Baron Kelly’s balancing act of a teacher and actor

Aug 10, 2016 at 12:37 pm
Baron Kelly
Baron Kelly

Baron Kelly, the newish director of the African American Theatre Program at the University of Louisville, is almost too good to be true. He’s got an impressive academic career, and a list of professional credits as long as your arm.

But what makes him most interesting to this arts writer is his attempt to reach out from academia and interact with the community. He’s worked with Portia White of the Shawnee Arts and Cultural Center, reached out to other local institutions like the Commonwealth Theatre Center (formerly Walden Theatre), and even given audition tips to high school students from the Youth Performing Arts School.

“There’s got to be a way to marry the two and enjoy the academic life, and still enjoy the professional world,” Kelly told LEO. He quickly added, “When I came into Louisville, I said there’s got to be a way we can broaden things. I’ve always wanted to branch out, wherever I go … I give back with what I know — which is the theater.”

Growing up in Spanish Harlem, Kelly was known more as a brain than as an artist. “Everybody thought I would go to a specialized school for science or math,” Kelly said.

But he had a strong love for old movies. Then, a middle-school teacher encouraged him to audition for the School of the Performing Arts, famous as the setting of the musical film, “Fame.” He got in.

While in high school he began getting gigs, and after graduation stayed busy as a New York-based actor in the early ‘80s. He was getting work, so at first he didn’t even consider college. While in his early ‘20s, another actor convinced him to try out for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Again, he gained entry.

After he received a diploma from RADA, he stuck to acting for a while. “I led the actor’s life, living out of bags and stuff.” This period included several gigs at Actors Theatre under Jon Jory.

Eventually he rejoined academia, earning a master of fine arts degree in acting from California State University, Long Beach. He got an itch to study theater history and got a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.

Along the way he’s worked at Harvard University, been a three-time Fulbright scholar and amassed that aforementioned as-long-as-your-arm list of credits. “But I was constantly working as a professional actor at the same time,” Kelly said.

Kelly has just finished his third year at UofL, where, he said, it’s his goal to help students do what he’s done — learn to balance their pursuits. “I thought that maybe I could show students that you can do the practical and the theoretical.”