Once upon an actress
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Remembering that one dream started out as two.
The actress and the author, age six.
It might not be spring anymore, but I’ve been cleaning.
And I mean, cleaning.
I’m what you might call a highly organized pack rat: yes, I save everything, but I do it neatly, in folders and envelopes, closets and cabinets, labelled boxes and curated scrapbooks. Over the past few years, however, I’ve been Marie Kondo-ing my way to tidiness by embracing a more minimalistic approach to what I save. At the end of 2019, I did a massive clear-out of my apartment that resulted in several trash bags, a number of donations, and a great deal of inner satisfaction. This summer, I decided that since I’m currently living in my childhood home, I really ought to clear out some of the remnants of my childhood that don’t require saving.
I cleared stacks of old notebooks and binders out of my desk. I cleared out shelves of dated children’s books that I don’t want my hypothetical children to read. I cleared old photos out of albums, letting go of people and places I no longer remembered. As we speak, I’m clearing out a storage cabinet that contains ephemera from almost twenty years of schooling, from kindergarten drawings to middle school projects to college term papers. I had an almost fanatic attachment to such things once, as though I feared my life history would be erased if I didn’t hang onto its tangible artifacts forever. Now, I find myself ready to let go of absolutely anything that doesn’t spark joy.
One item gave me a spark of joy just yesterday. My elementary school had a binding machine that could turn typed copies of our creative writing into “published” books. Seeing my work between colorful cardboard covers, bound with plastic coils and emblazoned with my name, always filled my little heart with pride. So when I unearthed from the cabinet a black-and-white checkered book entitled “A Collection of Poems,” I smiled as I flipped through its neatly bound pages. When I got to the end, I saw that it concluded with a note about its author.
Barrie Kreinik lives in Hartford, Connecticut. She is 10 years old, and likes to read, write and draw. She wants to be an author and an actress when she grows up.
My eyes tripped over those last few words.
I read them again. And again.
I’ve wanted to be a professional actress since I was eight—and as Eva Le Gallienne wrote in her autobiography At 33, “All my experiences, my reading, my studies from then on were focused towards one ultimate goal from which I never again wavered for an instant: the Theatre.” I had tunnel vision when it came to my chosen career, and every choice I made over the years carried me farther along that tunnel. Acting was what I believed I was destined to do.
What I’d forgotten was that acting wasn’t always the thing I most wanted to do. I started writing as soon as I could read, mastering the MS-DOS word-processing software on my dad’s office computer so I could type stories about the lives of my stuffed animals. Creative writing was always one of my favorite school subjects, and when I learned how to write poetry, I devoted myself to it with prolific passion. In high school, I leaned into essay writing, adding literary twists to my papers in every subject. I began writing plays, then music, then solo shows. And ever since the second grade, when I received a Ramona Quimby diary and eagerly began to tell it all my secrets, I’ve written in some kind of journal almost every day of my life.
But somewhere amid the hills and valleys of my career, my pursuit of writing began to fall by the wayside. I stopped writing poetry: it never seemed to measure up to the incredible work of the poets I loved to read. I stopped writing music: I didn’t believe that I could make it as a singer/songwriter while also trying to make it as an actor. I stopped writing stories: I knew I could never write fiction as well as those who devoted their lives to it. I continued writing plays, but I doubted that they were good enough to succeed commercially. Sometimes my self-censorship was so automatic, so instant, that I’d pick up a pen and find I couldn’t write a word.
Little by little, those seeds of doubt became a full-grown tree. Writing became something extra—something I did on the side, when I wasn’t acting. Something I could do more of later…whenever later might turn out to be.
It didn’t help that there were always four hundred other things on my To Do list that seemed more important. Auditions! Submissions! Classes! Meetings! More auditions! Being an actor is a full-time job even when you don’t have a full-time job—not to mention the other jobs you have to maintain in order to get by. Meanwhile, I was gradually building a career as an audiobook narrator, and I continued to make cabaret and concert appearances as a singer. Writing took a back seat to all of that. I thought it had to. More importantly, I thought it deserved to.
Then the ground began to shift beneath me.
In early 2017, I came bounding out of my third Off-Broadway show thinking the doors of the theatre world had opened to me, only to find them securely shut again. Month after month passed with no auditions. I fell into a darkness that I couldn’t shake. Who was I if I couldn’t be an actor? I needed to find something to do with my creative energy.
So I threw myself into the writing of a new play, which I’d begun working on just as my last show was coming to a close. When the first draft was complete, I invited some friends to my apartment to read it out loud. The response was enthusiastic and encouraging. I began to see a glimmer of light.
Around the same time, I picked up a play I’d abandoned a few years earlier and revised it. Then I assembled a team of artists and produced a staged reading. I spent an exhilarating three rehearsal days helping actors transform my written words into lived experience. On the night of the presentation, I sat at the back of the theatre watching a world unfold onstage and thought: I wrote that. I made that happen.
Though I’d been writing plays for almost twenty years, that was the first time I truly considered myself a playwright.
That was three years ago. I haven’t been cast in a fully produced stage play since. Part chance, part choice, part luck of the draw, my career has not proved to be the light at the end of that tunnel I dove into all those years ago. It’s in a different tunnel entirely—a tunnel with many branches, many routes, many ways to get where I’m going and many new places to get to as I go. Over the past few years, writing has begun to take up more and more space within it. Two years ago, I began writing essays and articles. Last year, I started writing music again and produced my debut EP. This year, realizing that I’ve been writing creative nonfiction all my life without knowing that the genre had a name, I started a blog. And right now I’m working on another writing project, different from anything I’ve done before, that’s taking me in all kinds of new directions.
I don’t know when I’ll step onto a stage again. I don’t know when I’ll get to do a play reading in a studio instead of in a grid of pixelated faces. In isolation, all I can do is write. Fortunately, writing is best done in isolation. With the entertainment industry on pause, I’ve been able to devote much more of my attention to writing—and I’ve found that I love it as much now as I did almost thirty years ago, when I sat in front of a square computer screen spinning stories of monkeys and bears.
I’m not just an actress who writes. I’m a writer—an “author.” And I’m grateful to my ten-year-old self for reminding me that that’s exactly who I always wanted to be.