UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 10 Summer 19 Library
Credit: Ashley Twigg

Continuing Connections - Colleen Kelly Receives the Ginny Award

Think about the best teachers and the best mentors you have had in your life. No matter their disciplines or areas of expertise, they all have a single thing in common. They all have made an impact that lasts far beyond your time in their classrooms. Last October, a former student got to share that impact with his mentor and with a room full of theatre professionals when Stefan Sittig (College ‘94) presented Colleen Kelly with the “Ginny Award.” Bestowed by the Virginia Theatre Association, the awards honor artists who have had an impact on theatre in Virginia, around the country, and around the world. “Colleen Kelly,” Sittig told the crowd that night, “is not just a teacher. She is a force of nature.” 

25 years removed from his days in the Drama Department, Sittig, now a George Mason University professor, still considers himself very much Kelly’s student. “Every day of my theatre career, whether I am teaching my own class at George Mason, or in rehearsal directing a scene, choreographing a musical number, or staging a fight, Colleen is with me,” he said. “I ask myself almost on a daily basis, ‘What would Colleen do?’” Asked recently to describe what set Kelly apart, he talked about the standards she set for herself and for her students. “It was about her rigor, her ability to pass on vital information and train and teach us. She was always all about the hard work, and she pushed me in really important ways. There is a total humility about what she does and the way she does it. There is no ego at all. It was all about sweat and hard work.” It was also, he said, always all about safety. “I was in a movement class with her, a dance class, and stage combat. Her emphasis was always on safety and on craft and development and training, and not the showy party of theatre that many teachers focus on.” These safety lessons, he said, have paid off both for him and for his students. “Colleen always puts safety first, which doesn’t always happen in what is a male-dominated industry where a macho attitude is pretty common. She is all about recognizing that you need this body as an actor, and you can’t afford to injure it. Thanks to the strong foundation in safety she provided,” he added, “I have never injured myself doing stage combat. And I recently choreographed a production of West Side Story with 30 young people and 15-20 performances, and there was not one injury. That’s a lot of Jets and Sharks!” The awards banquet also allowed Sittig and Kelly to catch up, not as teacher and student, but as colleagues. “Colleen has always been 100% respectful of me and my career,” he said, “and that evening we got to catch up after the ceremony. She was very focused on me and what I was doing, and I was able to get some great advice. I am now teaching my first unarmed stage combat class at George Mason, and it was especially wonderful to get her insights and her stamp of approval. To hear her say, ‘You’ve got this. You are ready to do this,’ is everything a student dreams of hearing from a mentor.”

Drama has so much to offer!

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