Tony Award-winning actor and UW–Madison alumnus André De Shields paid a visit to his alma mater on his “day off” last Monday, to see the new exhibit that honors him at Alumni Park.
De Shields, who graduated from UW–Madison in 1970 with a BA in English, has achieved an international reputation as one of the leading stage actors of his era. His role as Hermes in the musical “Hadestown” earned De Shields a 2019 Tony Award for best actor in a featured role. He is currently playing the role of Ben Loman in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
The Wisconsin Alumni Association celebrated the fifth anniversary of Alumni Park by unveiling 11 new alumni honorees and their exhibits featured in the park, including De Shields, in late September. But De Shields was unable to attend the celebration due to his packed performance schedule.
Instead, De Shields decided to fly to Madison and see the exhibit on a Monday — the one day of the week he has off.
While on campus, he stopped by the Education Building to meet with Dean Diana Hess and School of Education faculty members across the arts.
“We discussed the importance of the Department of Theatre and Drama to our School and campus more broadly and our enthusiasm for the recent growth in the department and for the new faculty who have been recently hired,” said Hess.
De Shields also spoke about the importance of theater for society during this meeting, said Faisal Abdu’Allah, the associate dean for the arts in the School of Education and a professor in the Art Department. De Shields said he sees theater as “a house that houses all the arts.”
“It was inspiring to learn more about Andre’s story and hear his perspectives on the power of theater,” said Kate Corby, the chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama and a professor in the Dance Department. “It was instructive for me to learn that Andre was never cast in a mainstage show at the UW. This was a powerful reminder that over 50 years later we must continue our work on our campus to ensure that the practice of theater is indeed for everyone.”
Baron Kelly, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, said he enjoyed listening to De Shields talk about his time as a student. “He wants to make sure the money from the scholarship (through the André De Shields Fund) is able to help other people pursue their dreams in a way he wasn’t able to here.”
The André De Shields Fund, launched in 2020, recognizes De Shields’ significant achievements in the performing arts, and his example as an African American actor who journeyed to stardom. The Fund supports artistic projects and performances that are created, performed, designed, or produced by individuals from underrepresented groups, or that examine or portray issues related to diversity, equity, social systems, or injustices against marginalized groups and their stories of resistance and their right to belong.
After the meeting in the Education Building, De Shields attended a student performance at the Play Circle at Memorial Union and participated in a Q&A that was facilitated by Chris Walker, the director of UW–Madison’s Division of the Arts and a professor in the Dance Department. He then attended a dinner hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and connected with local alumni who were his classmates at UW.
“It is inspiring that an actor currently starring in a Broadway play took the time to visit us, and we especially appreciate the time he spent with students,” remarked Hess.