July 10, 2019

Spotlight on Faculty: Aaron Kelly

Aaron Kelly

I am Aaron Kelly (BFA, Theatre Technical Production & Design, 2000; MFA, Theatre, 2019). I was asked to write a profile of myself for the Theatre Department website so that you could get to know me. I was given four questions to inspire my writing. So, here it goes:

1. Who are you?

As I said, Aaron Kelly. I love my family (Evadne, Eagon, and Imogen, who is not named after the pop singer). I love canoeing in Algonquin Park. I am a teacher, lighting designer, and theatre manager. I am very excited to be joining the full-time faculty compliment in the Department of Theatre at York University. I have been working professionally in theatre production and design for 25 years. I have designed shows across North America, the South Pacific, and France. In addition to my design work, which primarily focused on dance, theatre, and event lighting, but has included set, projection and sound design, I have also worked extensively as a production manager and stage manager. For nine amazing years I was lucky to work fulltime for Factory Theatre in Toronto, Ontario. I was the Production Manager and Technical Director of the company and their theatre spaces. This allowed me to work with some of the most established theatre companies in the country and some of the most exciting and innovative companies forming in our communities. It was these experiences that led me to York to work with emerging theatre artist six years ago. I have spent the last six years supporting the student and department productions at York by working alongside the students in the Department of Theatre as a part-time faculty member and full-time staff. While I am constantly continuing to develop and create new art, I am also excited to be in a position to foster and encourage the next generation of theatre creators. I want to see these young artists reach into themselves and out to the world to make a difference.

2. Tell us about a creative or research project that you have been immersed in recently.

My most recent and encompassing theatrical project was the creation and performance of the exhibition Travels with My Family. Travels with My Family was an interactive art and photography experiment and exhibition in January of 2019. As part of my Master of Fine Arts degree at York University I designed, built, painted, and decorated a seedy motel room set. I then worked with actors to stage and develop narrative rich photographs. This was a huge project that spanned several years from the initial research through to designing and execution.

Travels with My Family, designed and conceived by Aaron Kelly
Travels with My Family, designed and conceived by Aaron Kelly

The full exhibition experience was an invitation to other potential creators to view the photographs. The invitation also included a request that they enter the world I created and use my set and the environment to tell their own stories and share them on social media using #motelkellyfornia. I welcomed over 1000 visitors to the motel which resulted in thousands of photographs, mini plays, and films generated by my guests and co-creators.

Throughout the creation and execution of Travels with My Family, I realized that I was creating more than an exhibit of photographs and scenographic design. In the spirit of my artistic career of collaboration, I was able to open a world to diverse artists to create and tell their own stories, which re-sculpted the intent and vision of my own creation. My co-creators (students, faculty, and the general public) redefined what it meant to be an audience and what it meant to participate in a performance. This was the most rewarding experience of this project.

3. What production or artist or scholar has had the most impact on you over the course of your career?

I first knew that I wanted a theatre career during high school, when I started working at The Second City. But I had always been interested in theatre and performance. I worked on and performed in student productions in elementary, junior, and high school. Most notably, in grade one I was a corn stalk in my school’s production of Wizard of Oz. At The Second City I became part of a team that was collectively creating theatre and comedy along with the audience for entertainment, but also social and political satire. I saw the power of theatre to make people laugh, think, and storm out of a room when pushed too hard. I knew that theatre could change people. It could introduce new ideas and new ways of thinking to audiences and it happened through a community, for a community. This was where I wanted to spend my life.

Travels with My Family
Travels with My Family

4. Is there an image or a quotation that inspires you?

The poster of a cat hanging from a tree limb and the caption saying, “hang in there.” Or, I once read a quote by photographer Andy Goldsworthy that said, “the difference between a theatre with and without an audience is enormous. There is a palpable, critical energy created by the presence of the audience.” I remember wondering, with my live performance brain, why is a photographer talking about theatre audiences? Then a switch flipped in my head, and I realized that every work that an artist creates performs, and without an audience it is meaningless. I was aware of my own importance as an audience and of my gratitude to an audience (of any size) of my own work. I don’t actually know if this is what Mr. Goldsworthy meant when he said this, but it is my wish that everyone creating (if they be audience, performer, sculptor, designer, photographer, or whatever) is open and gracious to the living relationship between those experiencing art happen. And, if at first you don’t get art, hang in there.