Meg Heimstead gets around. In the last eight months or so she's starred in Christmas Trio at Gorilla Theatre, Hate Mail at The [email protected], and Dead Man's Cell Phone at Jobsite Theater. In each, she was superb, effortlessly creating characters torn by deep psychological ambivalence, animated by wonderfully funny narcissism, or driven by obsession and a fierce will to heal wounds. Her next appearance will be in August, when she'll play Marcie in the comedy about grownup Peanuts characters called Dog Sees God, also at Jobsite.
And then? "After that I have no work," she laughs, "so I'm just cramming it in, I guess." We're sitting in her office at American Stage, where she's education director. When I tell her that it feels as if she appeared on the scene only a year or so ago, she reminds me that she's been acting in the area for seven years — with a big gap in her resume during the middle of that period. "The first show was Bach Among the Flowers at the Gorilla Theater....That was the first thing I did right after I moved here. Then I did the American Stage school tour. So then I kind of stopped acting for a while, and decided I was going to get a regular job." She worked for Clear Channel Radio, at first as a sales assistant and later as promotions director for country station 103.5. After she was let go, "I called Julie [Rowe], and I got into teaching at American Stage and that opened up my schedule to start working in theater again." She had key roles in Embedded and the short-lived Hurlyburly, and she was stunning in Jobsite's production of Rabbit Hole. It was while watching her in Rabbit Hole, in fact, that I first realized what a prodigiously talented actress she is.
With her impossible-to-pin-down looks and her wide repertoire of behaviors, she doesn't fit any of the usual categories. "My theater teachers told me that I wouldn't work much until I was in my 30s, that my 20s would be hard for me," Heimstead, 33, says. "Because I never was a traditional ingénue type. I'm more like the quirky best friend, or the mother. I mean, the parts that I played in college were all women in their late 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. One time I think I played near my age."
She was particularly conscious of her appearance during a visit to Los Angeles.
"I remember being in L.A. and going to a coffee shop and looking around and feeling like the ugliest person in the place," she laughs. "And I don't consider myself an ugly person. But just the amount of emphasis that is put on outward appearance in L.A., I felt like I was going to be a fish out of water...I just felt like I would never fit in there." Still, she thinks that her unusual appearance can be a strength: "I'm however old anyone perceives me to be."
Heimstead, the daughter of a peripatetic General Motors employee ("I'm a GM brat"), did her graduate-level actor training at the University of North Carolina. Afterwards, she decided to move to her parents' latest hometown of Tampa — temporarily. "My initial plan was to come down to Florida, get some experience, make some money, and then go to New York. But I've stayed." And, for a little while anyway, she's going to hang on. "I'm going to at least be here for another couple of years," she says. Then somewhere else — not New York, she's decided — but possibly Seattle. "They've got a really lively art scene, and the culture, the community really seems to support it. And it's close enough where you can still work in Portland, and you can still work in San Francisco, and just sort of make your way up and down. And it's really close to Vancouver where they do a lot of film work as well."
Till she "intuitively" knows that it's time to move on, Heimstead will be satisfying Tampa Bay area audiences with her authenticity.
"I equate performing to bungee-jumping," she says. "Like you hope the rope doesn't snap, and when you get to the end and it's over and it was good, then it's the best rush in the world." That's a rush that the spectator feels, too, when Heimstead's on stage. See for yourself in Dog Sees God, which opens August 5. For my money, she's one of the very best performers in the whole Bay area.
And she's at the top of her game.