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Odyssey August Newsletter

Emily Auerbach greets the new online Odyssey class.
Emily Auerbach greets the new online Odyssey class

Virtual class of 2021 feels real excitement

For the first time in Odyssey's history, we are beginning a new online-only class. The challenges are immense, as we will be working to create a warm community and life-changing effects without in-person discussions, hugs, performances, field trips, and shared meals. From securing laptops, stipends for Wi‑Fi access and food, child-care assistance and enrichment through an online Odyssey Junior, and creative approaches to online instruction, we are determined to pull this off for over 30 adults near the poverty level eager to begin their journeys with us September 2.

Students in the new class range in age from 20 to 57, and 94 percent are from communities of color. All have dreams and hope our program helps them overcome obstacles. One student observed during her interview, "Now that I have a child, I want to show her that I don't quit. No one in my family has graduated from high school or college." Another commented, "My girls are my push. I'm shy but open-minded and friendly. I used to like writing poetry. I would be the first in my family to go to college." Our new students have dreams of becoming nurses, teachers, lawyers, social workers, and writers, and we will do everything we can to empower them to reach their goals.
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The beloved Dr. Baron Kelly joins Odyssey faculty!

Baron with Corey, Jyneeva, and Tina.
Baron with Corey, Jyneeva, and Tina
We are delighted to announce that this month Baron joins us as a senior, tenured professor with a joint appointment between the Odyssey Project and the UW Department of Theatre and Drama. For Baron, this new appointment represents a return to the university where he earned his PhD in theater. He also holds a diploma from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, is a four-time Fulbright Scholar, and has starred and directed in numerous plays, films, and productions.

For all 17 years of the UW Odyssey Project, we have flown Professor Baron Kelly back to Madison to lead a transformative evening introducing our students to acting. Many find a powerful voice they never knew they had. Here are sample comments from the Class of 2020 after working with Baron in February before our in-person classes shut down:

"Working with Baron Kelly was mind-altering, inspiring, and motivational, igniting happiness and excitement within me."

"From our group performance of Macbeth to my performance of Fences to even improv acting, it was all a hoot even though my hands were shaking."

"Working with Baron Kelly forces you to come out of your shell and get out of your comfort zone, and he challenges you to be a bigger, better you."


Each year, Baron will introduce new Odyssey and Odyssey Junior students to vocal expression and to playwrights ranging from Shakespeare to August Wilson. He will also bring theater into Wisconsin prisons through our Odyssey Beyond Bars program and offer an Onward Odyssey acting techniques class for our alumni. As one student observed, "Having Baron Kelly with us more often would be like therapy because it lifts the confidence within us."

Powerful alumni responses to the pandemic and the protests

Odyssey staff and alumni meet online.
Odyssey staff and alumni meet online
Throughout the summer, Odyssey staff and alumni have gathered online on Wednesday nights to keep learning, share heartbreaking experiences, and support each other during these unprecedented times. We have explored vocabulary words ranging from asphyxiation to heterogeneity, viewed art by Faith Ringgold, Frida Kahlo, and other artists of color, sampled songs by Aretha Franklin and contemporary hip hop artists, and pondered quotes by Walt Whitman, Nelson Mandela, and others.

Most movingly, we have heard from Odyssey alumni in their own words. Here are a few samples:

"We're all dealing with a time in our history that none of us could have ever predicted we'd have to live through. One thing I know of Odyssey students is we have the ability to adapt and face the various situations we encounter. Now is the time to take care of ourselves emotionally and spiritually. That's what it is to be human. Love one another and show real concern. We'll get through this because we are Odyssey and we have the capacity to adapt." — James '13

"I was 14 years old in 1967 when Dr. King was killed and I remember the tanks rolling down the street in front of my house, the national guard telling us we had to stay in our homes. And now with everything happening since George Floyd's death, our city of Chicago is ablaze. My girls now have a new respect for me, their grandmother. My granddaughters ask me questions like I'm a relic. They ask me what they can do, in their twenties, to make change. I'm looking at the positives that are coming from this, and I'm grateful to be here with my family." — Oroki '07

"When I think about the words "I can't breathe," I think about how breathing is the essence of life. As a mom of two black sons, as a refugee, as an immigrant, as a woman, I'm just kind of sad as I think about the future, but I try to have a bit of hope." — Josephine '08

"I opened my eyes this morning just to realize I was still in this pandemic. If you come out of this lockdown with your sanity intact or even hanging by a thread, you're a warrior. If you come out of this lockdown while struggling with mental health, you're a warrior. It's okay if you don't get out of bed today, as long as you get up tomorrow." — Loche '20

"Never give up. We are going through troubled times, but never give up. When life gives you sorrow, never give up. Just remember things will get better. When you are faced with challenges, never give up. Just be brave and use your voice. Never give up." — Denise '05

Ways to support Odyssey

UW-themed masks donated to Odyssey.
UW-themed masks donated to Odyssey
Your support of Odyssey is more important than ever. From financial contributions to goods like these UW-themed masks, we thank you for your help!
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Questions? Contact Emily Auerbach • emily.auerbach@wisc.edu608‑262‑3733
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