Ellana Kelter lights up Esther’s Follies.
By Chad Swiatecki
Talent met opportunity for Ellana Kelter. The talent part is obvious, as anyone who’s seen the trained stage actress ham it up during her six years with Austin’s theatrical comedy institution can attest. The opportunity came with the rise of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis last summer, which gave Kelter and her cast members a chance to build a show about the charismatic and strong-willed politician. The result is the hilarious Wendy, Get Your Gun, which ropes Rick Perry, Ann Richards and the whole of Texas in a sendup of political life in the Lone Star State, with Kelter leading the way as Davis.
Kelter is a Wisconsin native who moved to Austin 10 years ago with her now husband. The role of Davis is a rarity for someone like Kelter because strong female leaders don’t often come up as potential characters for the Esther’s gang. Whether Davis wins her election in November, her prominence since a charged filibuster during last summer’s legislative session has given Kelter even more of a chance to shine at the theater where she hopes to take on management opportunities as the years go on. During a rare few days off from her rigorous weekly rehearsal and performance schedule, we talked to her about life off the stage.
On Powerful Women “I’ve always been in awe of women in power, like Hillary Clinton and even Sarah Palin, because of the demands of people in those positions. I wish grace and beauty could be accepted as part of the package rather than this exception we fixate on. I wish it could be more like the queen of Jordan [Rania Al Abdullah], who’s this stunningly beautiful woman and is a strong leader and very smart. So I feel like there may be a way to include beauty without it becoming an issue.”
On an Ideal Night In “We’re sort of nerds. My husband and I watch space videos and we’re really into the new Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, so we’ll watch that. We have a new puppy and I’m really into him, and walking him around. I also like to write and journal. We live on the Eastside and we’ll go out to Weather Up and Takoba if we go out. The cocktails and small menu at Weather Up [are]great.”
On the Death of Jokes “My friends and I tell jokes all the time, but we’re dorky and no one else tells jokes anymore. There’s that great quote from Lemony Snicket that everyone should know three poems, two jokes and one card trick in case they’re ever trapped in an elevator. Even my grandmother had a book of jokes she’d share at parties. Now we pull out a phone and show a YouTube clip at parties, which is its own thing and that’s fine, but that is something that’s been lost. It’s a lost art.”
On Why She’ll Never Do Stand-up Comedy “I’m terribly scared to be myself in front of a large group of people. When I have to be a maid of honor, I can’t stand to do the speech because I get so nervous. Up on stage, I’m this persona. I feel like stand-up requires a lot of joke writing. I can take material, find some more funny and add physical characteristics, but writing my own jokes, not so much. You have to be a little peculiar in the way you see the world, and then the way you regurgitate that back out.”
On Austin’s Transformation “We get to live in this incredible play land. As I’ve gotten older, it saddens me to see the city dealing with its grown-up issues. Seeing the commercialization that goes on during South By Southwest, there’s some great opportunities there but it’s also kind of disheartening. There’s also some real problems as far as race and opportunity, and problems with poverty. The city needs to deal with those issues.”
On Why Miley is Her Most Difficult Role “It sounds weird but Miley Cyrus has been toughest because I’m getting old enough to not understand it all. I come out in this ridiculously revealing costume and dancing all around to try to get some shock-value reaction, but inside my head I’m thinking, ‘This is insane,’ but that might just be my ethics. I don’t connect to it and even singing lyrics making fun of her. … I can fake it but internally I’m wondering, ‘Why am I twerking right now?’ ”
Photo by Kirk Tuck.