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Chasing stardom, keeping grounded
Perry’s Hanna Kemp goes after her acting dreams while raising money for local theater

Chasing stardom, keeping grounded

Perry’s Hanna Kemp goes after her acting dreams while raising money for local theater

By Michael W. Pannell
Photography by Jessica Whitley

Where to start? With Hanna Kemp’s starring role in a tech company’s new commercial? Her lead in a locally-shot feature film? The short film she’s just finishing? Or her first-ever effort as a stage director?
All showcase the 19-year-old’s talent and gumption – gumption enough that when COVID-19 cancelled the Perry Players’ 2020 season, she boldly offered to raise the money needed for a year-end run of “A Christmas Carol,” recruit the volunteer cast and crew and direct it for free.
It turned a challenging circumstance into an opportunity for her and a sorely needed fundraiser for her home playhouse.
“I started piano and singing when I was 4, but I was 10 when I started wanting to be an actor,” Kemp said. “It was when I watched ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and saw Lucy, its main character. She was a strong, young girl about my age having a great adventure and I wondered, ‘How does she get to do that?’ I wanted adventures – plus, I have to admit I really, really loved Lucy’s English accent.”
A resident of Perry, Kemp knew a trip to Narnia, the fanciful land of the movie, wasn’t in store but believed by becoming an actor she could enjoy all sorts of adventures. Young and homeschooled, she said she hadn’t a clue how to become an actor. There were no drama clubs or school theater programs she could easily slip into.
Undaunted, Kemp went to the internet and researched how she might get into acting and began doing the one thing she could do: develop her own English accent.
“I found out about Theatre Macon’s Young Artist’s Company (YAC) and got my first-ever part in a play,” she said. “It was in ‘The Three Musketeers.’ When I was 12, I did ‘Oliver’ at home here with the Perry Players. I became a theater gal and have been in their shows ever since.”
Kelly Mann handled YAC workshops and productions for Theatre Macon at the time and said though years have passed, she remembers Kemp.
“I do remember her,” said Mann, who lives in Macon but is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“She was in ‘Three Musketeers’ then played a unicorn in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ I remember that technically she was a year too young for the program, but honestly, though she was a very shy, reserved young girl, she was very focused and had a real spark. She started out hardly saying a word that wasn’t on the script but then she really blossomed. I didn’t regret letting her in.”
In Perry, Kemp convinced her parents, Chris and Lucy Kemp, to audition for plays – though they’d never been interested in theater. They got parts, got interested and even became board members with the Perry Players for several years. Kemp’s siblings joined in, too.
Kemp’s first lead role came in her early teens when she and a friend, Jamie Stricklen, rotated playing the dialogue-heavy role of Anne Frank.
After graduating homeschool, Kemp chose to seek acting work over entering drama school, but with her parents’ help took a number of one-off classes at Atlanta’s well-known Catapult Acting Studios.
She said her online professional profile led to an audition for a commercial for OnJuno’s banking-checking app. It was her already-in-place British accent – thank you, Lucy – and comedic flair that helped her land its starring role.
“It was a miracle to even get an audition and when I got the part I assumed not many had tried out,” Kemp said. “But the director told me hundreds had, and that one of the things in my favor was my resume showed I had gotten some good training and was prepared.”
Released in December, it can be seen on YouTube, across other media and at onjuno.com where Kemp’s smiling face graces the company’s splash page.
It’s a commercial, yes, but being just under two minutes it’s a mini-movie as well.
“I loved it,” she said. “It’s a period piece – a funny, medieval, Monty Python-style thing – where I get in trouble because of the apps’ ‘sorcery.’ But it turns out well. I haven’t had that many lead roles but I’ve gotten a reputation for outdoorsy girl parts – even though I’m not that much of an outdoors person.”
Other auditions are in place and Kemp was finishing a supporting role in a short film in late January. She was unable to talk about that, but her central role in an independent feature film being made in Middle Georgia is no secret. It’s a film called “Midknight” by writer-director Phillip Wheeler.
In 2019, Wheeler won top honors in Macon Film Festival’s Macon Made category with his work “Euphorica.”
“‘Midknight’ is about a young woman, a college student, who’s kidnapped and trafficked; that’s Hanna’s role,” Wheeler said. “Then the main action is around her brother trying to find and rescue her. It was actually through Hanna that I met and cast Levi Shelton as the brother, the main character.”
Wheeler was impressed by Kemp’s abilities and glad to have her in his film.
“Hanna is very talented and very professional in how she goes about what’s asked of her,” Wheeler said. “She’s a great collaborator who understands what’s needed and just nails it. Her role in ‘Midknight’ is very physical and requires a lot of running. It’s not the easiest thing to run a lot and stay in character, stay real and express emotions. She nailed it.”
COVID-19 severely impacted the movie’s shooting schedule, but Wheeler hopes it will be ready by late summer.
Jimmy and Shannon Stricklen are Jamie Stricklen’s parents and the Perry Players’ president and house manager, respectively. Like others at the playhouse, they’ve known Kemp and her family for years and were surprised – but not surprised – when she offered to bring “A Christmas Carol” to the stage. It would be her directorial debut.
“Hanna said she had a proposal,” Jimmy Stricklen said. “She wanted to direct ‘A Christmas Carol’ for free and said her family and other volunteers would raise the money for it with no cost to the theater. Proceeds would benefit Perry Players. Hanna came to us with amazing proposal notebooks with budgets and all the right plans.”
Jimmy Stricklen said Kemp hadn’t turned 19 yet and the board was momentarily hesitant to trust the theater’s reputation to someone so young.
“But it was Hanna who was asking and we knew if she wanted to do it she could pull it off,” he said. “You have to realize that year after year she’s broken the labels put on her. First, she was a great musician and young actor. Then, without having dance lessons she was a really great dancer. She did some choreography, excelled and we looked at each other saying, ‘We have a choreographer on our hands.’”
Jimmy Stricklen said with all its stresses, “A Christmas Carol” could have fallen apart at any time but audiences agreed it was an outstanding show.
“As is typical of her, Hanna didn’t take the easy way and do the show like we’d done it before. She designed a new set, had her own costume ideas and even brought in a steam-punk look for parts,” he said. “She might have been a little timid at the first rehearsal but quickly took her authority as director and got everybody on board carrying out her vision. That’s an amazing ability for anybody – much less someone her age.”
The show sold out immediately. Unfortunately, two cast members tested positive for coronavirus mid-run and the show’s final week was postponed until January with cast substitutions.
“I’d like to keep Hanna here forever but I suspect she’s too big a fish for our little pond,” Stricklen said. “She has a future and I’m sure she can do whatever she sets her mind to.”
And that is to be a successful actor and push her creative boundaries out in many directions.
“I felt it was a good time to direct and would help the theater so I did it,” she said. “It was scary, but I believed I could and knew I had a lot of support from my family and friends.”
So what pushes Kemp forward to take risks and pursue her dreams? Why is she deep in accomplishments before having hit her 20th year?
“I know a big part is my family,” she said. “I’ve always had their support. But I think another thing is that from when I was young, it hit me that to be heroes, all my favorite characters in books and Lucy in that movie had to work hard and dare to do whatever it took to accomplish their adventures. Usually, it meant character development and changes to who they were or thought they were. It always took persistence and a willingness to face difficulty and disappointment. I think I saw that and decided to give my all – with the help of a lot of people.”
Does Kemp want to be famous?
“I do, but I don’t think I want it for selfish reasons,” she said. “I want to stay who I am, a regular person, but I’d love to inspire others and have the influence and opportunities fame gives. I want to give it my best and I figure sure, we can all fail at what we do, so why not go ahead and risk doing something you love.”


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