Robert Hamel, who joins Westmont as an assistant professor of theater arts this fall, was a Lutheran pastor for 25 years, but says theater has always been in his family. His wife, Susan, is a theater professional, and together they staged theatrical events in churches. Most recently, Robert organized summer theater shows in Iowa City, Iowa, raising money for ELCA World Hunger Appeal and Bread for the World. Through one show, they were able to raise funds to build a dormitory at a Tanzanian seminary.
“That got me interested in this whole area of faith and the theater arts and what a powerful tool it is to tell all kinds of stories,” Hamel says. “Faith stories and societal stories help us all to look at things that sometimes we don’t want to look at, but are called to look at.”
Hamel graduated from Cornell College and earned a master of divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio. Seventeen years later, he went to the University of Iowa, earning a master’s degree in religion (biblical literature) and a master of fine arts degree in theatre arts with an emphasis in scenic design. For the past five years, Hamel has been assistant professor, technical director and theater department coordinator at Graceland University in Iowa. He says the wonderful thing about teaching at Westmont is that it allows him to connect his faith and love of theater.
“As Christians, our faith calls us to look at those things,” Hamel says, “to address the world, proclaiming our Lord, but at the same time looking through our Lord’s eyes at the injustices in the world — the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the people we would rather forget about in life — and it’s very exciting to do it straightforward and intentional way.”
The first show Hamel will design at Westmont is Servant of Two Masters, an Italian comedy written in 1743 in the commedia dell’arte style accentuated by masks. “Being a designer and technician, it’s exciting to talk about staging it outdoors in this lovely California climate,” he says. “Here, you don’t have to worry about whether you can stage a show outside or not like you do in Iowa, where you have rain or mosquito creatures bigger then ravens.”