UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 10 Summer 19 Library
Credit: Jack Looney
Virginia Film Festival

VAFF Special Guest Kelli O’Hara Visits UVA Drama

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Any actor knows a thing or two about feeling vulnerable, and few situations bring that out more than a master class. There you are, surrounded by your peers, performing for a teacher who is ready to help--or sometimes pounce--at any time during your monologue or song. Now imagine that the teacher is a Tony-winner and one of the most acclaimed Broadway actors of her time. Now you know how five UVA Drama graduate and undergraduate students felt last November when they had a chance to perform for Kelli O’Hara. O’Hara, a guest of the 2018 Virginia Film Festival for her actor-producer role in husband Greg Naughton’s film The Independents, won a Tony in 2015 for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her role as Anna in the Broadway revival of The King and I. New York Times critic Stephen Holden hailed her as “Broadway’s golden girl and luminous star.” She has turned in celebrated Broadway performances in shows including Nice Work if You Can Get it, The Pajama Game, Sweet Smell of Success, Follies, Dracula, and Jekyll & Hyde. She is known to film and television audiences from her starring role in of the second season of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and roles in Sex & The City 2, The Good Fight, N3mbers, and more. 

Kelli O'Hara working with UVA Drama MFA student Alisa Ledyard in master class.
(Photo: Jack Looney)

“We always love to work with departments across Grounds whenever we can to provide exposure to our guests,” VAFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa said, “and we have a long history of bringing actors and directors to the Drama department to meet with students there. I thought that in this case it would be a rare opportunity for them to learn from a person who is truly one of the best in the business, and she could not have been more generous with her time and her energy.” One of the benefactors of that generosity was Drama graduate student Sam Reeder, who said that O’Hara, despite her star status, could not have been more welcoming. “What I found most surprising was that she was able to blend this open generosity and warmth with her clear knowledge, and she was uncompromising without ever being unfair. Everything she said was in support of you getting better, and it was incredible to see she was able to translate her years of experience into helping others. Once I was in that chair, everything felt very human, which is amazing, because that is exactly what she was teaching.” Reeder chose to perform I Don’t Care Much, from the revival of Cabaret. Her reaction was something he will never forget. “I think the quote was roughly along the lines of ‘One of the most interesting things to watch on stage is someone teetering on the edge of brilliance and disaster. And to be willing to go to that place. That is where you are. That is the kind of thing that is going to make everyone in the room stop and say, what is going on with that guy?’” 

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