By Lynn Venhaus
Kelly Hummert doesn’t sit still for very long, nor does she stay on the sidelines of life. Not when she can convince people to see the world differently through theater.
She founded Rebel and Misfits Productions in 2016. As artistic director and producer, she has overseen four plays so far.
She has acted in three: Pony in “The Realistic Joneses,” Ophelia in “Hamlet: See What I See” and Olivia in “Sex with Strangers.”
Last summer, she directed “Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Misery,” an Immersive Theater Project. For their performances, both Andrew Michael Neiman and Jim Butz won awards from the St. Louis Theater Circle in March.
“My goal is to change the way people look at the world through my shows. That has not changed,” she said. “One goal that is evolving is to tour with my immersive work. I think there is a good chance that will happen this next year, which is thrilling.”
In creating the Immersive Theatre Project portion of her company, she wanted to tear down the fourth wall between spectator and performer, to involve the audience in a unique way.
Rebel and Misfits focuses on St. Louis premieres of works by other writers in NYC and Chicago.
Her latest production, “The Realistic Joneses,” opened July 25 and is running until Aug. 12. The play is a St. Louis premiere and has earned uniform rave reviews from local theater critics.
“(Playwright) Will Eno is a pal of mine, and I found this play to be a great accomplishment for him. It’s a very funny and a very rare, contemplative piece of theatre. After many years working on male-led pieces, he introduced us to these two women, who are very rounded and complete as human beings,” she said.
“I love him so much as a person and as a writer, and I felt it was an oversight that the play had not been produced here. He and I share a lot of the same ideas as storytellers. We like to take our audiences on a full journey, and we want them to leave changed somehow by what they have witnessed,” she said.
“It may be a more traditional play than St. Louis is used to me presenting, but it falls very much in line with my mission as a producer. Also, I felt that this was a great time to tell that particular story. For all its deep questions, at the end of the day, it reminds us that we are not alone, no matter if the world around us is literally falling apart.”
Alan Knoll and Kelly Hummert “The Realistic Joneses” Photo by Eric Woolsey
Kelly grew up in Breese, Ill., and graduated from the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts in 2003.
She performed in school musicals at Mater Dei High School and with metro-east community theaters Clinton County Showcase and Looking Glass Playhouse, but decided to concentrate strictly on acting, not singing, while in college.
After appearing in “Macbeth” at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, she headed to New York City. While living there for eight years, she appeared in five Broadway shows, a few movies and did other stage work.
She played Viola in “Twelfth Night” at Brooklyn Shakespeare Experience, Maggie in “After The Fall” with Stage 15 Productions, Medea in “Medea Redux” in The 24 Hour Plays at the Public, the New York premiere of Kato McNickle’s “Swimming In The Ocean,” and Helen in the workshop of “Warning: Adult Content at MCC.”
Film credits include “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Marconi Brothers,” “The Good Shepard” and “Across the Universe.”
Moonlighting as an event producer, she met her future husband, Amit Dhawan of St. Louis, managing partner of Synergy Productions.
She moved back to St. Louis to get married in 2011. Their daughter Lila Evangeline was born July 22, 2014, and she put the arts on hold for a while. She wanted to spend time being a mother.
Back at it locally, she has discovered that challenges are good, particularly with an eager local theater community.
“I have learned that this community has a real hunger for a good challenge, which is something I was wary of when I started out, especially given how popular the more established companies like the Muny and Stages are,” she said.
“The audiences here are very smart and very capable of accepting and interacting with change. They have become comfortable with being uncomfortable, which surprised me, and is something that delights me to no end.”
She returns to Shakespeare for her next project this fall. She won’t say what play, only that it is an Immersive Theatre Project.
“I don’t think I am ever going to tell the audience what play it is until after they buy their tickets and finally walk through the door. I’m not even revealing the final location. Even the actors have to sign a waiver saying that they will not reveal what piece we are doing,” she said.
“It’s a famous play, but my collaborators and I are mining it and devising it to give more credence to the themes we feel have been overlooked in the piece thus far. I want to challenge the expectations people have for this particular play, and the themes I am exploring are more interesting to me than what is written on the page,” she said.
“We are connecting these people in very intricate, deeply-woven ways. It would be a shame to say what it is because it would set up an expectation that I don’t plan on meeting,” she said.
“I am transcending the expectations and exploring a bolder way to tell this story so that the things I feel have been passed over in other productions are very much on display here,” she said.
“I can tell you it will be very sexy, very high-octane, very violent, and deeply moving. Some of the local actors attached besides myself and my Associate Artistic Director, Jordan Woods, are Spencer Sickmann, Reggie Pierre, Sophia Brown, Paul Cereghino and Aarya Locker. That’s just to name a few.”
Their lips are sealed, and the casting is not complete yet.
“I am very much in the honeymoon phase of creating it. I am bringing in Sean Patrick Higgins to perform the lead role, and we are co-directing and conceiving the piece together, along with Jordan.”
“I loved ‘Hamlet: See What I See,’ and I am very proud of it, but it really does pale in comparison to this one. The scope and the scale are crazy!” she said.
She is pleased that some top-shelf talent wants to be involved in Rebel and Misfits Productions.
“I’m proud that I have built a certain amount of trust with some really talented people, and that people can rely on the fact that if I am doing something, I am firing on all cylinders in order to create something new and interesting,” she said.
“I think that building trust and reliability is very important in this industry, and I want to be able to add something to the collective that is different and unique.”
Being involved in various aspects of the production is something she thrives on as well..
“Honestly, at a certain point, acting wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be calling the shots and really planting my flag as a producer and a director,” she said. “Acting is such a small part of what goes into a show. You only have a small amount of control over what you can add to the process.”
Producing and directing means you have total control of the vision.
“It matters immensely that the work I present is my vision and not someone else’s. It’s why I am for-profit. I don’t want a board of people telling me what I should or should not do,” she said.
“Controlling my own narrative is the best way for me to operate as an artist. I don’t have any constraints. My ideas are very specific and unique to me, and that drives the way I direct my company.”
Kelly wants her contributions to matter..
“Everyone who produces theatre should feel that what they, specifically, are doing is important. Otherwise, what are we doing? As far as attracting talent, I feel that ‘like’ attracts ‘like.’ I can create opportunities here that would be impossible in New York, so I have this city to thank for that, and I am completely grateful.”
‘TAKE TEN’ QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH KELLY HUMMERT
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
“From a young age, I knew that I felt emotions more deeply than my young age should have been able to comprehend. I found my true home in the arts. It was only there, on a stage, where I felt I could reveal my true self, and bare my soul. Telling stories can change lives, and that is what I want to do in this lifetime. Change lives.”
How would your friends describe you?
“Highly ambitious, fearless, creative, generous, thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent. A survivor. A fighter.”
How do you like to spend your spare time?“
Most of my spare time is caught between entertaining and being entertained by my 4 year-old. She is the greatest joy in my life. Also, my husband and I are crazy world-travelers. I love exploring new places and meeting new people.”
What is your current obsession?
“On TV. it’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Westworld.’ In regular life, it’s my daughter. Everything about her fascinates me. I feel like she will outsmart me within two years. She is so brave and kind and fearless.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“Probably that I am a good businesswoman. I actually ran a private club in New York City for five years while I was also performing onstage and learned how to run a business from some of the top businessmen in the world. I can work a room like it’s an art-form.”
Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“It’s actually quite sad, but I lost my boyfriend/soulmate when we were both 28. He was a very incredible actor and artist, better than anyone I’ve ever known. His loss defined me in a lot of ways. It taught me how to be resilient, how to appreciate every small moment, how to see beauty in absolutely everything. I learned that life is short. I learned how to forgive and how to move forward, even when it seems impossible. He taught me what kind of sacrifices you have to make for your art, and from his mistakes I learned how to remove toxic people from that process. Every piece I do, every show, every role, I dedicate to him. He is an angel watching over me, and I try to continue to honor his legacy. I try to do that anytime I pick up a project. I also keep that in mind when I am offered a project I know in my heart I don’t want to do. I only choose to work on things that will challenge me and catapult me forward. Always forward. Against all odds.”
Who do you admire most?
“I deeply admire Brit Marling. She is such an intelligent woman and a force to be reckoned with as a producer and as an actor. Her philosophy is that if you don’t see the kind of stories you love being made, make your own. Create something new and better.”
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
“At the very top? It would have to be producing my own shows not just across the country, but across the world. Bringing my art to the world in a huge way.”
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“I love the Art Museum. I love taking my daughter to our amazing Zoo. A good Cardinals game is always in order as well.”
“I am producing and acting in my pal Will Eno’s ‘The Realistic Joneses,’ directed by my friend Edward Coffield. We opened at the JCC New Jewish Theatre Blackbox on July 25 and continue through Aug. 12, and this play is a dream. My dear friend Isaiah Di Lorenzo plays my husband. Alan Knoll and Laurie McConnell are playing a married couple onstage for the first time. It will be something very intimate and special.
Simultaneously, I am creating a new immersive Shakespeare piece which will run in October/November. It is the boldest, most high-octane show I have ever conceived, and I am obsessed with it. I have some insane actors already attached to this project. The play itself will remain a secret until you walk in the door. We are mixing a lot of media – video, music, lights, etc. to create a completely immersive and original story. No one person will walk away untouched and unseen and unmoved. That is my guarantee.”
MORE INFO ON KELLY
Name: Kelly HummertBirthplace: Breese, Ill.Current location: St. LouisFamily: Husband: Amit Dhawan. Daughter: Lila Evangeline Dhawan. Dog: KiddoEducation: BFA in Acting at Webster Conservatory for the Theatre ArtsDay job: Same as my always job — Producer/Director. Also, Mommy.First job: I filed patient’s records at a doctor’s office. So, I’m pretty good with the alphabet.First role: I think it was a witch in “The Wizard of Oz”?Favorite roles/plays: Viola in “Twelfth Night.” Maggie in “After the Fall.” Hermione in “The Winter’s Tale.” Medea. This sounds weird, but, also Jack in an all-female version of “Lord Of The Flies.” Mrs. Walker in Tommy.”Dream role/play: If Lars Von Triers ever wants to make a stage version of “Dogville,” I dream of playing Grace. Lady Macbeth. Queen Margaret. Basically, anything Richard Crawford asks me to do for Sacred Secret Theatre in London, Hong Kong, and Singapore.Awards/Honors/Achievements: Invitation to join the LAByrinth Theatre Company from none other than Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Patrick Shanley. I got to go to JPS’s house for Thanksgiving every year. That was better than any award!Favorite quote/words to live by: My company was named after my favorite quote from Steve Jobs. “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”A song that makes you happy: “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit
Photos of wedding in Ladue News, St. Louis MagazinePhoto of Kelly Hummert and Chris Tipp in “Sex with Strangers”