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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Eileen Engel

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Eileen Engel.

Affiliation(s) (past and present): (SAG/AFTRA/AEA)

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I've been an actor/director for most of my adult life. I started showing off in grade school, performed in most of my high school shows and musicals. It was an all-girls school and I played all male roles, which I believe colored my view of life. I did a lot of community theater on Long Island, NY, which led me to studying with Herbert Berghoff, Rita Gardner and Hal Holden at HB Studios in NYC and then with David Man. Some showcases led to my joining the unions, doing small parts on tv and in film and working in an Equity Library production where I met my partner and husband, JD Steel. We moved to Miami where we founded The Bridge Theater to showcase the plays and talents of Hispanic and Hispanic-American.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

I moved to VA in 2001 after 9/11 to be closer to family and though it took a while found many talented people and theater companies.

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

I would advise them not to listen to all the folks telling them they're too tall, short, young, old, fat, thin because none of that really matters. Just Do The Work. Be as prepared as you can be, have several monologues ready to go and those upbeat and ballad songs, including your best 16 bars to show what you can do. Most of all, don't be afraid!

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

I once proposed doing a monologue on SAG statistics. At the time there were 6 women to every man in the union but employment ratio was in inverse numbers, i.e, 6 men got hired to every one woman. I hope some of that has changed, especially for people of color. Bottom line: you must keep trying and making your own opportunities where you can. The role I played in American Power Play, the show where I met my husband, was written for a man but the director and playwright changed it when I auditioned. You never know.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as a professional? In what ways?

Sad to say, I missed a lot of my daughters' events when they were growing up and I was pursuing a career. I'm glad they got to see me in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indiana but I wish I had seen some of what they were doing. I think there's a lot of selfishness in being an actor but we find ways to justify the cost while we're doing it.

Any closing thoughts?

I'm pleased to be a small part of the theatre scene here and proud of so much progress that I've seen in almost 20 years.

The picture above is from Little Theatre of Norfolk's production of The Cripple of Inishmaan. I played Mammy, a hard-drinking old Irish woman. I love Irish theatre and was a member of The Irish Rebel Theater in NYC so it was great to get back to it. Cindy Shea, at my feet, was a terrific acting partner. It was a great experience for many reasons.

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