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Assigned Reading: Baron Kelly PhD’03

Theatre professor Baron Kelly PhD’03 shares his recommended reading material.

Esther Seidlitz
February 03, 2022

“The beloved Dr. Baron Kelly joins Odyssey faculty!” 

You need only read the title of the article announcing Kelly’s arrival in 2020 to know that he’s been a valuable addition at the UW. Kelly has worked with the Odyssey Project, a program focused on inspiring low-income adults and youth to pursue higher education and find their voices through the humanities, since its inception in 2003. That year, Kelly finished his doctorate in theater research, and up until 2020, he was returning to campus a week or two at a time to teach drama in Odyssey courses. 

In 2019, the dean of the Division of Continuing Studies, Jeff Russell, convinced Kelly to come to the UW on a full-time basis. It wasn’t easy to pull this four-time Fulbright Scholar away from his other projects. With his MFA in acting from California State University, a diploma from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and an appointment as a cultural specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Kelly was travelling all over the world. He had also been acting in Los Angeles and in theaters across the country. 

In the fall of 2020, Kelly took on concurrent faculty roles within both the Odyssey Project and the Department of Theatre and Drama. Despite putting a pause on his travels and returning to Wisconsin during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly is pleased with the move. “In the eye of the hurricane, [I’m honored] to be invited to make art and publish. Last year was a red-letter year for me as far as creativity and scholarship.” 

And his success is continuing into 2022. In April, Kelly will be inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He’s also working on his second book, adding to his large collection of published works, which includes An Actor's Task: Engaging the Senses. While Kelly’s writings are largely focused on theater, his reading interests are broad. This, he explains, is because of his status as a Gemini.

My assigned plays include:

I like to read:

There’s not one particular thing because my interests are so wide and varied — a plethora of all kinds of material, to tell you the truth, from classical music to the brand-new biography on Malcolm X that has just come out, to acting technique, to history. 

I always wanted to read (but never got around to):

Vivian Maier … was a phenomenal amateur photographer in the 1950s and ’60s shooting street scenes. They have a tremendous artistic quality to them. She was able to capture the life of these people in New York and Chicago. As an actor, my imagination is going off the charts wondering what was happening with these people at the time that these shots were taken. 

The book(s) I read again and again:

Have you ever heard of the saying “and this too shall pass”? That’s Kahlil Gibran. [His] sayings and writings keep people positive through all kinds of challenges that may arise in their lives. Certainly during COVID.

Norman Gilliland, who is one of the hosts on a classical music broadcast Wisconsin Public Radio — he’s a fixture in this community. I met him [when I] was giving an interview on NPR. I told him, “Your book helped me through COVID, man,” because every date there’s a different story summarized dealing with particular classical music composers — the behind-the-scenes sort of gossip and dirt and little things. It’s just wonderful to read that. 

The book everyone should read:

[Leland] spent a year among people who were 80 years and older and gathered their stories. People shunt the elderly aside, [but there are] lessons that we can learn from these people that have had to deal with many kinds of challenges — loss and debilitating health — and how their choices of happiness sustain them through their lives. Sometimes I have to put the book down and go, “God, we’re all headed that way.” It doesn’t matter what age we are. We’re all headed that way.  

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