Ron Kellum has worked in all sorts of fields – including broadcasting, performing, producing and directing. Now, though, he has taken on what he calls the most daunting task of his life – serving as an artistic director at Cirque du Soleil. The openly gay Kellum is in town now with Cirque’s new “Volta,” which has had a strong run since it bowed in the ATL earlier this fall.
He was recruited by Cirque four years ago. “I got married, went on a honeymoon and ran away with the circus,” he laughs. “My husband is still mad at me.”
Kellum was exactly what the company was seeking. “They had been looking for directors with a more theatrical background to look at some of their older shows and bring a new face and voice to those,” he says. “When the call came it was good timing in my career and a new challenge, probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever signed up for.”
It was an adjustment, however. “Literally you take on the responsibility for a $40 million show. Now you are in charge. It was overwhelming but you quickly learn how to deal with it,” he said.
“Kooza” was his first stint with the company. “It is one of our older projects, almost 15 years old,” he says. “It’s currently in the European market now but is coming back here. It’s the story of youth and innocence and how one finds their innocence and holds onto it. It’s poetic and timeless.”
He knew just over a year ago that he would be working on “Volta” as his second show. Unlike “Kooza,” it was a new production – and Kellum liked the fact that it was in its infancy and he’d have a chance to bring some new touches. Described as urban and contemporary. “Volta” showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics such as bikers hopping from rooftop to rooftop, a hair suspension act, a double dutch rope skipping and a BMX park. “Volta” premiered in Montreal and has played almost a dozen additional cities since, with Los Angeles and Mexico on tap soon.
It has been a learning curve going from a theater world to the life of Cirque. “When you come into a show, with a Broadway model, it is frozen. We have union guidelines and that show really doesn’t change. Once a Cirque show opens they keep it breathing and revolving. When an audience member sees it again later, we want them to look at it and feel that it’s different. My job is to determine how we can be more relevant. We don’t change the story or the integrity but we do look at the acts and where they can be.”
The top priority of his job is putting on the best show he can every night. On this particular day, he is dealing with a flu bug that is going around but is working with the cast and creative team – as well as some understudies – to determine how to make sure it’s a seamless night of entertainment.
Among his tasks pre-Cirque, he was in Broadway versions of “Chicago” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and in regional tours of shows such as “Aida.” He’s also worked as a co-director for the “NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii,” co-producer for the “NFL Pro Bowl United Way Thanksgiving Halftime Show” and as a choreographer for “Iron Man 2.”
In “Volta,” Kellum collaborates with a team of 70 artists, many of whom are LGBTQ. For him, it’s wonderful being in a climate that is so accepting of people.” I love it. It’s a magical place to work.”
Under the Big Top at Atlantic Station