Karen Irwin believes she is being well taken care of by the Universe and says that evidence of that keeps presenting itself. An Indianapolis native and resident, the actor and singer who recently performed her one-woman show, “Karen Irwin: A Piece of Her Heart: A Tribute to Janis Joplin” at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, is about to relocate to New York City. Once there, NYC will be Irwin’s base while she works on booking a national tour of her show. The story of how this opportunity presented itself is proof that the stars are aligning on her behalf, according to Irwin, who spoke recently by phone with atombash.com.
“I don’t know how I am pulling any of this off,” laughed Irwin regarding her move, which is to take place before Labor Day. Still needing to make the arrangements to rent a U-Haul, she said she was in New York a few weeks ago and she met up with a publicist who will be representing her. That same individual then referred her to a real estate agent who showed her a one-bedroom situated near W. 49th and 10th Ave.
As far as the decision, itself, to move to Manhattan, Irwin says that there were several factors that entered into her decision. One big reason is that she now has a producer in the person of local musician and producer Bill Myers. Originally Irwin hired bassist Myers to play for her Joplin tribute show when her own had to drop out. Later Myers requested that he be hired to produce Irwin’s show. “For the most part I have been waiting around for somebody to say ‘Hey, I want to produce for you.’ Someone who knows more than I do,” said Irwin. After Myers became part of her team Irwin said that he recommended that the show’s production values be increased in terms of lighting and the addition of a video element. Myers will continue to be based in Indianapolis.
Another suggestion that Myers made was that Irwin produce a new demo reel of recorded music that would help her secure bookings once she moves to NYC. To do so, Irwin and her band, including Myers, guitarist Graham Case, Guy Vreeman on keyboard and her music director Alex VanBergeijk on drums, recorded 13 tracks live at Postal Recording on Indy’s southwest side last week. Irwin said that the recording session lasted from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. “Right now we are in negotiations with some NYC theaters to figure out what we can and cannot do. I was thinking, I will just go and do one show but it looks like it’s going to make more sense to do multiple shows someplace. So doing the show in New York hopefully will get us some reviews so that I can travel. But in order to book the gigs I have to have the better demo and in order to have the better demo I needed the recorded music,” explained Irwin. In preparation for the move Irwin said that she is also preparing some marketing materials including a promotional video and photos as well.
Irwin’s journey towards broadening her horizons beyond Indianapolis actually began eight years ago when her fiancé died. His name was Sam Chaille and he dropped dead from a heart attack when they were taking a walk. “I am so much a better person because of it. It is hard to be upset about the event anymore because it was so life changing and ultimately positive. It connected me in ways to other people and the universe in ways that you can’t get without something that catalytic and powerful. My empathy has increased and so has my level of self-awareness that I had to develop going through the grief process and everything. I have learned so much and it was born out of that event and my relationship preceding the event, with him. I am very fortunate to have known him at all.”
Irwin said that she and Chaille, who was a contractor, had been together for about three years and lived in a commercial building he owned in Broad Ripple. After he died she continued to live there until three years ago when, she explained, “I ran away to Zionsville and I left everything there and said ‘It’s time for me not to be in that building anymore.’” Irwin had inherited the building from Chaille, so she said she sold it on contract about two years ago, allowing her to live on a monthly stipend while she worked on her Joplin show.
This year Irwin turned 40 and said that after performing four sold out shows in early June at Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, Maine, she flew back to Indy. The next day, she said she finalized the sale of the building, received the remainder of the balance, then went out to her car and paid off all her bills on her phone. She said she also put some money into her company, Fourth Wiseman Productions and then paid a year’s rent up front for her New York apartment. “I told myself that, ‘If I am going to do it, it is now, because I have this chunk of money.’ So all that happened in one week. It was an incredible week.”
“Sam used to say, ‘Aw…happiness is for sissies,’ and it made me crazy. Like, why wouldn’t someone want to be happy? It wasn’t until after he died that I understood what he meant. ‘Any old jackass can be happy,’ but it’s a true test of character to suffer and persevere and own your fight through it and get ‘bigger and stronger and smarter and faster’ not in spite of it, but because of it. We get to become our best selves from adversity. And it’s made me learn how to respect and welcome and fully experience the suffering when it happens,” said Irwin.
When asked what her long term goals beyond the move to New York City were, Irwin said, “I want to see where this show goes. Travel, build community and share what I have with people. In a more abstract sense I would like to help empower people. Especially young women. Let them know they don’t have to be anything but their beautiful, complicated, brilliant, authentic, raw and sometimes dirty selves. A big part of that is my just being out in the world attempting to do it every day for myself.”
Regarding her feelings about leaving Indy, Irwin said, “I don’t feel much yet. I’ve been too busy. I’m only committing to New York for a year, I can’t see any further into the future than that. And I guess I am sporadically emotional. It’s the end of an era. And it’s definitely terrifying. I am trying to do things I feel are completely over my head and I am leaving a place where I am pretty sure I know somebody who can do everything. My friends will joke that if you are looking for any crazy random thing, just ask me, I know someone. But I don’t like being terrified so I just walk into it. Only way to beat it. And honestly, it’s 2015. We are no longer geographically bound. I’m just going to give a lot of people one more excuse to visit New York.
Finally, Irwin was asked if she had any parting words for her Indy peeps, to which she replied, “Thank you. Really. So much. Just thank you. Somehow I have made it through these 40 years and come out still feeling much like a child. Anything is possible and the world has no boundaries. And I know that is mostly because of my family and friends and this entire community. Giving me opportunities as a young person in the Theatre Magnet at Shortridge Junior High School and Broad Ripple High School and casting me at Theatre on the Square as a teenager, putting up with my energy level as a young adult and still casting me at the Phoenix and coming to my ‘Karenoke’ shows.”
“And every insane idea I ever had was welcomed and supported by audiences and the press and I can’t remember a time where I have even felt like I ‘failed’. So…maybe it’s time. At least it’s time for me to put myself in position where I can. Growth happens there. Time to crawl out of my little comfy pod and risk. And I will see you soon. If my mother has anything to say about it. Oh, and watch for my niece, Eliza Bradbury. Super talented musician and actor in the making. She’s still only 10, but watch out, Indianapolis!”
To contact Karen Irwin visit apieceofherheart.com.