FADE IN INT. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – NIGHT (1986) MRS. CLAUS (Sarah Lemp) is on stage, anxiously waiting to say her two lines.
At the cue, she blurts out something resembling her first line but immediately realizes she’s flubbed her debut performance. The second grader keeps her composure, however, collects her thoughts and delivers the second line flawlessly.
CUT TO: INT. PETERS AUDITORIUM – DAY (2000) Lemp is a senior at Ottawa University and ready to present and perform in her Senior Comprehensive original play, “Frailty, thy name is woman….” (from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”).
CUT TO: INT. THEATRE – NIGHT (2010) Lemp has originated the character of Mary Pizzarulli for “Happy in the Poorhouse,” being presented Off Broadway by The Amoralists, a theatre company that produces work with no moral judgment by new and emerging playwrights.
In the “Coney Island soap opera” with a “sturdy framework of a story,” Mary is the wife of aging fighter Paulie, who loves her but can’t bring himself to sleep with her. As Mary, Lemp is described in the New York Times as a “dynamo reminiscent of Cher in ‘Moonstruck’.” (“Dreams Die Hard, Even in Palookaville” by Jason Zinoman, May 16, 2010).
Lemp’s rise from elementary school pageant to Off Broadway has been a dues-paying progression, one she realizes is at the same time necessary, rewarding, frustrating, and painstakingly slow.
She first moved to New York in 2000 to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 2003. Trying to find her footing in New York, as well as get her foot in the acting door, Lemp spent several years waiting tables, working at a video store and doing a number of other mundane jobs.
She did act sporadically, though usually in little-known plays. In 2007, Lemp began working with some friends from the Academy who were forming their own theatre company, The Amoralists.
She performed in her first play with them in 2009 and formally became part of the acting company in 2010, appearing in such original plays as “Happy in the Poorhouse,” “Amerissiah,” “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods,” and “The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side.”
Lemp was most recently cast in the lead role as sex therapist Dr. Sarah Bauer in the heldover “Pink Knees on Pale Skin,” for which she was recognized by Jason Zinoman of the New York Times as being “ready for her close-up,” and evoking “a younger Norma Desmond.”
Between plays, Lemp accepts occasional roles with other theatre companies. She’s also appeared in two small independent films. But in terms of career goals, Lemp simply says,
“I want to be part of something I really believe in and am excited to work on. In that regard I’ve been lucky these last few years. Though, of course, I have to reconcile the commercialism with the art in order to be sustainable. I still have to pay the bills.”
When asked what it was about acting that made her want to pursue it as a career, Lemp admitted, “Anything else I wanted to do came from being influenced at a young age by what I saw others doing or what was popular at the moment. But shaping the world and trying to make sense of the world through some form of narrative always made sense to me, and since I wasn’t a writer, the most logical next thing seemed to be acting.”
After performing in most of the plays and musicals during high school, Lemp became a theatre major at Ottawa University and studied under late Professor and Director Larry Peters. While at OU, she acted in more than 20 shows and gained experience in all aspects of play production.
“I got a really good general idea of what it was to perform,” she says. “It was fabulous because it gave me a real love and appreciation for the basic structure of theatre as a whole. It was a true theatre major.”
Now, as an actress Off Broadway, Lemp continues to build on all she’s learned and experienced in every role she plays.
“It’s freeing to be on stage,” says Lemp. “It’s fun and it’s scary and it’s exciting and it’s vulnerable – all in one night. But it’s about the people you’re working with, the interaction with them and the audience and the energy they bring. A synergy is created on stage – energy that’s constantly moving. And you know something is wrong if the energy stops.”
For actors in OU’s Theatre Department who aspire to where she finds herself, Lemp advises: “Keep working; keep creating; see as much as you can; meet as many people as you can; figure out what you like and what you don’t, what you’re good at and what you’re not; and then just go, go, go – don’t stop. Work will beget more work and generate more relationships, so keep moving. Create a body of work that you feel proud of. But if it stops being fun; if it’s not challenging or helping you grow as a person, what’s the point of doing it? You have to really want it. If you don’t really want it, don’t do it.”
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