My Career Choice: Anna Stromberg – Actor, Writer, Director, Producer

Anna Stromberg has performed in many Off-Broadway theatres. She was a longtime member of The Amoralists Theatre Company, originating roles in collaborations with Daniel Aukin (The Bad and the Better) and Lyle Kessler (Collision). She’s a two-time Wilmington Theatre Award winner, and won Best Actress at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival for Well Wishes. Anna directed the critically-renowned production of David Harrower’s Blackbird in Los Angeles.  The Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street) will be presenting Blanket Fort Entertainment’s New York premiere of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, written and performed by Anna and Burt Grinstead (Ovation Award nominee), also directed by Anna, as part of the Fringe Encore Series, running Off-Broadway through December 15.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I wish I had a more interesting answer here, but I can’t think of one event. I definitely always knew I wanted to do something creative, but I never really realized how that would manifest itself. When I was very young I thought I would be a professional pianist. For most of my life I thought I would be an actor. A traditional actor who would audition for roles and say other people’s words. This is definitely part of what I do, but there came a point when I realized that in order for me to survive as an actor I would have to do much more than simply act. The industry has changed so much in myriad ways, and everyone seems to be scrambling to keep up. The “triple threat” has shifted from “actor, singer, dancer” to “actor, writer, producer,” and it’s a fascinating transitional period. This realization came as somewhat of a surprise to me, but even more surprising was the fact that I wanted to do more. It was a really empowering moment that happened only recently. My whole life I was dead set on being an actor. I never thought of myself as a writer or a director and definitely didn’t ever imagine being a producer! I just don’t think I had any role models. Not that there weren’t incredible women holding those positions, but I just wasn’t really exposed to any of them growing up. Of course I read novels that women had written, but I didn’t see many names in the credits for women when I was watching things or reading scripts. I just didn’t feel like I could do that. Now that I know I can, I can’t stop creating!

To answer your question, I have always loved the arts, and I became interested in theatre from the first time I saw a play with my dad at the Kennedy Center when I was maybe five, but as far as being a producer, a voice artist, a writer, a YouTuber, an actor, an editor, a director, I just didn’t know you could actually have a career doing all of the things that interest you.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I probably find the fact that I get to do such a variety of things to be the most attractive part of what I do. I am always creatively stimulated, and excited about what’s coming next.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I went to school for acting. Initially I attended the University of Washington in Seattle and then I studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. As far as my academic education, that was all back when my aspiration was to be an actor. Once my definition of career slackened or broadened, and I realized how open it can be, I think that’s when I began to see myself as more of a craftsperson. I started honing skills that always intimidated me before. I learned how to edit, I started writing scripts, I began getting work as a director. I started truly learning the moment I started working. As obvious as it sounds, the thing that taught me the most was just doing it.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I think in order to survive in the entertainment industry you have to learn how to cope with judgement. At a certain point people’s discouragement became encouraging for me. I’m a stubborn broad, and when someone would tell me I wasn’t able to do something or that it would be too difficult, something innate would kick in and say, “Hm…I think there might be something to this.” One person in particular with whom I was very close continuously said, “When are you gonna give this old acting thing a rest, huh?” He, more than anyone, is responsible for my ambition. Yes, it was a man, although I’ve met women just as discouraging. A mentor of mine who happened to be a woman said to me when I was applying to colleges, “Don’t go to college. You’ll be throwing away the best years of your life. This is the time to make it in the biz. Actresses have a shelf life, ya know.” The sad truth of that is she probably wasn’t wrong. If I had done things differently I may have had a different life, but I wouldn’t trade my choices for anything. That said, most people are amazingly supportive. I have met far more caring and generous people than discouraging ones, and I can only hope to inspire and support others who are chasing their dreams.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I did, yes. Doubt snuck its way into my life for the first time in my late twenties. And thank god it did! That was when I realized that I wanted more, and that I could have more. That instead of saying other people words, helping build other people’s words, I could be the architect and build my own damn world! The specificity of my dream has changed, but the landscape of it remains the same. I want to be involved in the creative process with people I admire and respect. The only difference is that now I’m at the helm of that process and my dream is to have the kind of financial freedom to create any and everything I can imagine.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
I honestly think I’m nearing it at the moment. I’ve been putting a lot of work into so many different channels and I think one of them will take off very soon. I feel I’m on the precipice of something really special. The good news is that the process has been the most fun I could ever have imagined!

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
My biggest challenge was one you mentioned earlier. Doubt. Self-doubt is something I struggle with more than I care to admit. I think it probably has a lot to do with being a woman. May sound like a cop out, but if you think it’s a cop out then you’re probably one of the people that has made it harder on people like me. It’s difficult being a woman in a position of authority. It just is. Women who do it are brave as hell. There is so much of it that goes against all we’re taught to be as women. Don’t be demanding, don’t yell, don’t be bossy. And I’m a straight, white woman! Imagine what it’s like to be a woman of color in a position of power, or a transgender woman!

I’ve had to reflect a lot on my feelings of worthiness, and I’ve come to some seriously depressing realizations about the gender dynamics that have been instilled in me since I was a child. I deserve to have a voice, just like everyone does, and I want to empower other people, especially women, to trust in the power of their voices.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
My empathy. I have always been an incredibly sensitive person, and I always felt like it was my curse. I’m a real energy sponge. Other people’s energy will seep in no matter how hard I try to resist it. If I’m on a subway and someone is arguing it will stay with me for hours. I was always ashamed of it. Growing up with brothers, it meant that I was made fun of because I couldn’t hook the worm when we went fishing, but over time I’ve realized what a gift it really is. Once I learned how to value it, I went about learning how to harness it. My empathy allows me to see things from different perspectives, to hear all sides of a story. Creatively it means I can channel different voices to pull from when I am writing, directing or acting.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I quit drinking three years ago December 8th. I think that’s probably my biggest achievement. Not only because it was such a difficult (difficult on so many levels) thing to do, but because it led to so many other accomplishments. After I quit drinking I quit smoking, then I became vegan, and it’s all been the most incredible journey. My life looks completely different, and it’s allowed me to do all of the cool things I’ve been able to do. I’m so grateful for the person I was before. I love that hot mess. That’s why I decided to save her life, and give her a life she deserves.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Yes! If you think of something, do it! Those little nuggets of inspiration are gifts, and you must honor those gifts by allowing them to come to fruition. If you begin to act upon one of these moments of inspiration and a voice kicks in saying “this is stupid,” or “I can’t do this,” or “this isn’t going to be good,” or “I’m just not good enough yet.” Say thank you to those thoughts in your head, and allow them to swiftly pass. Because they aren’t worth a damn. You are worthy of your best efforts, and the world deserves to experience them.

Anyone who tells you anything akin to “get your head out of the clouds,” or mentions anything about a “real job,” thank them and wish them well, and never give these sentiments a second thought. They do not deserve your validation.

Any women out there who feel like they want to start something but are too intimidated to begin, just Nike it! Just do it. Dive in and sort the rest out later. Find your voice, and learn how to use it. Easier said than done, but you have to start. You may be clumsy and filled with doubt, but every time you do it you’ll get better. Just go out there and do any and everything you can. Anyway ladies, you all rock! So anytime you feel stuck just trust in your power, and get to work!

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