Olga El is an award-winning playwright, performance activist, and folkloric dancer who aims to educate and engage audiences in ways that inspire change—on the level of the personal, communal, or beyond—that will ultimately lead to a more just, compassionate, and healthy society. Soulful and ambitious, her work finds its foundation outside of conventional western traditions and serves as a platform for diverse stories that don't often have representation in mainstream art and entertainment worlds. Movement—particularly martial arts; aerial arts; and dances from North, West, and Central Africa as well as the Diaspora—is seamlessly interwoven into her work.
For 2023-2024, she's confirmed a residency with Liberation Theatre Company and Ma's House, where she will collaborate with the Shinnecock Nation on their ancestral lands. Though unable to attend all, she's also been offered Hedgebrook and VCCA residencies, was chosen for Theater of Change cohort at Columbia U, and was a semi-finalist for the June Bingham New Playwright Commission.
In 2022, she completed a fellowship at the Sewanee Writers' Conference; a writing residency at WCDH, a development cohort with Dramatic Question Theatre for Classics in Color, and she was a semi-finalist for a fellowship to the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center—the top 15% of almost 1500 applications.
A play she wrote and directed entitled 1001 Nights: Love Stories on Death Row (A Rock Opera) —in which the legendary Queen Scheherazade is re-imagined as a prisoner on death row— was commissioned in 2015 by Dixon Place, the Theatre for the New City, and the Jamaica Performing Arts Center where her company was honored with a dance residency. The full script was also solicited Off-Broadway by The Public Theater in 2015 and MCC in 2019. A Spanish-language version of the work has won numerous awards including a prestigious HOLA award for "Outstanding Musical Production" and a New York Latin ACE Award for "Best Musical." Premier Egyptian composer, the late Hossam Ramzy, called the work "inspiring."
She won a Brooklyn Arts Council Award, in the multidisciplinary category, which was used to present a work-in-progress excerpt of her new play Jaguar Woman in the fall of 2019, the full script of which was solicited Off-Broadway by MCC the same year. The script won 1st place in the international Writers' Digest 90th Annual Competition in the scriptwriting category in 2021.
She has performed for HBO, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Manhattan Neighborhood Television Network, Le Poisson Rouge, The NYC African Burial Grounds, The PlayStation Theater, Webster Hall, The House of Yes, Dixon Place, TED Med, The Park Avenue Armory, The Lincoln Center, and many more.
In March 2011 she founded The Kandake—a dance-theatre that combines social activism and community engagement with folkloric, modern, theatrical and experimental artistry. Through The Kandake, she has had the honor and opportunity to offer arts programming to marginalized populations such as women who were formerly incarcerated (or otherwise struggling with the system) and the children of sex workers from Mumbai. She began teaching dance in 2007 while studying writing at Pratt Institute. While at Pratt she directed the North African dance troupe Bastet and founded the charitable, community project Belly Dance for Change.
She regularly hosts free or low-cost workshops for the community, which have been funded in part by the Citizens Committee for New York City. As a writer she has also had the opportunity to review the best in NYC dance and theatre for Broadway World.
FOUNDER & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR