Alumna Amanda Kemp '84 and Theatre for Transformation Mesmerize the Audience at Educational Evening

Posted February 20, 2012

On February 13, an appreciative audience of alums, parents, students, and faculty in the Claudia Boettcher Theatre were treated to an extraordinary performance by alumna Amanda Kemp ’84 and her Theatre for Transformation, sponsored by the Dobbs Alumnae/i Association in conjunction with Black History Month.

The multi-talented Kemp and two equally talented actors, Vanessa D. Ballard and Deborah Billups, commanded the stage with a mesmerizing and moving performance in word and song that brought to life Kemp’s original one-act play titled “Sister Friend: Phillis Wheatley and Obour Tanner on Freedom, Love, and the Divine.

Phillis Wheatley is renowned as the first African-American poetess and the second African-American to get her/his book published. Her work is highly looked upon, today, as it marks the beginning of the genre of African-American literature. Though Wheatley was kidnapped and enslaved against her will, her creative abilities could not be concealed for a long time. Her masters taught her to read and write and encouraged her to write poetry. Wheatley's poems not only brought her freedom, but also fame and recognition worldwide.

Dr. Amanda Kemp, a 1984 graduate of The Masters School, founded Theatre for Transformation in 2007 during the course of a year of spiritual exploration and major life changes. Her plays include Show Me the Franklins!; Sister Friend; Hoodwinked, a play with music; and God’s Image Carved in Ebony, which she co-wrote with Michelle Armster.

All of Dr. Kemp's work focuses on recovering Africans from the margins of the past and placing them front and center on stage. She has been awarded grants from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Pennsylvania Arts Council, and Franklin & Marshall College. Her plays have been selected twice for the prestigious New Plays Reading Series at the National Black Theatre Festival.

Most recently, Dr. Kemp has been honored to work with young people, conducting readers’ theatre workshops and directing fifth graders in a commissioned play about the Montgomery Bus Boycott titled I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. She has taught literature and culture at Cornell University, Dickinson College, and Franklin & Marshall College, where she was the Chair of Africana Studies. She regularly teaches workshops that blend academics and creative writing and movement, including “From the Page to the Stage,” a workshop using historical documents; the Ancestors Workshop; Yoga for Performance; and “Creating New Possibilities for Race in America.” She earned her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and is currently a Research Associate at Franklin & Marshall College.

Chair of the Drama Department M.A. Haskin remembers Kemp as a drama student. “Amanda became a Phoenix member in May 1982, and she was dedicated to backstage crew work as well as performing in musicals and plays,” she recalls. “In Hello, Dolly, in February 1984, when she was not singing in the chorus you could find her in the shop building and painting set pieces. One of her dearest friends, Darian Boos, was doing the role of Dolly Levi, and the two were often seen sitting in the Green Room debating world situations.

“One of Amanda’s most memorable roles was in the Moliere French comedy The Prodigious Snob,” Haskin adds. “Wearing a period costume of bloomer pants and a fluffy shirt, she portrayed the tailor of the arrogant Monsieur Jourdain. She brought on many laughs from the audience as she hoodwinked this silly man into thinking he was handsome when he was actually just a fool. This was a delightful performance!”

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