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Arts & Life

Robert Hingula On Finding A Balance As Lawyer By Day, Actor At Night

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Julie Denesha
/
KCUR
In the dressing room of the Jewish Community Center's White Theatre, Robert Hingula prepares for his latest acting role.

During the day, Robert Hingula works as an attorney for one of Kansas City’s most prominent law firms.

But for the next few weeks, he’ll be spending his evenings as Shrek, starring in productions at the Jewish Community Center and at Shawnee Mission's Theatre in the Park.

For our series called Actors Off-Script, Hingula talks about his unusual dual life.   

Hingula got the acting bug doing Grease in high school in El Paso, Texas. It became dormant during all-consuming law school but then, with a little prodding, Hingula says, that bug resurfaced.

"When we came back to Kansas City from New York where I worked a little bit after law school, Theatre in the Park had auditions and one of the shows they were doing was Grease," Hingula recalls. "So my wife, being the very supportive person that she is, said, 'You know, you used to love doing this stuff. I used to love watching you on stage. It made you alive. Why don't you just go audition and see what happens?'

"So I went and auditioned, got the part of Kenickie, and really since then it's grown and grown and grown. For awhile I was doing one show a year, and now, I think this year I've done five. So it's an obsession now I suppose you can say."

How do you balance that and what does your employer think?

"Well, the people at my firm have always been very, very supportive, not only in allowing me to do what I do but also coming and coming and supporting shows that I've done in various venues.

"Yeah, well, I admit, are there some late nights? Absolutely. You know, you go in, you work, [you] come into rehearsal. With Shrek, for example, we rehearse at 6 p.m. and we go until 10 p.m., and it's not uncommon for me to go home and put in another two or two and a half hours afterwards, and then get up the next morning and do it all over again. But to me, this is my release. You know, coming into rehearsal and being able to do this is really, you know, what gets me going, what gets me through the day."

The composer of ShrekJeanine Tesorijust won a Tony [in June] for Fun Home, and her other scores are always about deep social issues, especially identity. Is there a level of sophistication to Shrek that people might not expect? Because it, too, is about identity.

"I think, yes. I think people are going to come into Shrek and bring their kids because they know the cartoon. This is one of those few shows that kids can come see, but the lyrics are so clever. And really what this whole thing is is: Who are you? Are you who people tell you who you are? Or are you who you want to be and you push naysayers aside? That’s what this whole story is about."

You've played heroes — Jean Valjean in Les Mis, for one, and you've played villains —Sweeney Todd the most famous. Where does Shrek fall within that range?

"I think he's both. I think Shrek is more of a Jean Valjean than a Sweeney Todd, for example. It's one of those … the perception that he's a villain. But deep down inside, he's had a tough childhood. It's almost a life self-fulfilling prophecy. I've [as Shrek] become angry and a miser because everyone says I'm angry and a miser and I need to live by myself. And through it he learns friendship and that soft side of him comes out.

"There's a great song at the end of the first act that talks about if he could choose anything, what would he be. And he talks about things like he'd be a hero, he'd be a Viking, I would save a princess. But in the middle he says, 'That's not for me.' It's very touching."

So what part of the story do you connect with the most? 

"His identity crisis because I do feel that sometimes — this idea of two different worlds that are separate: this lawyer world and this arts world. And it’s interesting being a part of both but still looked at, interestingly, almost as an outsider in both, too."

'Shrek' runs July 11-26 at the Jewish Community Center's White Theatre, 5801 W. 115th Street, Leawood, Kansas, and July 31 - Aug. 8 at The Theatre in the Park in Shawnee Mission Park, 7710 Renner Road, Shawnee, Kansas.

The Actors Off-Script series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Steve Walker is a freelance arts reporter and film critic at KCUR 89.3. He can be reached at sewalker@ku.edu

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