In this edition of Drama Unfolds, we learn more about Colleen Barrett. Colleen is an actress living and working in Minneapolis/St. Paul but graciously accepted our invitation to “drive south” to join the cast of The Clean House in the role of Ana. We are thrilled to have her as a guest/seasonal actress this year and sure hope you get the chance to meet her and see her gorgeous work on stage.
A Most Important Part of our Theatre Company
by Colleen Barrett
Describe yourself in a sentence.
—A work in progress.
Where is your hometown?
—I was born in Seattle, WA. Lived in Des Moines, WA, St. Paul, MN, New York City, Milwaukee and Saigon, South Vietnam. My parents emigrated to America in the early 1950’s. I hold dual American/Irish citizenship.
From your short time as a guest actor at the Commonweal, what have you learned about the company?
—Passionate, engaged and dedicated people who excel at whatever they put their hearts and minds to.
Where do you live when not in Lanesboro?
—I commute back to a suburb of Minneapolis.
What is the best part about that place?
—We don’t have any airplane noise and there are tiny bright green frogs that attach themselves to the glass windows at night in summer.
As a child, did you have dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up? What were those dreams?
—No. I didn’t dream. We had a tough time and we were very poor. I started working to help my family in 5th grade. Seven of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment and my Mom babysat two other little boys Monday to Friday 7am to 5pm on top of her five kids. Dad worked as a mechanic for Northwest Airlines on swing shift. We had a lot of serious challenges when I was growing up. I was supposed to go work in a civil servant job – but I always knew I didn’t belong there. I’m too quirky.
Do you recall the moment or set of circumstances that led you to the stage?
—Sr. Raphaella cast me as the Mother in the play Cheaper by the Dozen in 8th grade at St. Philomena’s Grade School in Des Moines, WA. She didn’t audition us, she just assigned us our parts. I was very quiet and shy. When I came on stage in the school cafeteria for the first performance I felt completely at home.
Tell us something about you that might be surprising.
—I’ve worked tons of jobs. Kitchen assistant in a retirement home; burger stand; record shop; chairlift operator near Mt. Rainer; janitor; follow spot operator; manager of a high-end women’s clothing store in NYC; assistant buyer on 7th Ave in NYC; studied dance in NYC for 5 years; terrible waitress; dresser for the Men’s Chorus on Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables at the Ordway; a slimer on a fish processing boat in Alaska; flight attendant for 2 regional airlines; over 20 years experience as an on-camera talent and voice actor in the midwest.
You love theatre. Why?
—The professional theatre world called me and I knew that I loved acting with a passion but didn’t know how to pursue it. There wasn’t a clear pathway when I was growing up. I just kept stumbling along trying to learn what I could and to study with people I respected.
Why did you take the role of Ana in The Clean House?
—I knew and respected The Commonweal Theatre’s work. Many actors I admire have worked for the company. I have also had the good fortune to work with Adrienne Sweeney in the past and jumped at the chance to work with her again.
I found Sara Ruhl’s writing a river of inspiration about the complexities of love, memory, time, parents, children, husbands and wives, lovers of any age, siblings, myth and “things that come in unannounced.” How could I say no to two beautiful roles? I get to play two women who are so very different from me and are passionate and romantic! I am a “mature” actress and who knows if I will ever be offered the chance to play those kinds of roles again!
I’ve lived long enough to know that when the Fates offer me a gift… I’d be foolish to say no.