In the Wings: Chatting with The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane‘s Aimé Donna Kelly

Getting to know Philly's brightest talents

Philly teaching artist, actor and playwright Aimé Donna Kelly, who you can currently see in InterACT Theatre Company‘s powerful The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane, talks her devotion to green smoothies, being named after her grandmother’s childhood rival and being told by President Obama that she kind of looks like Michele. 

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My name is … Aimé Donna Kelly. My grandmother actually named me after a childhood rival she had back in Cuba. The idea being that she wanted me to be greater. Strong words to live up to. The name also means “to be loved” in French.

I am … an actor. I am also a resident teaching artist with Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

On opening night … a show is born! It starts to live and breathe freely on stage with all our work behind us. It has a life separate from the rehearsal process and we follow it to the end. Its an amazing feeling. I think that’s why we always celebrate it with a party.

If I had to describe The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane in one sentence, I’d say … it is a peek under a veil that we rarely lift and forces us to look into the lives of those who don’t have the freedom to be who they are—and because of that, two brave souls put themselves in danger, simply by living.

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Kelly as Noxolo in InterACT Theatre Company’s The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane.

To get into character for Pretty Mbane I … speak in the South African dialect usually an hour or so before curtain. The dialect is such a tangible insight into my character’s world. Clearly, very different from mine. My warm up is also very physical: crunches, push-ups, etc …

How are you most like your character Noxolo? When I was her age, I also thought that I was invincible. I’m so fond of her, because in our recklessness, we grow up.

How are you different? I am so not sporty! But always wished I was.

Your character is a soccer player. Did you have to learn some moves for the show? I never play the sport in the show and my character is actually on the decline when we meet her. She drinks too much and it’s said that she could have been a star, if she played her cards right. So I didn’t have to learn any moves, but I definitely watched the sport quite a bit and these women are amazing. I can see how a player can fall in love with it.

The first play I was in was … Pirates of Penzance, and I played the Pirate King, due to my deeper voice and not enough musical theater men. I also played Antigone in Antigone when I made the switch to drama. Never looked back.

You were nominated for the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist at the 2014 Barrymore Awards. How did it feel to be recognized in that way by the community? I never expected to make it as far as I did. Our community is so close and everyone is so passionate and talented. To be chosen out of this pool is an honor and one I take seriously as a commitment to this city.

My surprising celebrity crush is… I don’t know if its surprising, but Lenny Kravitz! Always.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … President Barak Obama. The only thing I could think to say was, “People tell me I look like your wife.” So embarrassing—though he did say, “Yea, a little bit.”

The last thing I binge-watched was … The West Wing. Im a sucker for politics and drama.

To stay in shape I … Usually go for a run in my neighborhood. I use to take boxing, which I may take up again. I also swear by a green smoothie in the morning … after my morning coffee. Hey, no ones perfect.

The last time I dined out in Philadelphia, I ate … at Varga on 10th and Spruce. Such great food. I had the sliders.

The best show I saw in Philly recently was … Le Bete at the Arden. I know it was a while ago, but from top to bottom the entire spectacle was divine.

My favorite thing about Philly’s theater scene is … Everybody knows your name. We are a caring community and we support those who take risks.

The Dangerous House of Pretty Mbane plays at the InterAct Theatre Company through February 8th. More information and tickets can be found here.