University of Iowa gains Broadway actress Caroline Clay as professor

Clay will become a Hawkeye and join the faculty in fall 2021 as lead acting professor.



Delaney Orewiler, Arts Reporter

The University of Iowa added a Broadway and television actress as its next lead acting professor on June 16.

Caroline Clay was born in Washington, D.C., and has performed in numerous Broadway shows, such as “Little Foxes,” “Doubt,” and more. Clay has also held roles on several TV shows, most notably the role of Cece Colvin on “Grey’s Anatomy” – a role made specifically with Clay in mind.

When Clay came to Iowa City for her initial interview with the UI, she said she felt an overwhelming sense of community. With Black Lives Matter and Pride items, including banners, posters, and flags in the windowsills of countless Iowa City businesses, she had a feeling it was a place she would be welcomed.

When she was chosen as the lead acting professor, she said it confirmed her feelings.

“When I was announced as the next lead acting professor, there was an overwhelming outpouring of grace, elegance, and community,” Clay said. “This came from other faculty members, students, and the entire community.”

This outpouring of support is one of the reasons Clay was interested in Iowa in the first place. In an interview via Zoom during her job application process, Clay said she noticed there was an uneven ratio of white people on the screen and did not hesitate to bring it up.

“No one got defensive, and everyone sat in it. I wasn’t even hired then. But I was like ‘OK, these are colleagues that will sit in the truth.’ Because isn’t that the actors’ charge? To tell the truth as they see it?” Clay said. “To embody the playwrights’ words and to reflect to the audience the hopes, dreams, joys, disasters, desires, all of those things. And as a result of bearing witness, the audience can emphasize, feel catharsis, cry, and laugh.”

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Clay said she is excited to bring the “glitter” to the UI theater department. With her time spent in New York and on Broadway, she understands the necessity of work in public relations.

Hard work is always important, she said, but if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it still falls, but it will make no impact.

“The nuts and bolts are all great and important, but where are the posters? Who is our guest star?” Clay said. “To do incredible work in a vacuum is just not interesting to me. What is interesting to me is that these students have an experience, a performative experience. An experience where they, upon graduation, have a tool kit with which whether they go into acting or become administrators or teachers regardless of where they see themselves in the umbrella that is considered the arts that they are equipped and ready.”

Clay also intends to help her incoming students claim their joy, she said.

“It is not your job to enter the room with a rolling suitcase of trauma. It just isn’t,” she said. “When I was a young actress, we were doing plays steeped in the recovery from unspeakable trauma. And now it’s freeing up, so Black people can just tell stories that don’t have to focus on the fact that they’re Black, or Puerto Rican, or Indigenous.

“How about just telling a story where you happen to be of color, or where you happen to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community? I am so excited about this next wave of irreverence- sort of kind of being like, I don’t mind shaking and rattling the cage and saying ‘I too, have a right to joy and healing’, and that will be a driving force in my artistic voice.”

Clay will join the UI faculty in fall 2021, and is sure to bring with her the wit, wisdom, and immense amount of courage she’s gained from her numerous years of acting.

Clay said her favorite quote — and the one inspiring the attitude she plans to carry with her to her time at the UI — is from William Shakespeare’s play, King Lear: “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”