In Camelot Theatre's musical production of "The Producers," the role of Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson, the stunning Swedish singer/secretary/receptionist, is played by Kelly Jean Hammond. The production features a number of stellar performances and a great ensemble cast.
Hammond, a graduate of Ashland High School, earned a bachelor's degree in music from Notre Dame de Namur University and did some post-graduate studies at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco before returning to Ashland, where she now works as a buyer at Paddington Station by day and performs musical theater at night. We met at Starbucks in downtown Ashland.
EH: What roles have you played at Camelot Theatre?
KH: I love Ulla in "The Producers"; my other two favorites were Marguerite in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and Lucy in "Jekyll and Hyde." In "Gypsy," I was Miss Zeppa. I played the trumpet and wore a gladiator outfit. For the audition I said, "I only want to be the trumpet-playing stripper, that's the only part I want to play." Actually I lied a little bit at the audition; I told them I already knew how to play the trumpet. But I picked it up fairly quickly, and the whole point was to play the trumpet poorly anyway, so I think it was fine that I wasn't Louis Armstrong.
EH: Do you play other instruments?
KH: I play a lot of instruments not very well — piano, guitar. I played viola for seven years. If you handed me an instrument, I could play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Mostly I sang opera in college.
EH: How do you warm up your voice?
KH: If I'm belting, I do this really obnoxious one that's really nasal. I only do it in my car when I'm driving, so no one has to listen to it, because it's really loud. Then, if I'm singing legit, like soprano stuff, then I'll do a lot of sirens, also in the nose. When I sing, I visualize it physically, so I want the sound to be in this part of my head, or in my cheekbone here, or coming out from the bridge of my nose. Depending on what I'm singing, I have a vision of where I want it to come from in my head, and then I'll do a warm-up that makes the sound resonate there.
Everyone has their own way. Some people get really physical with the body when they're warming up, and other people, like me, need to be looking at the sheet music to say, "OK, this is how I'm going to sing this." Everybody has their own technique, and I guess that's mine.
EH: How would you describe the culture at Camelot?
KH: There is a bunch of passionate people doing some amazing theater. It's really exciting thinking that these are people who are doing this because they love to do it, not because they want a paycheck at the end of it.
I love singing. Any chance that I get to sing for a couple of hours every night, I will go do that. It is really freeing. The fact that we get to do it with such amazing performers is even better. There was a time when I wanted to do this as a profession, but now I'm just happy doing it on my own terms and doing it for fun.
"The Producers," directed by Camelot Artistic Director Livia Genise and starring Hammond, David Gabriel, Don Matthews and Peter Wickliffe, plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 20 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. For tickets and information, call 541-535-5250 or visit www.camelottheatre.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.