Recognize Something True: The Sacred and Sarcastic Creations of Rythea Lee

April 23rd, 2011  |  by Published in featured, featured artists  |  1 Comment

Rythea’s been planted here in the Northampton area since the late 1990s. When I first met her about 10 years ago, I was a student in the “Improvisation As Performance” class she was teaching at her Wild Life Sanctuary studio in Florence.  I saw a flyer for it, took it home, called her and asked 1. If I could take her class 2. if she could give me ride there!  The answer to both – thankfully – was YES.  I was SO relieved when I met her. I knew I was finally meeting someone who was cool AND who could actually help me flourish instead of wallow and wither…

As it turns out, Rythea ended up being one of the main, consistent supporters of and inspirations for my own seedling artist-life for several years to come (during a time when there was almost nothing supportive or encouraging happening for young and emerging artists in Northampton).  Rythea’s/Zany Angel’s community classes, performances, and exhibits served as my primary doorways into the broader community, and into my own career and confidence. And they’ve done the same for many others.


-> Co-Director of Zany Angels. Dancer, choreographer, writer, performer.

-> Author of the book  Trauma Into Truth: Gutsy Healing and Why It’s Worth It

-> Visual artist

-> Singer-songwriter

-> Inner Bonding Therapist

-> Teacher of autobiographical performance art, and Expressive Art forms.

Rythea has some of their sketch-comedy-type bits up on YouTube. Nuggets like “Projection or Reality?” (from her solo show Love Makes Me Sarcastic), “Wild Inside,” “The Singing Corner,” and Rose’s piece featuring her endearing character “Einstein.”  I’ve noticed that sometimes the line Rythea walks between sincerity and sarcasm is so well-crafted that some people don’t get the joke!

I remember Zany Angel’s first evening length performance — a stunning trilogy called SHAMELESS that featured powerful autobiographical monologues, gorgeous dancing, and snarky theatrical antics – all around topics of childhood trauma and family dysfunction. Rythea and Rose have a specialized gift for introducing and delving-into dark and difficult subject matters in a way that uses humor, beauty, and non-linear creative vignettes to deliver an experience that’s engaging, accessible, funny, digestible, quirky, and uplifting.  Rythea also pokes fun at therapy and self-help culture (which she herself is a part of) while at the same time sincerely embodying her own hard-won self love, and encouraging you to care about your own inner life.  I, and her many fans, love and value this skill very much.

Part of Rythea’s MISSION is to crush the tenacious (sometimes revered, sometimes feared) myth of the unhealthy, tormented, self-destructive, inaccessible, unconscious artist.  For her – and for me – art serves as an empowering extension/expression of our ongoing growth, insights, healing, activism, and passion for universal transformative communication.

It’s my pleasure to introduce her!   ~Dana

1.  What are you trying to communicate or explore in your work?

In my dance theatre company, the Zany Angels, we aim to express powerful, emotional insights through humor so that we can trick the psyche into recognizing something true.

Our most recent show called “The Inner Child: Don’t Leave Home Without It” is about the Inner Child and how that aspect of ourselves is very real, very alive and potent. Our child selves reveal our feelings and gut reactions from the body, thus pointing towards our truest needs and convictions. By poking fun at and blowing up the reality of the Inner Child, we tried to shine a big, crazy light on the idea — and it worked! Our audiences laughed so much, and yet told us later that tears were close at hand.

So really, my aim as a performance artist, dancer, and comedy writer is to wake up our Essence selves and the creativity and passion that go with it. I also want to encourage people to speak out about things that have happened to them, because I am painfully aware of how silenced most people are. I use my own creative work to constantly find my voice and what I have to say, even if it’s ugly and scary. Often, what needs to be expressed is a bigness, a me-ness, a unique version of how I see the world; the atrocities, and the truths. I want to be an example of someone who almost got squashed but decided to keep getting up. That is how I feel. I feel like finding my voice as an artist saved me. I want other people to be saved that way.


2.  Where were you when you created one of your favorite works?

I don’t really have a one favorite work  –  my favorite work tends to be the one I’m working on.  BUT I wrote this song, “The Worst Love Song Ever Written” in my living room while my husband yelled ideas from the kitchen. It was a two room, two person collaboration about the f–cked aspects of love being yelled out from room to room. Sometimes we would disagree, and that would just fuel a really good line for the song. I enjoyed that. I like the song, too.  There’s this one really offensive line in the song that really cracks me up… I think I’m so funny sometimes.


3.  How do you see your art in relation to cultivating community, and how does community affect the work you make?

My dance theatre company is my favorite community for the past 6-10 years.  Being together and making art is the greatest gift.  Me, Patrick, and Rose spend many weekends dancing, walking, eating, and creating deeply satisfying theatre from our hearts/minds/bodies. What could be better?  Then, when we perform our work, it’s like sharing a beautiful, shocking moment in nature where the wind blows so hard and the sun cracks through the clouds and the sky changes color into some kind of new configuration.  Those moments are community moments that are different than talking because they are visceral.  We and the audience share something that is hard to explain. I like to think it’s a shift of consciousness but I’m not sure. After a show, there is a reverberation of meaning and reaction that I really love.

I’m someone who is constantly creating and getting benefits from community. I am part of many different communities; dance communities, therapy communities (I am a therapist), my close friends who have become family to me, and most important (in a way) healing communities (which include many people from all the groups I just mentioned). Healing each other using all our tools is what matters to me most. And Art is my greatest, most joyful, and transformational tool.


4.  What is your spirit animal?

I really, really like Gorillas. I love Gorillas!! I think they are so inspiring on every level. I want to learn how to pound my chest that way…I know I can do it.


5.  What spaces in Northampton are you most curious to see inside of, or to make work in?

Geez, interesting question. I am praying for a lovely theatre to pop-up in Northampton – one that caters to dance and performance art.  We don’t have a space for live theatre, can you believe that?  The one we had for 25 years is gone, and there is a big hole now.

I love our town, I love the streets and the music life and the children and families… but I want a theatre!!!  If I had the dough, I would run one that has cutting edge theatre, political and original and edgy, did I already say edgy? I’d like to curate a series of theatre/dance/poetry that wakes us all up. It’s too easy to fall asleep.


6.  What are some strategies you use to sustain your art practice (while living in the Northampton area)?

I am a lucky artist because I have my own studio in Florence in the Arts and Industry building. I have somehow been able to rent out enough space to other artists to keep my own work going. I also get to support other artists, classes, workshops, and rehearsals and that makes me happy. One time, there was a huge dance event at my studio and everyone was dancing for hours to this fantastic music and just lost in movement and I thought, “yes, this is where it’s at.” So making space for creativity and having space for creativity is a major, major resource. I am very blessed.

Also, I have found two artists who ‘get’ me.  They get my humor and they share my desire to use art to heal ourselves, but also to make kick-ass art. It’s possible – but you can’t skip over the pain, resistance, shame, fear and anger that arises when you go to the heart of what you are trying to express. You can’t go around the pain, you have to include it in what you are making. So having a collaborators who are willing to go deep like that is key for me, it feeds me.


7.  What 5 items do you always carry with you?

My nose. My laugh. The word “Crap.” I love that word. Hair elastics. A hug.


Rythea, Patrick Crowley, Rose Oceania = Zany Angels

Rythea, Rose, and I at our 2005 gallery reception for our art exhibit. We’re standing in front of an improvised collaborative mural we’d just created together as our guests watched!




  1. Gineen says:

    May 18th, 2011at 6:45 pm(#)

    great article!

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