BWW Interviews: Jacob Kemp of NEWSIES at Winspear Theatre
Last week, I spoke with Jacob Kemp, the young actor currently starring in the national tour of Disney's NEWSIES. In addition to the tour, Jacob has been featured in a recurring role on an ABC sitcom, and he admits that he's had a very exciting and successful year. From his hotel in Los Angeles, where NEWSIES was on tour at the time, Jacob dished about his life on the road, the exciting oppertunities he's found, and the joy of working with the famous creators of his current show.
Name: Jacob Kemp
Hometown: Boston, MA
Current Role: Davey in the national tour of NEWSIES
Kyle Christopher West: Growing up, what first inspired you to perform?
Jacob Kemp: Well, my first experiences as a young actor [were] at the Wheelock Family Theatre in Boston, [and] really taught me that live theatre has the power to change lives. Growing up as part of a repertory ensemble, I was lucky to perform 8 seasons in a row; it really showed me the power of what it means to be not only an actor, but an activist, as a member of a community of artists. It transitioned very quickly from a hobby to my life's work.
Kyle: Before we talk about NEWSIES, are there any other roles you've played that stand out as favorites, or have been memorable for some other reason?
Jacob: It's been a pretty incredible year for me. I feel immensely lucky to [have done] a play at the new Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles, opposite Richard Schiff from The West Wing, Deborah Ann Woll from True Blue, and Eddie Kaye Thomas from American Pie, directed by Mark Brokaw, and then a few months later was able to hop onto the new series Blackish. It's been a pretty amazing couple of months, and I feel very lucky!
Kyle: How familiar were you with NEWSIES before creating your role on the tour?
Jacob: I had seen the movie. I was certainly a part of the generation of young male dancers who saw the film and became inspired to stay in class [to] become professional performing artists. This month, while we're performing in LA, we've actually had the opportunity to meet many members of the [movie] cast, who are bringing their families to the show. [Also], many of the tour company members of the tour were up for the roles when the production was original in auditions for the show on Broadway, so it's gratifying to be able to finally perform the roles, when it's been years in the making!
Kyle: How would you say the current national tour compares to the recent Broadway production of NEWSIES?
Jacob: One of the things that's truly extraordinary is that Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman wrote a brand new song for this tour, which will most likely continue on in the production's legacy (when the show becomes licensed to theatres around the country). I can't even tell you what an honor it was to have the full creative team in the [rehearsal] room at all times. They gave us the freedom to raise awareness to questions we had in the script. It's really a gift to be with a team that gives that kind of freedom!
Kyle: What can you tell me about your character, and how he contributes to the story? Jacob: In the show, my character is known as the "brains." Davey is constantly trying to convince the newsies not to use the power of physical aggression, but to use the power of their words and their hearts to be able to raise awareness to their goal.
Kyle: If you had to pick a favorite moment in the show, what would it be?
Jacob: There's a musical number at the end of the show - in theatre talk, it's called the eleven o'clock number - and it's called "Once And For All." The full company is onstage, singing together in one moment. As you can tell by the title of the song, it represents so many of the core values for the play that we're in. They're about to take a big, quantum leap, and to pursue their goal. It's a very exciting moment onstage: the ensemble comes together to sing in full voice and it's really a terrific moment for all of us.
Kyle: How have different audiences around the country responded to the show?
Jacob: Each night is so different. NEWSIES is not only a story that is appropriate, but is thrilling for each different age group. The show has been a huge hit: we're selling out each and every city we're in.
Kyle: Performing in so many different theatres must present some unique challenges. Have there been any memorable onstage mishaps during the tour?
Jacob: Oh man, that's the beauty of live theatre [laughs]; every night is such a thrill. They did a national search for the boys in the show. We are having so much fun up there. I can't pinpoint one particular moment, but each and every night is so refreshing. It's such a treat to be a part of this ensemble.
Kyle: If you could create the next credit on your resume, after NEWSIES, what would that look like?
Jacob: Whenever I am looking toward the next step, I think not only about the role, but about the collaboration. I would think less about the role, but about the challenge of diving into something that really scares me. Part of what's so much fun about what we do is that we get to surprise not only ourselves, but we get to shatter other people's expectations for ourselves. It's one of life's - and an artist's - greatest gifts. I studied drama at Yale, and some of the hardest roles have been smashed to smithereens by some of the world's greatest actors. What matters is that you can create a living and breathing character that feels not only authentic, but that brings something up in an audience member that helps reveal something powerful about their life.
Kyle: What is something that's not listed in your bio that you'd want people to know about you?
Jacob: You know, people often try to get to know an actor based on their personal life and their social media accounts. One of the things I try to explain to the young people who come to the show - who want, so lovingly, to get to know us on a personal level - is, if you want to get to know me, actually take a look at my work. In each role that I play, parts of myself will be revealed to you in the parts that I play. There is such a focus in this generation to know all the details and intimate moments of an actor or public figure's life. If you want to get to know me, actually take a look at my work. When you see what I do onstage, you'll probably get to know me deeper and more intimately than you would by hanging out and having a cup a coffee.
Jacob and his fellow cast members recently recorded a music video for Disney's Playlist Sessions. Check out the video below, featuring, from left to right: Jon Hacker (Oscar Delancey), DeMarius Copes (Henry), Jacob Kemp (Davey), Michael Ryan (Morris Delancey) and Zachary Sayle (Crutchie).
NEWSIES appears at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas from April 29th-May 10th, 2015. For tickets, and more information, visit www.Newisesthemusical.com or www.attpac.org.