Alum spotlight: Lisa Kelly (MFA ’09)

woman looking into distance

Lisa Kelly, MFA in Dramatic Literature / Pedagogy, 2009

When Lisa was four, “I thought I was Annie,” but she transitioned to tech theatre in high school, mostly as a stage manager, “I was not that good of an actor, but I was really good at helping actors become better.”

While Lisa was getting her undergrad in Theatre from UNC Chapel Hill, she attended an SETC graduate fair and discovered VCU.  “It was amazing. I studied with Noreen Barnes-McLain and Aaron Anderson and even got into fight choreography with David Leong. I got to direct, stage manage, dramaturg and work in all aspects of theatre at a high level. We were engaging in the art of theatre, then talking about how we are going to teach these skills to next generation.”

Lisa Kelly, PhD

Lisa went to Northwestern for her PhD in Theatre and Drama. While in Chicago, she directed at festivals and served as dramaturg for several companies.

University of Iowa CIRTL workshop

Lisa currently runs the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) at the University of Iowa, where she collaborates with faculty, grad students and post-docs to improve teaching and learning.  “The way I approach my job is with a theater focus. I use ‘yes/and’ when discussing research. I teach communicating through improv, helping scientists get comfortable outside the labs. In general, it’s about trying to engage audiences and make them interested in the material. With grad students, I conduct mock interviews and give them feedback on voice and body language.”

Lisa Kelly at a University of Iowa recruitment event in Chicago

Lisa keeps her hand in theatre. She’s just been named Associate Artistic Director for Theatre Cedar Rapids. It’s been around since 1925 and is one of the largest community-based theaters in the country. They have an all professional staff, but all of the actors are volunteers. “So many people don’t want to do theatre for a living, but they still want to do their art. Plus, they get exposed to professional directors and designers. Something I want to do at TCR is bring some of my fellow VCU alums as visiting artists. I have lifelong professional friendships and networks from some of those grads, and it’s very important ten years later.”

Theatre Cedar Rapids “Matilda” rehearsal. Stage Manager Lisa Kelly

Sailing is Lisa’s “happy place.” Since Iowa is a land-locked state, she travels to Chicago on weekends for a getaway.

Theatre Cedar Rapids “Ada and the Memory Engine” rehearsal. Directed
by Lisa Kelly

Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the May 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.