Front & Center

Front & Center

A couple of years ago, Illinois-born actor and entrepreneur Kelly Hummert took on a mission to make theater more relevant to audiences of all ages. She had worked in New York City, but wanted to establish an innovative theater company near her hometown in St. Louis—something that would break barriers and reach across generational divides. “I talked with friends in the theater business, and we discussed problems facing the industry,” says Hummert, who grew up across the river in Breese and studied at Webster University. “We realized that people who buy ticket subscriptions usually are older. It’s great to have their support, of course, but we also wanted to appeal to other generations.” So she began thinking about ways to encourage younger crowds to share her passion.

She decided to bring her own brand of ‘immersive theater’ to town, launching Rebel & Misfits Productions here in 2016. Also known as interactive theater, the concept focuses less on stage acting and more on involving viewers. Shows can take place at any location, and audience members play active roles, making each performance unique by injecting their own thoughts and feelings.

Hummert sees the new company as a vehicle to introduce audiences—especially younger ones—to the magic of immersive performances. “It’s all about destroying the idea of a passive spectator,” she explains. “I love traditional theater, but I think this new form is even more active and exciting. With immersive theater, the emotions are immediate.” Performers stand on the same level as the audience, looking them in the eyes and letting them share their feelings. “As an actor, I can read people’s body language and gauge how hard I’ll have to work for their trust,” Hummert says. “The play becomes a shared, sacred thing that we create. It may make some people feel a little unnerved, but that discomfort means they’re taking a risk, and that’s when great things happen.”

She says she doesn’t confine herself to one genre when selecting plays to perform. She is trained as a Shakespearean actor but also loves to tell modern stories. “I enjoy choosing concepts that are relevant to current happenings and emotions,” Hummert says. “We often put on pre-show events that help weave the actors and audience into the story. It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt. We’re all trying to find and fetch the experiences of other people.”

A recent Rebel & Misfits production, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, took place this past summer at New Jewish Theatre’s Black Box venue with Hummert in the role of Pony. “The play is supposed to remind us that we’re not alone, and we are all going through similar things,” she says. “It did exactly what I wanted it to.” Next on the horizon is an immersive version of Macbeth at a location to be announced. “It will be in a private place, and we’ll let the space inform how the show is performed,” Hummert explains. “Participants will get their roles beforehand and travel to the location by bus. It will be a mind-blowing experience.”

Hummert adds that she looks forward to seeing how St. Louisans react to Rebel & Misfits as the company gains attention. “Anyone can walk away from a stage show and say, ‘Oh, I liked that play,’” she notes. “But after an immersive experience, they can say, ‘I really understood the story, and without me, it wouldn’t have happened the way it did.’”

upcoming shows
a doll’s house, part 2 | through Nov. 4
A sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century play at The Rep
macbeth | through Nov. 10
Rebel & Misfits Productions’ immersive retelling of the Shakespeare classic
aladdin | Nov. 7 through 25
Disney’s hit Broadway musical at The Fabulous Fox Theatre