KST Blog

Welcome to the KST Blog!

The KST Blog serves as an alternative view of the 2020 Global Stream programming, showcasing our artist talk series’, KST curated weekly playlists, and more!

  1. Sex Workers Seek Justice Online

    There’s a movement that’s happening. Sex workers have been fighting for decriminalization for generations. Lena Chen, Chinese American performance artist, writer, and activist; and Maggie Oates, who works at the intersection of art, privacy, and computing technology, building containers that facilitate collaborative play and intimacy, are the creators behind OnlyBans, an interactive game that critically examines the policing of marginalized bodies and sexual labor. The artists will present a play through of the game with Kelly Strayhorn Theater as their virtual Freshworks Residency Presentation on Friday, April 2, 2021 at 7:00pm on Zoom!

    Many people use the internet to promote their activities and events, amplify the work and good news of others, see what others are doing, and scroll for enjoyment. They accept the social media platform’s attempt to “control content” as a form of adding order to the platforms and even providing additional online security. The reality is that this is one form of censorship that targets sex workers and other industries.

    In fact, sex workers face higher levels of stigma and discrimination than those in other service professions. And you can thank the United States Congress for that! 

    In 2018, President Trump signed into law a set of controversial bills intended to curb illegal sex trafficking online. Both bills — the House bill known as FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and the Senate bill, SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — have been hailed by advocates as a victory for sex trafficking victims, though their efficacy has been questioned by critics – including American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation who warn of threat to free speech.

    The bills also poked a huge hole in the Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Known as “Section 230” and generally seen as one of the most important pieces of internet legislation ever created, it holds that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, Section 230 has allowed the internet to thrive on user-generated content without holding platforms and ISPs responsible for whatever those users might create.

    “The Internet has long been celebrated as a limitless realm of free expression, but this digital wonderland is becoming increasingly oppressive to those who express their sexuality as part of their art, activism, or work,” Freshworks artist Lena Chen explained.

    FOSTA-SESTA creates an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers would be responsible if third parties are found to be posting ads for sexula services — including consensual sex work — on their platforms. While the legislation purports to end trafficking, what FOSTA-SESTA has actually done is create confusion and immediate repercussions among a range of internet sites as they grapple with the ruling’s sweeping language.

    In the aftermath, numerous websites took action to censor or ban parts of their platforms in response (remember Craigslist’s Personals section?) – not because those parts of the sites were promoting ads for sexual services, but because monitoring potentially unlawful content was too hard.

    So, who is a sex worker? 
    Turns out that “sex work” is a broad category; and OnlyBans will spotlight a specific area. “We are focused on people who are advertising their services online and people who may be selling digital content,” Maggie said.

    If you didn’t catch it, OnlyBans, is a play on “Only Fans,” which is a content subscription service where content creators can earn money from users who subscribe to their content as “fans.”  The site is popular in the adult entertainment industry. 

    So, how does the digital performance game work?
    Assuming the role of a sex worker, players attempt to establish an online fanbase and earn money through posting sexy images provided in the game. Players encounter content moderation algorithms, shadow-banning, “real name” policies, facial recognition software, and other threats based on actual experiences of sex workers. As their content gets flagged, they discover just how “free” the internet really is when you are engaged in stigmatized labor subject to policing and criminalization. 

    OnlyBans offers a speculative vision of how marginalized communities might band together to protest these unjust policies and create better alternatives,” Lena said.

    Built on Twine, OnlyBans incorporates actual images from real-life sex workers who have been censored and deplatformed by social media companies. “We hope this interactive experience can educate and entertain viewers through combining the aesthetics of social media with real knowledge and engaging storytelling,” Maggie said.

    The game prototype was initially developed by Lena Chen with Open Data Institute’s Violeta Mezeklieva through a residency with Polis180 (Berlin). Now as artists-in-residence at Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Pittsburgh), Lena, Maggie, and their collaborator Goofy Toof are revamping both the gameplay and visual design. OnlyBans incorporates research from Hacking//Hustling’s study on content moderation “Posting Into The Void” and draws inspiration from Lien Tran’s social impact game on condom criminalization “Cops & Rubbers.”

    To experience OnlyBans yourself, visit Kelly-Strayhorn.org to purchase your Pay What Makes You Happy! ticket and join us on Friday, April 2 at 7:00pm. 

    In addition, given the March 16 racially and misogynistically motivated massacre in Atlanta that intersects with the issues of OnlyBans, we share this message from Chen and affirm our institutional and individual solidarity with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities, immigrants, sex workers, and marginalized people around the world. 

    “As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, as a trauma survivor, and as a sex worker, I see elements of my own story in the lives of the victims in Atlanta.

    Their murders were the consequence of a culture that has normalized sexual shame, gender-based violence, and xenophobic fear-mongering. 

    Digital surveillance and deplatforming is intertwined with state sanctioned violence and discrimination against sex workers, such as police raids leading to the arrest, deportation, and deaths of migrant massage parlor workers.

    Research shows that increased policing, whether on the streets or on the Internet, only endangers sex workers further. Decriminalization is the most effective approach to ensuring the safety and autonomy of sex workers.

    The killings in Atlanta are a traumatic reminder of the violence faced by AAPI and sex worker communities everyday. I hope we can take this moment to rest and to care for ourselves and each other. As we move forward, we must work in collaboration with those directly harmed by policies that continue to stigmatize and criminalize our existence.” 

    Please support these organizations which serve Asian migrant massage workers:

    Red Canary Song 
    Massage Parlor Outreach Project


    In response to the violence in Atlanta, Lena is co-organizing a day of healing and art with Sex Workers Outreach Project Pittsburgh and women AAPI artists and organizers. The event will feature free wellness services donated by community members. If you would like to volunteer, donate a service or product (for care packages to be distributed at Asian-owned massage businesses), or offer financial support, please contact swop.pittsburgh@gmail.com.

    REST: A Day of Healing & Art
    For The Asian American Pacific Islander, Massage Worker, & Sex Worker Community

    Featuring Massage, Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, Yoga, Reiki, Workshops, Music, Children’s Activities, and more!

    Free Admission
    Thursday, April 1, 4:00pm – 7:30pm
    Carnegie Museum of Art
    4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

    Hosted by Sex Workers Outreach Project + AAPI women of Pittsburgh with support from Carnegie Museum of Art, Office of Public Art, Intersectional Health Collaboration Summit, & Heal Her.


  2. From the Classroom to a Creative Work Lavender Terrace Asks The Question, “What Does 100 Years of Protest Feel Like?”

    As a part of Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Freshworks, a month-long creative residency for Pittsburgh-based artists and collaborators, NaTasha Thompson and Petra Floyd will debut their work in progress entitled, “Lavender Terrace.” Both are graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University and have extensive experience using their work to communicate underrepresented voices and shared cultural inheritances. 

    I had the opportunity to talk with them and from watching their interactions with each other I assumed that they were long-time friends only to find out that their relationship is just 1 year in the making! In fact, Lavender Terrace started out as a classroom assignment and blossomed into a creative work along with their friendship.

    NaTasha was reading Harlem Renaissance writer Marita Bonner’s The Purple Flower for an analysis assignment and a few times the two would bump into each other during classes at CMU. “The School of Drama and the School of Art were hosting interdisciplinary workshops – one was experimental writing and the other was experimental dance,” Petra explains. “We were the only two Black students in the classes and naturally gravitated to each other.”

    “After completing The Purple Flower, I reached out to Petra to see if she would be interested in doing visual work for an idea I had around the play and that we could use it to experiment inside of our education, and after the first draft, it took off from there!” 

    The idea took off indeed! The two entered the first iteration  of their work to an on-campus contest and won. “The College of Fine Arts hosts an interdisciplinary award and I reached out to NaTasha and told her that I think we should enter it,” Petra said. “It was a two-day marathon of work and we won! We won $2500 and this provided an opportunity to execute something really big, but then COVID didn’t end. Then we saw the announcement for Freshworks and it provided a way that we couldn’t work at school as well as an opportunity to work with others – safely.” 

    Lavender Terrace is a speculative movement response to Marita Bonner’s play The Purple Flower. Bonner’s writing  was first published in The Crisis, the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1928. Bonner’s play is an allegory for sexism and racism against black women, and the play was never performed in Bonner’s lifetime.

    The two creatives didn’t want to spoil any surprises but shared that the audience will experience beautifully choreographed movement pieces, pre-recorded performances, live elements and interactive opportunities. We will also meet two characters “Cornerstone” and “Finest Blood” pulled from the original work, who represent the problematic tropes that have persisted about Black people over the past century. “Our work is about the  pursuit of “life at its fullest” by Black Americans in the late 20’s,” NaTasha said. “Our goal is to craft snapshots of that pursuit over the years.”

    Lavender Terrance debuts on Friday, March 5 at 7:00PM. Click Here to purchase your ticket to this Pay What Makes You Happy performance.



    When you hear the names Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn you think of two entertainment legends: Kelly, an actor, dancer, singer, filmmaker, comedian and choreographer and Strayhorn a jazz composer, pianist, lyricist and arranger.

    What doesn’t come to mind is that both individuals were being monitored by the FBI. This juicy nugget came up as I was listening in on a conversation between Patricia Ward Kelly, official biographer and wife of Gene Kelly and David Hajdu, official biographer for Billy Strayhorn as they met for the first time during a Zoom call I arranged with KDKA TV & Radio Reporter Lynne Hayes Freeland. We all got together to chat about the live moderated conversation that the three of them will have during Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Suite Life 2020 Concert on November 28th where, for the first time, we will pay tribute to both of the organization’s namesakes.

    During the virtual meet and greet, Mrs. Kelly casually asks Mr. Hajdu, “Do you have Billy’s FBI files?” And he replies, calm and matter-of-factly, “Why yes, they are over here in these boxes.” He returns the question back to her, “What about you? Do you have Gene’s files?” She says, “Yes, they are right here in my office?” 

    Wait? What just happened? FBI files? I had so many questions: Why did the FBI have files have on Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn? What did they do? Why was the FBI watching them? What did the files say? How many files did they have each?

    Realizing this opportunity was not for me to get my questions I answered, I quickly started searching for information on my laptop. There I found a treasure trove of information that the FBI’s focus on musicians and entertainers has its roots in the agency’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which led to the surveillance of several of the most important entertainers and Black jazz musicians of the mid-20th century. The bulk of this activity took place when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover unleashed this program which aimed to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” subversive political groups.

    The bureau had been keeping close tabs on the civil rights movement, accumulating massive files on leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. The FBI also spent countless hours investigating thousands of celebrities, entertainers, writers and other prominent individuals during the Cold War. The official story was that the effort rooted out communists and others who wanted to overthrow the government. The reality is that countless citizens who had not committed wrongdoing found their lives under the bureau’s lens of hyper-acuity.

    Like many others in Hollywood, Gene Kelly was under investigation for his presumed “Communist” activities. He, of course, was not a Communist, but he was under constant surveillance by the FBI under the heading “Security Matter C.”

    Among the earliest entries are those for Duke Ellington, reaching back to the 1930s. Agents compiled a dossier that runs as a counterpoint during his life, that had little to do with his musical achievements. The first entry is from 1938. Jazz historians mark this as the year Ellington first met Billy Strayhorn. For the FBI, it was when he performed for the All-Harlem Youth Conference, a progressive gathering that included well wishes sent by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Ellington’s band would play at a variety of concerts, but if the FBI didn’t like what group was hosting the event – for them that meant the entertainers were not only supporters, but participants of the groups.

    Mrs. Kelly and Mr. Hajdu also talked about what influence the City of Pittsburgh had on both artists, how both felt like outcasts and navigated discrimination, and so much more! I was amazed on how much I didn’t know about our namesakes outside of their celebrated talents, and how watching the interplay and connection between both biographers would be so engaging.

    I invite you to join me and listen in on a LIVE moderated conversation led by KDKA-TV & Radio Reporter Lynne Hayes Freeland, with Mrs. Patricia Ward Kelly and Mr. David Hajdu on Saturday, November 28 at 6:00pm, right before the Suite Life concert that will feature music from both entertainment giants, performed under the musical direction of Pittsburgh’s own Poogie Bell!

    For more information, visit Kelly-Strayhorn.org/suitelife

  4. Perfect Sun Days!

    Get lost in the vibes of this eclectic playlist full of sweet beats, melodies and soft whimsical moments by some of the brightest Pittsburgh artists. Clara Kent digs into your feelings with her Neo-jazzed track “Souled”. The folky sounds of The Commonheart transports you to the mountains in Spain, sipping on coffee that has a splash of introspection and with “Heart Dance” by Mars Jackson, it does simply that, makes your heart and body dance. Stream this playlist to turn any day into Perfect Sun Days! (18 songs, 58 min)

  5. Little Plastic Castles


    Here’s your ultimate LQBTQIA+ driven playlist. These hits highlight Queer Pittsburgh artist and their real good music! This eclectic roster is full of Bops, unforgettable melodies, dance club beats, heart gutting tunes, folky guitars, Hip-Hop and more. #JustSayin’ (13 songs, 39 min)

  6. Pop N’ Soft Drinks

    Poppy tunes, driving fun beats and dope lyrics. This playlist is ready for your next road trip, backyard chill, or ambitious venture from your living-room to your kitchen. Let the jams of Samurai Velvet, LoRen, BBGuns, Mars Jackson, The Childlike Empress and so many more rock with you while you sit back Pop N’ Soft Drinks.



    “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free.” – Frannie Lou Hamer
    This playlist is all about (A)BLM. Track one, ” Enter the Blackness” by Jasiri X holds nothing back and lets you know exactly where you are. Be ready for the many dimensions and of Blackness and the multifaceted creativity of the Black community. Magic, Joy, Excellence, Pride, Power…Mattering in 17 tracks for 54 minutes.

  8. Rusted Root, KST Playlist

    American worldbeat rock band and Pittsburgh Native’s Rusted Root are the focus of this week’s playlist.

  9. Wiz Khalifa, KST Playlist

    Rapper, singer, songwriter, actor and Pittsburgh Native Wiz Khalifa is the focus of this week’s playlist.

  10. KST Playlist, Mac Miller

    Rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and Pittsburgh Native Mac Miller is the focus of this week’s playlist.