The Twin Cities arts community lost one of its own this week. Robert (Bob) Hammel, who was born in 1944, was known to many here for his work as an actor, designer, video artist, documentary maker, board member, advocate, and arts enthusiast and his death came as a shock to many, particularly since he was so busy with projects. He was working on several films and had acted in a string of productions recently.
On his Facebook wall (where people have been creating memorials when someone dies), his wife wrote: “On Saturday, February 11, Bob Hammel’s brave heart gave out, leaving us alone and devastated.”
I knew Bob personally both as a fellow actor (we were in several shows together) and as a source for stories. He was particularly helpful in my article about the Southern Theater (where he was a board member in the 1980s) and other stories as well. Sometimes he would email me with thoughts about different arts news that I would write about.
Bob’s name and work also came up when I was interviewing others in the arts community. Recently I interviewed Carl Flink about his work with David Odde, a biomedical engineer at the University of Minnesota. Bob had been working on a documentary about the collaboration between the scientist and choreographer, as a way to “show” Odde’s theories in physical space, using dancers. Flink told me that it was Bob who first asked Odde whether Black Label’s Movement’s dancers could actually have a substantive impact on his scientific research. It wasn’t long after that there was indeed a breakthrough, where it seemed possible that the dancers could be helpful in actually making scientific discoveries.
As an actor, Bob worked constantly in recent years, and often in very experimental productions. Though he was in his sixties, he enthusiastically was willing to try different things, to do shows in alternative spaces, to create physical, non-traditional and ensemble-based work.
One of the most fascinating conversations that I had with him was when he told me about his work filming danc, in “Solo 1×2” and other dance documentaries, where he would actually “dance” with the dancers with his camera during filming, creating something that is much more intimate than a dance concert viewed in a large auditorium.
Bob cared deeply about the arts, but also about artists themselves, believing they are the ones that make the backbone of our culture work. And he was right. I wish more people understood, the way he did, how important arts are to the cultural life of a society. He was a good egg, and he will be greatly missed.
So here’s to you, Bob, and to your next great adventure.