EC native Hannah Starr has found herself through comedy
It was the year my sister and I learned to love liver, and Flintstones Push-Up Pops became more precious to us than two dollars left under our pillows by the Tooth Fairy. I remember that year; not because we lacked simple novelties, but because it was the year I received fruit-scented pencils and a journal for Christmas. I would steal away in my room for hours and write. In those quiet moments, everything was just as it should be.
“Once the tape starts, I don’t stop. I have to keep going no matter what happens.” – Hannah Starr, on her comedic one-woman show, Boombox
For Hannah Starr, it wasn’t a set of pencils but a boombox out of 1979 that unexpectedly changed her life. Hannah Starr’s Boombox – coming to Eau Claire’s Grand Theatre on Aug. 17 – may not be an exact autobiographical account of her life, but pieces of what made Hannah who she is today make their way into the show.
The theater has always been an integral part of Hannah Starr’s life. She grew up watching her mom perform and remembers playing with her sister backstage at each show. She became involved with the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, and at the age of six was cast in her first role as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. While Hannah loves all forms of acting, it was Gilda Radner and her Saturday Night Live sketch “The Judy Miller Show” that sparked Hannah’s desire to pursue a career in comedy.
SNL – in part – led her to Chicago and Columbia College after shed graduated from Memorial High School in 2009. “I wanted to go there because Second City (hailed as the ‘world’s premier school of comedy’) is where a lot of SNL actors got started,” Hannah told me. Her boombox (the one and only co-star in her show) came later as part of a project for her Comedy Studies course. Students were asked to create an act for stand-up comedy. Her final project became what is now the first act of Hannah Starr’s Boombox. The boombox itself was a gift from her aunt, who told her, “Here, you can have this for your weird comedy project.”
“I remember waiting until the last minute because stand-up always freaked me out,” Starr admitted. “I stayed up all night with this idea to write a song and build my performance around it. I probably made life way harder than it needed to be, but in the end it was freeing because it was the first time I let myself just play.”
Hannah Starr’s Boombox is a comedy show, but it is also thoughtful. It’s about striving for success while finding moments to enjoy where you’re at in the here and now. Trying to make sense of life and all of the noise is an endless feat. “That’s why I structured the show the way I did,” Starr said. “Once the tape starts, I don’t stop. I have to keep going no matter what happens.”
The show premiered in Chicago in July, and earlier this month was a last-minute addition to the Minnesota Fringe Festival (she performed at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, check out the reviews).
As Hannah opened up about her life, I learned that the idea to “keep going no matter what” was anything but a foreign to her. “When I went away to college everything changed for me. I’d gone through a difficult breakup with my first flame, and I’ve always struggled with social anxiety. Drinking helped me overcome my anxieties, but I’ve been sober for three and a half years now. Comedy made me realize how important it was for me to keep making stuff,” Hannah shared. “I ultimately had to decide whether I wanted to screw up my life or save my life.”
Now on a new track, Hannah looks forward to bringing her show to Eau Claire before beginning the next phase of her career (playing the role of Medium Alison in a production of the Tony Award-winning show Fun Home at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater). “I haven’t been home in years! I miss the river and tromping around in the woods,” Hannah said contentedly. “Being able to see the people and be in the place that brought me where I am now is important to me. One day – in my perfect world – I’ll find myself back home. Eau Claire will always be my home.”
Boombox: A (Sort of) Solo Show with Hannah Starr • Thursday, Aug. 17 • 7:30pm • The Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 832-7529