker — painter, sculptor, print maker,  driven by curiosity, inspired by the natural world. She  received her BFA from SUNY Purchase and her MA in Arts Education from NYU. She has taught art for over 40 years, owning and operating The Clay Studio in Montclair.

Vanessa Hernandez Artunduaga (studio maker, performance experimentation, thinking)

Visual artist from New Jersey, focused on automatic drawing in pencil and charcoal; painting in egg tempera; sculpture and mask-making involving wire, fabric, and dried organic material; and experimentation with movement and character. Also Editor at Large for Seeds of the League Program (the Art Students League of New York’s community youth program).

Eppchez Yes (studio maker, performance experimentation, thinking)

eppchez! is a Quaker, gender-expansive, Cuban and Jewish theater maker, vocalist, and designer. Their positive obsessions include crushing white supremacy, co-creating liberated futures, belting surprisingly evocative lyrics, moving like a creature, and the design needs of gender-expansive people. In 2016 eppchez started up Alma’s Engine; a process-focused production company/creative ministry developing eir new work across a variety of mediums — spreading whimsical and earnest dis-ease. Ey has self-produced 5 original plays through Alma’s Engine and collaborated as a writer, performer, and/or deviser with Philly companies such as Pig Iron, Simpatico, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Swimpony, and Applied Mechanics among others. eppchez has institutional connections to Wesleyan University (BA in theater and creative writing), Headlong Performance Institute, Play Penn (where ey is currently a member of The Foundry an emerging Philly playwright’s group), Azuka Theatre’s New Pages writer’s group, and Green Street Friends Meeting where ey worships on Sundays a few blocks from eir home in Philly’s Germantown neighborhood.

Caitlin Virginia (management, collaborator)

Caitlin Virginia is an artist of music and language. Compelled by their curiosity about what lies in between things, Virginia explores harmonies, contrasts, and frequencies. They have worked on compositions in various mediums including theatre, photography, sound and music production, and movement. In theatre, they have performed, directed, dramaturg’d, and sound designed, with emphasis on Commedia dell’Arte and cabarets. They’ve performed in shows at L’Etage, Knauer Performing Arts Center, Winterthur Gardens, and Calabria, Italy. After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, gratitude is not enough to express how Virginia feels to be a part of the theatre again.



Additional Credits

This work has included many hands in building objects, participating in workshops to development movement and ideas.

Additional collaborators include: Kate Coots, Isabella Fehlandt, ArtYard workshops participants including Rich Cahill, Leah Cahill, Erin Arthur, Nancy McCauley, Amelia Koth, and Grayson XX

Residencies have been hosted byArchedream for Humankind (2019), Theatre Exile(2019), and The Painted Bride (2019).  Current work has been created in residencies at ArtYard (2022-23), and the Latvian Society (2023).

Special Thanks: Stephen Shuster, Guna and Robert Mundheim, Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Linda Richardson, Laris Kreslins, Latvian Society, Andrea Campbell, Natural Light Films, Anna DeCaria, Sam Tower, Jamie Merwin, Arden Kass, Pamela Barnett, Bill Adair, and Jeannette Brown, Peter Jacobs, Elizabeth Jacobs, and Bonnie Berkowitz