Alumni Profile: Kirsten Kelly '95

Kirsten Kelly '95


  • theatre/communication arts and sciences


  • The Juilliard School ’03, master of arts in directing



  • The List – feature documentary about homeless youth (projected release 2012-2013)
  • Asparagus! (Stalking the American Life) – award-winning feature documentary, DVD released 2008, PBS broadcast 2009

PRODUCTION MANAGER for three National Geographic Explorer episodes, “Science of Babies,” “Ultimate Hippos” and “Inside North Korea with Lisa Ling.”


  • The Wednesday Wars – director and co-author (with Calvin grad Brian Farish) of the play based on Calvin professor Gary Schmidt’s Newbery Honor Award-winning book
  • CPS! Shakespeare – co-creator, Chicago Shakespeare Theater 
  • Boy Gets Girl – Helen Hayes Nomination, Best Direction
  • Boston Marriage – After Dark Award, Best Director


When Kirsten Kelly, Calvin grad and freelance director and producer, explores new projects for film or theater, she asks herself a series of questions:  

“Does this project have value in the world? Is it illuminating humanity? Does it expand God’s world?” 

She attributes this approach to two things: her love of storytelling and the overall sense of purpose she absorbed as a Calvin student. 

Kirsten chose Calvin because it fit her current loves—basketball and liberal arts. “In high school, I loved everything. So Calvin’s liberal arts curriculum seemed to open a lot of doors.” Soon, she found herself cast in a play by the Calvin Theatre Company, and basketball became less important. 

“Basketball was hugely important to me and it was my bond with my dad. But life took a few new turns when I got to Calvin—as it does for everybody.”

In theater, Kirsten found friends and faculty who shared her passion for the arts, people who became her Calvin family and helped shape her future. As a senior, she participated in Calvin’s Chicago Semester Program, where she was hired as the first intern at Chicago Shakespeare, a fledgling theater company.  

“There was something I connected with here—watching, listening, storytelling with visual images as well as words. It was at Calvin, in the last semester of my last year, where I found my very own direction. And it was CTC (Calvin Theatre Company) and the experience with the faculty and fellow students that gave me the courage to follow that direction.”

Kirsten graduated from Calvin and stayed on at Chicago Shakespeare for the next six years. She left in 2000 to attend The Juilliard School, where she earned a master of arts in directing. Chicago Shakespeare beckoned again, and Kirsten returned to develop a new program that cast Chicago public high school students and teachers in productions like Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet. From there, career opportunities and new projects just kept coming.  

Today, Kirsten Kelly lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently working on a feature documentary about homeless teenagers in Chicago.

VERGE: spring 2011

First-Year Experience