by Rita Charleston
When she was growing up in Houston, Texas, there was something her mother saw that prompted her to enroll her little girl in acting classes, where she demonstrated talent that led her to secure her first professional role in a play at the age of 10. Her mother’s discovery was very lucky for Martha Kemper, who took that opportunity to continue in the world of theater as an adult career.
Today, luck (aided by skill) seems to have continued for Kemper, an actor, director, theater artist and educator who now lives in Mt. Airy. She has produced an original play called “Luckiest Kid,” currently being performed at the Second Stage at the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St., through Oct. 20.
According to Kemper, who requested that her age not be mentioned, the play follows the path of a high school girl who is inspired to love theater by her charismatic female drama teacher, who then sleeps with the student. The girl grows up and eventually comes to terms with the past, embraces her sexual identity, embarks on a career in theater and finds a compatible romantic partner.
“I began writing this play in 2008,” said Kemper, who teaches theater and heads the theater department at Penn State Abington. ”But when the news about Sandusky came out, I was inspired to finish it because it seemed more relevant than ever. My play is a little more complicated than the Sandusky story because it doesn’t deal with very young children, but there certainly is some common ground. It raises relevant questions that I hope reflect some of the feelings that go into this situation.”
In the play, produced by Elkins Park-based White Pines Productions, Kemper, who acts as a storyteller in the piece, is accompanied by six actors who lead a chorus inspired by those in classical Greek dramas.
This is Kemper’s second original play. The first, titled “Me, Miss Krause and Joan,” is an autobiographical tale centering on Kemper’s theatrical experiences learning from a great acting teacher, Alvina Krause, and the reason Kemper ended up in Pennsylvania. “Me, Miss Krause and Joan” premiered at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2008 and has toured at theaters and festivals throughout the country.
After graduating from Northwestern University, Kemper moved to Bloomsburg, PA, to study with Ms. Krause, whom John Guilgud is rumored to have called “the best-kept secret in American theatre.” While in Bloomsburg, Kemper helped co-found the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and participated in the company as an ensemble actor, teacher and director. She occasionally returns to that group to perform, as she did last summer, but has no hands-on involvement anymore.
“Today, I think everything I do complements everything else I do,” Kemper said, “although admittedly I do love acting and playing in front of a live audience. But I also love teaching, and every year I work with some very gifted and determined students. My advice to them is to dive right in and go on as many auditions as possible. To my students who want to go on to direct, I tell them to find a story they very much want to tell. It all comes down to the fact that there’s something very special about being the director of the work and the interpreter of a role.”
With so much to do in having her latest play produced, Kemper said that getting enough sleep probably leads the list of challenges she must face daily. ‘But telling my stories and connecting with audiences fulfills so much in me, it’s well worth it.”
“Lucky Kid” is performed weeknights at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. After the 7:30 performances on Oct 9 and Oct. 17, a panel of professionals will be on hand for a Q&A session. For more information, visit www.adriennelive.org or call 215-568-8079.