FREEDOM IS THE ULTIMATE ACHIEVEMENT
Thanks to the kindness of The Silverman Group, Inc and Senior Account Executive, Amanda Berrios, Let's Play had the pleasure to interview Volta's Artistic Director, Ron Kellum. Ron, who is a director and producer, has experience ranging from sports entertainment to circus, theater, film, and television. He joined VOLTA as the Artistic Director in 2018 where he manages the cast and crew and oversee the evolution of the show while maintaining the highest standards of artistic quality for this $40 million dollar production.
Prior to directing VOLTA, Ron has also worked as the Artistic Director on Cirque du Soleil's internationally acclaimed success KOOZA, served as a Senior Producer for e2k, Co-Director for the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii and Co-Producer for the NFL Pro Bowl United Way Thanksgiving Half-Time Show. He also produced the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team Launch at Paramount Studios, as well as several high-profile press and VIP events for Monster CES in Las Vegas.
His directing and choreography credits include Iron Man 2, starring Robert Downey Jr. as well as the musicals Chicago, The Color Purple, A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Rent, Once On This Island, 5 Guys Named Moe, Ain't Misbehavin and Smokey Joe's Cafe. As a performer, Ron has appeared on Broadway in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Chicago and toured nationally in Aida, Dreamgirls, Fosse, and Chicago.
Read on as Ron Kellum shares a spirit-felt interview with Rick and Brenda McCain.
IN CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER RON KELLUM
LP: Ron, welcome to the Let's Play family.
Ron: Thank you for the warm welcome, and I'm so happy to see you two again. It's so good to be back here in Chicago and to be working on this project, Volta here at Soldier Field. Chicago gave us such a lovely welcome and support when I was here for Jesus Christ Superstar in Aurora, so when they said Chicago was one of the touring cities, I was so excited.
LP: Ron, your role is to oversee the evolution process? Explain to us what this entails, and how you maintain the artistic quality of the show?
Ron: Great question. Volta is very different than the theater world because this show is birth before I get it. There are the creators, called the "conceptors" that built and conceived this show about two years ago. It took six months of production and then the show is put on the road.
Then they hire someone like me who comes in as the artistic director (A.D.) and my job is to maintain the integrity and the story while at the same time evolving it so that the show continuously gets better; which is different than the Broadway model where the show is open and set. What we do as an A.D. is to make the story stronger, tighter, and better while maintaining the original foresight of the visionary's vision.
LP: Ron, with regards to making it better, when the creation is set, like Volta, how do you continuously mold its evolution?
Ron: Well, you know that's very interesting, and it took me a while to learn this; the show can change every day. I'm dealing with world-class athletes, and things happen. It's like a track star pulling a muscle. You got to either find another person to fill that role or change the act.
The great thing about Volta is that the audience will always be blown away by these great performers because we put on the absolute best every single night.
LP: Ron, your experience as a director and producer range from sports to theater, to television and film is impressive. Tell us a little about each, and how it has helped you prepared for being the Artistic Director for Volta?
Ron: Wow! That's one of the best questions anyone's ever asked me, and I'm going to tell you why. I started theater as a kid at twelve years old, and I just have to tell this quick story because I stand on the shoulders of two amazing parents. I'm from Denver, Colorado, born in Texas but raised in Denver but what's interesting is I went to my dad in the seventies and said dad I want to dance.
Well, my brother was a football player, and my dad said to me, son, I don't know anything about dancing. But one day we passed this dance studio on Colorado Boulevard, and I said, dad can we stop at the studio, and one night we stopped.
It was about six o'clock at night after my dad got off from work, he ran a gas station in the seventies, and we stopped at the studio, and when the door open, we saw several little white girls in pink tutus and tights.
Then this beautiful lady walked over to us and said, "can we help you," and my dad said, my son wants to dance. She asked me if I wanted to dance, and I said yes, and he let me stay. When we couldn't afford the tuition, my dad made a way and my mom supported; so, I've been doing this my entire life.
When I completed my college education, I got my first Broadway show. Broadway welcomed me, and I got to perform in several shows for over a twelve year period, but I wanted to know, what's next. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the best directors and choreographers in the business, so I've learned a lot, and theaters started calling me to direct.
Then the sports entertainment industries called me, and I was able to direct the NFL Pro Bowl halftime show for the last eighteen years. After that, film industries contacted me, and then Cirque Du Soleil's called; so every single thing that I've learned prepared me for this job which has been the hardest and best job I've ever done.
LP: You worked as A.D. in Kooza, which was written and directed by David Shiner, who had previously worked as a clown in Cirque Du Soleil's production of Nouvelle Expérience. Describe to us your humble beginnings and how you feel today being such a successful A.D. and a part of Volta?
Ron: That's what's cool about this company. Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque Du Soleil, was a street artist and a street performer, so the culture is from the street. What I love is that we still honor the artist as artists from the street. We've got these BMX guys that ride bikes in swimming pool. We have a world-class Japanese Double Dutch team in the show like what you would see on the streets of Chicago; which is our culture.
With regards to my humble beginnings, it helped me maintain who I am as a person. My resume is more of the story of the journey and not the sense of my accomplishment; more like one lead to another. My first agent assigned to me in 1991 gave me the best advice any person has ever given me. She said, be on time, do good work, be likable and you wouldn't stop working; and I couldn't believe it could be that simple. She never said be the most competitive, or be the best. She said, this business is small, and your name is all you will ever have.
I can honestly tell you that the women, men, and teachers that inspired me, like Dr. Joyce Davis in Denver Colorado who was always there telling me to be your best and always leave the place better than it was before you got there helped mold me.
So I say this all the time which is something I mentioned on the very first day at Volta, I am here to be of service. My job is to give each of you a platform that is safe to do your best work possible. The story is about understanding that we are good enough and that we are good enough as we are. That makes me feel blessed!
LP: Ron, share a little about your work with shows like Chicago, The Color Purple, Dreamgirls, A Chorus Line, etc. and how this help mold the person you are today?
Ron: With me being around other amazing talents, when I was performing, I never felt like I was competing for the job, I always felt like I was happy to get the job. When I did get the job, I was also surrounded by other amazing artists that would pull me up and help me. I was able to grow in the theater world with the help of my brothers and sisters in the arts, guiding and encouraging me. They would challenge me and say, is that the best you can sing that song?
I'll never forget when I got the call to be the understudy in Dream Girls, and Jennifer Holliday had just come back to the show. I was C.C. (C.C. White) understudy, and I was terrified. I said to myself, I'm going to get the chance to sing with Jennifer Holliday. What I loved was, there wasn't a Diva energy in the cast, it was more of, are you ready and what do you need to do to become prepared to perform, and that really helped me grow.
LP: Volta's overall mission statement seems to be this, "Being true to oneself, fulfilling one's true potential, and recognizing one's own power to make it possible. Ultimate freedom comes with self-acceptance, and with the liberation of the judgment of others. Tell us, how do you help preserve that mission?
Ron: Well, one thing I am very clear about is when people walk into this environment, I never say I'm in charge, however, while I'm in the role of being the steward of this place, it has to be safe. Everyone has to be on the same page, and we need to support each other without judgment.
My job is to help them be their best. I provide this for all of my artists. If there is someone under my stewardship or on the other team that feels that their light needs to shine brighter, I say let's go find a place for you where it can, however, while you are here, we all are about making one light shine. I'm thankful that it's the spirit of this show which embodies the spirit of the people that are here at Volta.
LP: I went to your Facebook page and saw pictures of you with your parents. Tell us about how proud they are about your success and being a part of Volta?
Ron: My parents have given me the foundation for my spirituality. I was raised in the church, and I'm still a firm believer. They were entrepreneurs. My dad was one of the first black men in the United States to run a major oil company gas station, Phillips 66 in the seventies.
They still support me in my career and never wanted me to slow down. My parents installed in me that sense of "don't play small," (fears, insecurities, low self-worth) but don't leave any crumbs and be the best; so I've always had this strong work ethic, and that's why I look up to my parents so much in this season of my life.
I'm responsible for 50 souls every day. The artists are like my children because with the high amount of risk they take to perform their stunts; I have to make sure I cover them the best way I can and give them the platform that they can do their best.
LP: Ron, your Facebook page also states you were a student for Manuel High School in Denver, which is one of the oldest schools in the area and one of the first schools in Denver to educate African-Americans. I want you to go back and speak life to another young Ron to help them see how they can be this successful person you are today?
Ron: Wow! You two are killing me here (tears flowing). I would say to the young Ron, that you are good enough! The visions that you have, the dreams that wake you, will carry you a long way. Be mindful of the people that you surround yourself with, hold on to your faith and remember the lessons you have been taught.
LP: Talk to our readers about overcoming some of the mental bullyings we face today, and how we can rise above it and still be exceptional?
Ron: Listen, this is a significant issue, especially at this time that we're living in. I think as African Americans first of all that people don't realize that when you were born into our reality, you have to come strong, you have to be really armored up and those mental lessons that we get early on help to build our armor to handle those hard times in life.
Unfortunately, bullying seems to be the fabric of our DNA, but if we recognize that we will not let it defeat us and face it with the understanding that we will get through; it's how we respond to it that's crucial to how we overcome it.
I loved when Michelle Obama said, "When they go LOW, we go HIGH," which was one of the most inspirational things I've heard in a very long time. It is really the mark of how you survive it; you have to go high every single time. Then you have to re-invest in yourself and remind yourself that you're good enough. I think that as a young gay black man and now being an adult gay black man in our culture our experience and a man of the church, bullying comes in many different ways; from your relatives to the pulpit.
What I had to learn, however, is that it doesn't separate us, it's actually brought us closer, we just had to grow, learn and allow the generational gap time to catch up with each other. By striving to do our personal best and not letting bullying break us, will enable us to armor up and shine in places like Volta where we can say, this is who I really am!
Let's Play would like to thank The Silverman Group, Inc again for allowing us to interview Ron Kellum. It was a spiritual-felt interview filled with laughter, jokes, and tears. Ron, you are now a family member of Let's Play.
Soldier Field, Chicago IL
Cirque Du Soleil's VOLTA
May 18, 2019 - July 6, 2019
Tickets starting at $49
Filed under: ChicagoNow