Broadway Goes Pop! Interview: Amber Kempter

Amber Kempter makes custom Funko Pop vinyl figures from popular Broadway musicals, mostly Hamilton characters. Funko manufactures licensed pop culture toys, vinyl figures that stand about 4 inches tall. There are ones from TV shows such as Supernatural, movies such as Toy Story, and pop culture phenomena such as Harry Potter, comic book series such as the Marvel universe, among many others. There are several independent artists who take these figures and adapt them into characters that are not commercially available, selling them on Etsy and other platforms. Amber runs the Facebook group “Broadway Goes Pop!” which has over 7,000 members, each one clamoring to be lucky enough to win a lottery or an auction to buy one of her pops. I has sent her pop figures to actors in shows and they are delighted with them, featuring them in Instagram stories and more. I have several custom pops, from Amber as well as other artists, and I can tell you that Amber’s quality is a step above!

Amber made me a pop: Jack Kelly from Newsies!

Jack Kelly custom Pop

How did you get started making the pops?

Last summer [Summer of 2016], it was right after I got into Hamilton. I was curious if Funko created a Hamilton line of Pops – they hadn’t – and then I discovered that customizing was a thing that people had done. I didn’t even know that was a thing! Thought I’d give it a try for a creative outlet. I did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos on YouTube to find the best methods. Searched online for a lot of Funko Pops to use their parts. The first one I made was “Green Coat Ham.” I posted in big Hamilton fan group and people responded positively and asked me to sell. I had a full time job and kids so I couldn’t devote that much time to it. I created a few more characters after that such as Angelica and King George. I got a lot of messages asking me to sell. I started the Facebook group to see what happens and it took off. Immediately, I couldn’t keep up with the demand. 6 months later, I quit my full time job to keep up with the orders.

What made you decide to sell them via the FB group versus setting up an etsy shop? I know that now, an etsy shop would be insane to deal with, but in the beginning?

When I decided to sell, I considered the different platforms. I realized I couldn’t control the orders coming into Etsy. I work alone and can only do so much at a time. If I worked from an Etsy shop, I might get 100 orders in one day and be drowning. Someone else I talked to worked out of a Facebook group, so I decided that was the best way. At first, I did a rush-like system. I’d open up a sale and the first ten people would get orders. When the same people always got Pops because they faster internet, I switched to the lottery system.

What are some of your favorite customs you’ve been asked to make?

Phantom was a favorite; it was fun to sculpt the scarring underneath the mask. Angel [from Rent] turned out really good. I Did a pop for understudy Genie from Aladdin once. I made a custom set of pops for Robert Walters, who is a swing in Hamilton: Frankenstein’s Monster & Bride of Frankenstein for Robert & his wife. I also sent him a pop of himself as Charles Lee.

 

Has there ever been any character that someone has requested that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do? What are some other challenges you’ve experienced?

There was only one I’ve ever declined – a customer had requested a Pokemon that her son had drawn. This was back in December and it was too complicated. It would have been all clay work, and I wasn’t comfortable enough to do it justice. I probably would do it today, now that I have more confidence with clay work.

Tell me about some of the “OMG/Holy Sh**” moments you’ve had since starting this business.

I feel that way anytime a cast member reaches out to me on social media or likes a post, that never gets old. When I went to Hamilton in NY and went backstage and met everyone I’d made art for. Everyone was so sweet and they made me feel like a celebrity! Donald Webber ran 8 flights to his dressing room so he could get his Pop & a marker so he could my autograph! James Monroe Igleheart specifically asked to meet me (he’s a pop collector). Sasha Hallenger (“the bullet” in Hamilton) was the first cast member I ever made a pop for. We had a great moment, and Sasha was who started it.

You’ve sent some of your pops to the actors. Favorite response to your pop from cast members?

Sometimes I get private messages from cast members who request specific Pops. The fact that the cast members will follow me and want to see what else I do is amazing. Carleigh Bettoil, currently in Bandstand, previously of Hamilton – when she got hers, Morgan Marcell (also currently of Bandstand, previously of Hamilton) posted a video on Twitter asking for one for herself.

How do you decide which characters get sold via auction/lottery/silent auction?

The special character auctions are for more intense characters like King George, where I have to add a lot of clay and color layers. I’ll pick the character, trying out new things or character concepts. Sometimes it’s one that’s been requested a lot. Characters such as Angel from Rent or Veronica from Heathers will be up for special auction. These are new characters, first editions, often one of a kind. For customer choice, I try to vary it so everyone gets a chance. Sometimes I’ll do silent auctions, sometimes lottery. I try to be fair to everyone and make the pops accessible. The group’s members range from 14-75. Each one of my Pops is handmade, personal art. The price is because of the time that’s put into them. I’m a perfectionist, looking over each Pop multiple times before it’s done, making sure there’s no paint outside the lines. After I’m satisfied, I seal the paint so it doesn’t chip.

 

Other than Hamilton, what are some of your favorite Broadway shows?

There are so many! There aren’t many I don’t like. Rent has been a fave for a long time as well as Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots, which I saw the tour productions. The Wicked tour has come through a lot. Groundhog Day was in previews when I saw it, but I didn’t know the music or any changes from movie, and I enjoy more now that I know. I’d like to meet Andy Karl to tell him I made the Pop. The first professional show I saw was Phantom and I’ve seen it several times since.

What other projects spark your creativity? I know you’ve done t-shirts and headbands. What other products do you like to create?

I want to always have something new to show the group so it can evolve. I get inspired by other artists’ products such as t-shirts. I like to listens to cast recordings, and sometimes a line or lyric will stand out. My mind is never at rest. The other products are a nice break from painting the pops. The t-shirts are hand-pressed; I have a machine to cut out words, but they’re still handmade.

Plans for your next Broadway trip?

I had made a plan last February to be at BroadwayCon 2018, but I couldn’t wait that long in between! I’d been to New York in April, but January was too far away. I decided to do a trip halfway between April and January for the Broadway Flea Market in September; it’s something I wanted to experience and the timing was perfect.

 

Find Amber on Facebook in the group Broadway Goes Pop!, on Twitter as @AKempter, and Instagram as @AmberKempter.

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